The Elephantom

Our critics rating: 
Monday, 7 July, 2014
Review by: 
Mark Shenton

The New London Theatre was once the long-time home of Cats, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that ran for exactly 21 years there and became the longest-running musical in the West End until then. Currently it is home to the hit West End transfer of the National's War Horse; but now a second show has joined it for the summer mornings and matinees, also originally seen at the National, called The Elephantom, which as the title suggests, involves elephants. Clearly there's something abut this spot of Drury Lane where theatrical animals feel at home.

If The Elephantom is in good company, it is also a worthy addition to the strong pedigree of shows that have preceded it. Like them, it is based on a book -- but whereas Cats was based on a collection of TS Eliot poems and War Horse on Michael Morpurgo's novel for younger readers, The Elephantom is based on a slender, 30 page picture story book by Ross Collins. It took me less than five minutes to page through it before the show began.

So it is a particular triumph of Ben Power, who has adapted it for the stage, and co-directors Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié (the latter of whom also designed the puppets), to stretch it into a show that runs for an hour but doesn't feel like it is overstretched.

It is also rather brilliantly told almost wordlessly, as if it's a silent movie -- but without speech bubbles. Instead, the story is told like a narrative ballet. That story is of a lonely young girl (Susan Harrison), quietly ignored at the breakfast table by her parents (Laura Cubitt and Tim Lewis), who conjures a fantasy friend -- an Elephantom -- that only she can see. But he turns out to be more mischievous than she thought, and she eventually has to find a way to make him (and his partying friends) go away again.

The show is executed with dash and flair, and the giant purple blue inflatable elephants a joy to behold as they visit the girl's house and also the stalls. It's billed as being suitable for everyone three years old and over; I was happy to return to my childhood to sneak in with the kids.


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