Based on Michael Morpurgo’s book of the same name, this production is engaging from start to finish.
Capturing the horror and danger of war on ordinary people, Michael Morpurgo’s An Elephant in the Garden is brought vividly to life thorough Simon Reade’s heartwarming adaptation and production that is throroughly engaging to watch unfold.
Set against the backdrop of the 1945 Dresden bombings, the story follows that Lizzie, her mother and an elephant saved from their local zoo just before the city is destroyed. Together, they must try and escape the Allied fire bombing to find safety and shelter while trying to cling onto hope that the terror of war is nearly over.
Adapted with great imagination by Simon Reade, what makes this production so striking is the way in which it so simply tells the story through the energetic and absorbing performance of Alison Reid who transforms into each character with great style. She handles each part of the story with great elegance, conveying the story with strong and natural storytelling capability – for example the way in which she recounts the bombing of Dresden is as mesmerising as it is horrific.
The script and descriptions are all so vivid it really feels as though the story has literally bounced off the page onto the stage with great naturalness, elegantly flowing from one part of the journey that Lizzie and her mother go on. But just as importantly, it highlights the dangers that people were exposed to – as the tense moments in which the characters are confronted by German officers reveal and the references of how the Jews were treated in the build up to the war adds a grown up feel to the piece – which shows it doesn’t hide from young audiences exactly what happened. It is not a show that talks down to the audience but also handles the subjects raised with great sensitivity.
While the designs of the production by Max Johns are practical and simple, it allows Reid to really use the space to emphasise what is happening wit great expression. But with the help of Matthew Graham’s lighting design, the audience is really swept into the story – the striking red to capture the idea of the bombs landing on Dresden or the bright whiteness to show the sunshine on the snow as Lizzie and her mother arrive at the farm, the audience is able to use their imagination to picture the scene. This is enhanced further by the sound design by Jason Barnes, which just flows gracefully around the audience.
An Elephant in the Garden is a mesmerising and sensitive piece of theatre that captures the horror of war but from the perspective of the German people who had as much to fear from Allied bombing as the British did from the German bombing. It is wonderfully engaging to watch from start to finish.
By Emma Clarendon
An Elephant in the Garden is available to stream from the 2nd to the 18th April. For more information visit: https://barntheatre.org.uk/elephant-in-the-garden