This isn’t a sponsored post.
BrumHour was invited to see The Magician’s Elephant by The RSC.
By Dave Massey twitter.com/BrumHour
Review: The Magician’s Elephant at The RSC
Directed by Sarah Tipple, Book and Lyrics by Nancy Harris, Music and Lyrics Marc Teitler.
One day, orphaned teenager Peter (Jack Wolfe) is out at the market buying fish and bread for himself and his guardian Vilna (Stephen John Davis), when he spots a small tent with a fortune-teller (Wendy Somerville) inside. The fortune-teller says that an elephant will lead him to his sister. This comes as quite a shock as he lives on a different continent to Elephants and doesn’t have a sister. But then he discovers a Magician (Alastair Parker) has been arrested for apparently conjuring an Elephant at a performance at the local Opera; this makes him consider if he really could have a long lost sister.
Kate DiCamillo’s 2009 novel, The Magician’s Elephant finally appears on the stage after a twelve-month delay, and it was totally worth the wait. This is a layered story is of a town full of characters with their own problems, concerns and lives to live. The arrival of this Elephant suddenly distracts them all for a few moments from their existences and brings them together as a community in a way like they never have before.
The circular set with its multiple depths really makes use of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s deep stage and the whole construction has a real industrial feel to it. There is also a circular moving platform adding extra motion to the story both through chases and journeys to other parts of this town.
Speaking of the town, this very French style town features lots of very English, Welsh and Scottish sounding actors so I can only conclude it is an expatriate community in France in the 19th century perhaps. Like Les Misérables is set in the South London part of France! Certainly the great costumes reinforce this.
Jake Wolfe is the standout as Peter and his vocals fill the theatre. I haven’t actually mentioned this yet: This IS a musical. There are some sections where he is absent from the stage to perpetuate the plot. This emphasises the origins of being a novel rather than forcing him to appear in every scene, but his vulnerability and charm are missed when he’s not on stage compared to some of the more jaded adults around him. The music is excellent and the lyrics serve to reinforce the feelings of the characters rather than tell extra details in the story.
The first half ends with Peter and Vilna’s neighbour Gloria Matienne (Melissa James) declaring that there is no such thing as magic. It is a very sombre note for audiences who have been deprived from entering this theatre for nearly two years. For many people, theatre itself IS magical. And there is nothing quite like the live experience of being there hearing, sensing, feeling the emotions, sounds and sights of a stage. Sure digital downloads (As we discovered in this two years) offer their own experience but nothing like real theatre.
The story also takes a look at modern culture through its characters, the excellent Summer Strallen as Countess Quintet relies on branding, image and gaining public favour to disguise her true slimy nature. The story also explores how the truth can get twisted without fact checking, something we deal with every day on social media.
Whilst billed as a family production the running time is two hours and forty minutes with a twenty minute break. Meaning your smaller theatre goers will need to be able to sit for over one hour and ten minutes before a bathroom visit.
A stylish, fun musical which is sure to entertain theatre goers for years to come; The Magician’s Elephant is at The RSC‘s Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 1st January 2022. Book tickets here: rsc.org.uk/the-magicians-elephant.