Tuesday, July 5

An Elephant in the Garden – The Barn Theatre

The Barn Theatre continue their lockdown streaming with another riveting piece of theatre. Simon Reade directs this gripping adventure story set in the harsh times of 1940’s Germany. Lizzie and her family are seeking shelter from the calamities of the Second World War… and it looks like they have to take an elephant along for the journey.

It’s hard to believe that Michael Morporgo could write another great animal-integrated war tale, after the huge success of War Horse. And, even more surprisingly, this one is based on a true story. When her father is enlisted, Lizzie’s mother finds work at the local zoo where she befriends the young elephant, Marlene.  When their whole town erupts in flames, the family flee to find safety, and encounter numerous shouts of “Is that an elephant?!” on their way.

The stage is set with only a few boxes and a large grey wall, leaving the audience to imagine the world of Lizzie’s (Alison Reid) story. From a convincing Berlin Wall at the start, the scenery morphs into whatever the audience wills it to be, a farmhouse, a destroyed building or could it even be an elephant?

Reid (Three Girls) expertly narrates and intrigues as the teenage protagonist and as every other character, of which amounts to a list of over twenty people. A Canadian navigator, a stubborn Uncle, and even Marlene herself; Reid convinces in every persona. It’s with the slightest change of posture or voice that she completely transforms, and her impalpable energy never drops. 

Subtleties are also noticeable in the show’s effects. Matthew Graham’s lighting design depicts the harsh winter months with a slight blue tint, and accompanies the sounds of an air raid with the flickering of light bulbs. The stage is almost bare, but the actor and the technical elements heighten the audience’s imagination, putting them right in the heart of the action.

Morporgo includes many comparisons of animals and humanity in his writing, and through Marlene, we see the best parts of both. The symbol of determination and hope, Marlene the elephant strides on inspiring people to follow and find their way through the hardships. This moving and emotional story is beautifully told onstage; a show to appeal to all ages.

An Elephant in the Garden plays online until the 18th April 2021. Full details and booking links at https://barntheatre.org.uk/elephant-in-the-garden

Reviewer: Coral Mourant

Reviewed: 4th April 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★