Monday, 15 December 2014
Theatre review: Elephants
The elephants in Rose Heiney's play are the kind that are in the room while nobody mentions them. But following a suicide attempt, Daisy's been in therapy, and the one thing she's learnt is not to leave painful things unsaid. Everyone's pretense that her brother was some sort of hero will be the first thing to go.
Heiney's background is in writing, mostly comedy, for television, and it shows in her stage debut: Tamara Harvey's production is at it strongest when exploring a gloriously awkward sit-com world, the play's black comedy coming from everyone's uncertainty about just how much they should or should not bring up the late Christopher. Lewis is particularly good at creating a cringeworthy atmosphere with his unfailing ability to say exactly the wrong thing.
It does mean the second act, when everything is out in the open and now has to be dealt with, is less satisfying; but the performances remain strong throughout, with some particularly good scenes of contrast between the characteristically explosive Powley and the steady, grounding presence of Thomas. Heiney has also done a good job of subtly puncturing middle class pretensions at helping those worse-off, without going too heavy-handed with the satire. The play's excellent opening hour leaves it with a bit too hard an act to follow, but it remains well-performed on a detailed set from Polly Sullivan.
Elephants by Rose Heiney is booking until the 17th of January at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.