By Samuel J. Cox
This Friday I took some time away from my endeavours to master the art of deducing in which nation a book was bound, by touch alone, to enjoy ‘Elephents’, an hour-and-a-half long musical by The Last Great Hunt, a new theatre collective composed of some of Western Australia’s best young talent.
Created by and starring the inspired writer and performer Jeffrey Jay Fowler (also the Associate Director of the Black Swan Theatre Company), and directed by Kathryn Osborne (who last teamed up on the award-winning ‘Minnie and Mona Play Dead’), this is a hilarious piece of theatre I highly recommend.
Not a musical in the ‘Broadway spectacular’ sense, this modern take does away with the glitz and glamour in favour of more laughs, more drama and more meaning. The use of song is (thankfully) not overdone; this medium is only used when characters finally say what they have bottled up inside. The musical numbers are accompanied by an increasingly creative use of props.
The performance opens with a song by the last three elephants on Earth. Enclosed in the Tuskville zoo, they and their keeper Annabelle (Gita Bezard) mourn the death of Caribou, a fellow elephant. Struggling through an existential crisis, they ponder the meaning of their lives and question whether it is worth fighting their fate (extinction).
Unfortunately, unlike Banksy’s 2006 ‘Barely Legal’ exhibition in Los Angeles, there were no real elephants in this production, which would have been nice considering I’m still operating under a life ban from Perth Zoo. Instead, the cast donned ‘Wilfred’-esque costumes with grey tusks and ears.
Flying in the face of those who declare climate change a mass conspiracy invented by Leftist loons with shares in solar panel companies, the play is set in a dystopian future in which climate change has transformed the Earth into a fiery, apocalyptic hell where Africa is gone, children are not expected to live beyond adolescence and the masses riot in the streets.
Despite this cautionary tale, I personally cannot wait for the 10¢ discount per fare we will enjoy on Transperth when the Carbon Tax is removed -that extra coffee a month will taste like Freedom!
Blatantly ignoring the doom of mankind, the dark musical (satirically) self-indulgently centres on the relationships of Roger and Nellie (Adriane Daff), and Horton and Annabel. The melodramatic and self-centred Horton is obsessed with renovating his house (and telling everyone the price tag), and is having an affair with Queenie (also played by Daff), while Annabelle allows the grief of her beloved Caribou dying to consume her. Roger and Nellie work as a duet in a bar (much to Horton’s contempt), but while Nellie’s voice is a gift, Roger is not quite as talented as he believes.
Like a chicken pot pie, the show packs a lot in. With plenty to say on love, relationships and human nature; no one is with who they should be, weddings are merely contracts to escape being alone (with the option of a ‘kids clause’), and, inevitably, everyone settles for less than their true love because change is scary and, no matter how degraded the world gets, there is still no fate worse than being single.
Roger’s ‘uncontracted’ (a.k.a. single) brother Manny (Pete Townsend) is introduced when ‘Rog’ and Nellie attempt to set him up with Flora, a ‘spiritual’ woman from Nellie’s pottery class. Donned in an orange dress to activate her sexual chakra, Flora is eager to get pregnant so she can reincarnate her Grandmother. Perfectly capturing the awkwardness of match-making gone wrong, the scene is only made more uncomfortable when it becomes apparent that Manny actually loves his brother’s wife. The love triangle is only further complicated when Manny proves himself a more gifted pianist and songwriter than his hopeless, but well intentioned, brother.
Pete Townsend delivers the best song of the night in his second role as an evangelist doorknocker who is convinced he must convert Horton to religion to do his dead father proud. Fowler, who plays both Roger and Horton, is the star of the show. The final cast member, Brett Smith, provides all the musical accompaniment as a poker-faced, increasingly irate elephant in the room. A speechless role, he interjects himself into the narrative at choicely comic moments.
With all the characters named after famous elephants, both real and fictitious, this intelligent script employs a sparse set, composed almost entirely of a piano, couch and shaggy rug, but uses the entire space of the black box theatre (in which all seats offer a good view).
Such sterling theatre bodes well for the rest of the Blue Room’s 2014 offerings, and I think we can expect exciting things from The Last Great Hunt. Admittedly my divinations are coming early in the piece, but you know what I’m like for premature exhilaration.
Elephents runs at The Blue Room Theatre until May 18.