Review: An Elephant in the Garden, Barn Theatre (online)

Earlier this week the Barn Theatre in Cirencester announced digital adaptations of two Michael Morpurgo classics as part of its Barn At Home season. The first of these productions, The Elephant in the Garden, is now available to stream until 18 April, following its successful UK tours from 2014-19 and performances in Pennsylvania last year.

Adapted and directed by Simon Reade, this solo show stars Alison Reid as Elizabeth (Lizzie), who looks back at her teenage years when she was living with her parents in Dresden. When her father is called up to serve in the war Lizzie’s mum gets a job at the local zoo, and one day, fearing for the safety of the zoo’s elephant Marlene, brings it home to live in the garden. But when the Allied forces bomb Dresden, Lizzie, her mother and Marlene the elephant are forced to flee their home. Along the way they meet an RAF pilot, a homeless school choir on the run and a Countess.

The Elephant in the Garden is a compelling and heartening production. Alison Reid does a brilliant job of transporting the audience to Lizzie’s world with her vivid descriptions, and voices the many characters she meets. Reid gives a lesson in storytelling with her energetic performance and her enthusiasm is infectious throughout.

Max John’s simple set, featuring a crumbling wall, is relatively simple, which allows Morpurgo’s story to take centre stage. Matthew Graham’s lighting design does a great job of not only capturing the varying emotions of the piece, but also in setting the scene – the use of red lighting as the war comes to Dresden is particularly effective and touching. Likewise Jason Barnes’ sound design, with thanks to Chris Bianchi’s radio voices, helps to set the war-time scene. 

Michael Morpurgo is renowned for putting children and animals at the heart of his stories, and The Elephant in the Garden certainly does that. Though never seen on the stage Marlene is a central character throughout, and represents the determination and will to carry on. This is a timely and relevant production, notably with its discussion of refugees and, poignantly, the kindness bestowed on Lizzie and her mother. The play doesn’t sugarcoat the atrocities of the war and instead offers a realistic but sensitive look at how people were affected by the conflict. 

If anything, this one-hour show needs to be slightly longer, as the conclusion is reached very quickly, however this is an incredibly captivating production, sure to appeal to viewers of all ages. A story which highlights the power of endurance and the the kindness of strangers, The Elephant in the Garden is a powerful one-woman show which enchants from beginning to end. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

An Elephant in the Garden runs until 18 April. For tickets visit https://barntheatre.org.uk/elephant-in-the-garden

Photo Credit: Farrows Creative

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