Like other big beast cultural organizations, the RSC has been reeling from the pandemic. However, he was slow to recover. Granted, he returned to the West End, co-producing The Mirror and the Light. But all eyes are on his Stratford base. And finally, the first full-scale RSC show to perform on the main stage since March 2020 has arrived.
The Magician‘s Elephant was originally scheduled to premiere last fall; the fact that he was pushed back because of the gargantuan upheaval at least highlights his subject. American author Kate DiCamillo began her children’s novel in 2007 following a breakup, and her story is a charming elephant-asy of the reemergence of the doldrums. She takes us to the city – difficult to locate – of Baltese, where the inhabitants are recovering from a war. In this sad context, she presents the said elephant, summoned by a magician and tumbling down through the roof of the opera house.
Seemingly lacking a zoo, the citizens are captivated, but the pachyderm in turn becomes captive – a hobbled centerpiece; his fate and that of the story’s orphan boy hero, Peter Duchene, are intertwined. He must help the elephant find out who he is.
The first thing to say about the production of Sarah Tipple is that the star attraction is a delight to see. British theater has a bent and flair for large-scale puppetry. War Horse was a triumph of equine evocation. Pi’s life, ready for a run in London, centers around an incredibly curvy Bengal tiger. Here, three operators bring to life a bulky composite creature; you can see the operators but the head has a solidity and a life of its own, with a playful trunk, drooping ears and dismal eyes.
This is a reproachful and timely message about how we treat the animal world. And in his air of patience, mystery and loneliness, he has a kinship with Jack Wolfe’s Peter, which – and this is the second big plus – is a joy in its own right. It is partly her expressive aura of awakened but dreamy youth, and partly her voice, which possesses purity and strength, and can rise in a palpitating manner in an ethereal register.
The problem, however, is that despite all the care and craftsmanship that the creative team have put into the piece (Nancy Harris book and lyrics, Marc Teitler music and lyrics), it seems out of proportion to the level. of the incident. The book takes you quickly from the appearance of a fortune teller (Amy Booth-Steel acting as the glittering narrator) to the arrival of the elephant. Here, copious staging and decryption of emotions. The repressive gravity of the city is applied with a trowel, the decoration colorless, the movement charged but regimented. Every clue in a song is grabbed, whether it’s the comically agitated police chief and his fellow cops, a childless couple, the goofy magician, or the lady injured by the arrival of the elephant, whom we don’t see. .
While still melodic, at two hours 25 minutes (off range) it feels stuffed to the point where a child in need of visual stimulation over countless words can start to fidget. The tempo picks up in the second half, encouraged by a surly turn from Summer Strallen as the child-hating countess who tries to turn the animal intruder into a living Lourdes. And although short of memorable songs, the evening offers a rousing fight for collective elevation in its latest issue. Whether he could be upgraded to match RSC’s staple Matilda is questionable. It’s much better than nothing, of course, and that’s what we’ve had for too long.
Until January 1st. Tickets: 01789 331111; rsc.org.uk
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