Darkly humorous, energetic and cathartic, Elephants, a new play from Anthony Maskell, promises a snapshot of the absurdities of ordinary life, condensed into just one hour of increasingly intense drama.
Focused on two couples, the feuding Greg and Laura, and their guests Jennifer and Todd, Elephants tells the story of one bizarre dinner party where nothing is quite as it seems. Although embroiled in a messy divorce, Greg and Laura attempt to put on a front of a happy couple while appealing to head teacher Jennifer for a school place for their son. Meanwhile however, the well-mannered Todd and Jennifer have ulterior motives of their own. Coming together over a dinner where both couples have their own agendas to fulfil, one-upmanship and alcohol ramp up the tension as the script leads to a conclusion that, while funny, is also tragic.
Written as one continuous scene, this is a necessarily energetic production, tightly written and character-driven. The actors on stage feed off one another’s energy consistently, and already there is a clear sense of the rise and fall of tension as they work around one another in order to keep the audience guessing. Although in many ways this is an essentially simple production – one set, a small core of characters – the cast manage to grab the audience’s attention right from the off, and this drives the play throughout its conclusion.
Maskell’s writing is littered with moments of dark comedy, which work nicely to stop Elephants from taking itself too seriously. While not exactly laugh-out-loud stuff, the often absurdist comments are well timed to break up and enhance some of the more intense scenes, and towards the end we slip even further towards farce as cakes are thrown while Greg and Laura’s marriage unravels.
The cast number just four in this production – and that includes Maskell, who, as well as playing the character of Todd, is directing his own work at the same time. While he admits that there are challenges with taking on these multiple roles, the cast are supportive of the tight-knit production process, and there’s a definite sense of fun surrounding the rehearsal. Elephants makes no pretensions as to an overarching theme or social commentary, but does what it does well, and the cast’s closeness can only be helping with this, with all of the actors we spoke to describing the sheer fun coming from the conflict between their characters.
Student productions are often overwrought and overthought. Maskell’s Elephants promises to be neither of these, instead zooming in on a snapshot of real life, taken just one step from the ordinary and one step into the absurd. Dryly humorous but with plenty of drama too, this promises to be an show with impact that offers something a little different to what’s generally on offer.
Elephants will be on at the BT Studio from Tuesday 2nd to Saturday 6th June, performing at 9.30.