Truth is stranger than fiction. That is the first thought that comes to mind whilst watching Elephant’s Graveyard. Because this well presented online offering about the lynching of a circus elephant seems completely ridiculous, I mean, who thinks up these ideas? Except no one did, because, yes, it really is based (with some artistic licence thrown in) on true events of 1916.
The story is quite simple, albeit utterly bizarre. Mary the elephant is the circus’ centrepiece. During a parade in Erwin, Tennessee, she kills a circus worker and justice is demanded. If you’re worried that this is a major plot spoiler, it’s nothing more than is told on the shows trailer. Rest assured, knowing the outcome isn’t going to ruin anything. The viewing pleasure comes from its slick presentation.
One by one we’re introduced to the circus team and townsfolk. The make up and costumes are outstanding, as are the backdrop images used throughout; traditional circuses and a town straight out of old western films. A lovely extra touch is the film’s grainy flickering effect, reminiscent of silent movies. And then there is Luke Potter’s music, painting further mental images of 1916 America.
The story is constructed piece by piece, each character telling us a little more, building up the picture of a travelling circus and the excitement that they cause when they visit a small town. Phil Sealey’s editing is faultless, transitioning smoothly between each talking head.
Whilst bizarre, it is still a simple story, so it’s the characters that compel you to watch. And here we are just spoilt for choice. Esmee Cook has all the required pathos as a clown, her make up spot on to display her sadness. Then there is Dannie Harris’ smutty ballet girl, giving a cheeky smile at how an elephant’s trunk is best when erect. Amongst the townsfolk Phoebe Naughton grabs the attention, her slightly goofy manner making you wonder if she might mean it literally when she describes pissing herself with laughter. But really, the cast are all outstanding, and any of them could be a personal favourite.
Of course, even with such a professional look, it can’t quite hide the fact this is very much a theatre show presented for online consumption. I can’t help but imagine how much better this would work live. I yearn for these talking heads to be on a stage, to present the story to a real audience who would gasp and laugh, and for that intake of collective breath as the story hurtles towards its grisly end. Instead, watched on a screen, well, it’s easy to get distracted and for the carefully crafted tension to be broken, especially during opening scenes that would certainly work live, but here could benefit from a cut or two. Thankfully though, that is soon forgotten as it picks up well from this faltering start.
Elephant’s Graveyard is an enjoyable online watch, which will surely make you remember the thrill of being in a real theatre. It is a story made for a stage, simple yet compelling in the way it is told and presented. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, I mean, who would ever think to lynch an elephant?
This show is no longer available to watch online.
Written by: George Brant
Directed by: Colin Blumenau
Original music by: Luke Potter
Produced by: Colin Blumenau and Douglas McJannet for The Production Exchange & Arden Entertainment