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RSC, Stratford, review: The Magician's Elephant

The Magician’s Elephant, RSC, Stratford, to January1, 2022.

By Chris Arnot

It was the opening night. Or rather, the reopening night. The RSC building had unbolted its doors to a live audience for the first time since March, 2020, when the pandemic had evolved into the plague of our times.

The place was packed. Expectations were high.

And, yes, cast and crew lived up to those expectations. So did the elephant, an impressive piece of puppetry that made Warhorse seem a little on the small side.

The giant jumbo galumphed around the stage feeling somewhat out of place. Well, he was a long way from home and the heat of the jungle. Instead he’d landed (all too literally) in Baltese, a chilly town in the middle of nowhere.

The Baltesers had recently been through a war. Loved ones had been lost. The main character, Peter Duchene (Jack Wolfe), had been orphaned. He’d also been told by his guardian and uncle, a hardened military veteran, that his sister was dead.

Peter refused to believe that. And having belief in a better life, along with the imagination and determination to bring it about, is at the heart of this moving musical of unlikely events - not least the conjuring of an elephant by a magician and its bone-crushing fall through the roof of the local opera house.

The set managed to combine spaciousness enough to accommodate a puppet of epic proportions along with an intimacy that provides an apt setting for sometimes touching scenes.

Impeccable choreography was coupled with performances of quality. Too many to list, perhaps. But there were a couple of stand-outs.

One was Summer Strallen who played the somewhat self-obsessed Countess Quintet with a voice shrill enough at times to set the swans on the nearby Avon a-flight in fear. The other was Forbes Masson as the panicking police chief who seemed to be all over the stage.

“String it up,” he commanded at one point. And, yes, he was referring to the trunked and tusked intruder. Not even this production could envisage the hanging of a puppet of such proportions.

Nonetheless, it was a first night to remember, with an elephant never to forget.

Tickets from:

Picture by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC


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