Elephant (Bush Theatre)

Posted: October 26, 2022 in Theatre
Photo: Henri T

Writer: Anoushka Lucas

Director: Jess Edwards


Elephant is a very small show, named after a very large animal. Its writer and performer, Anoushka Lucas, has worked on grander projects, having played a leading role in the Young Vic’s revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma earlier this year. Here, however, when she sings and plays piano, the Bush’s studio space assumes the ambience of a sophisticated cocktail lounge, with only the drinks service missing.

In her monologue, directed by Jess Edwards, Lucas plays Lylah, a mixed race woman of Cameroon/Indian descent. The story jumps between 1996, when Lylah is a seven-year-old girl being moulded by her family, and around 20 years later when she is a talented musician whose career is being shaped by her record label. She meets and falls in love with Leo, a drummer, but comes into conflict with his upper class parents.

The other love of Lylah’s life is her upright piano, which needed to be lowered into her parents’ council flat through a window space. The piano makes beautiful sounds, but Lylah becomes increasingly aware of alarming facts: its frame is made from mahogany, an endangered wood; its keys are ivory, which has come from an elephant, brutally slaughtered; and, in past times, the elephant tusks would have been transported to Europe part using slave labour.

There is a lot going on in what is, on the face of it, a light comedy. Conservation, black history, personal identity, race and class are all touched upon humorously in passing, but the script does not settle on any of them and it becomes difficult to grasp what is the point of it all. For nearly an hour, the show ambles along, relying mainly on the performer’s charm, of which there is ample, to keep it going. 

Finally, almost miraculously, Lucas brings all her seemingly disparate ideas together and finds a sting in the pachyderm’s tail with a ten minute denouement, brilliantly thought through, which makes profound sense. All now becomes clear: big animal, small show, huge themes.

Performance date: 25 October 2022

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