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Interview: Singing The Elephant Song

Jason Moore & Ian Nicholas on The Elephant Song

OnBook Theatre are just about to bring Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon‘s The Elephant Song to Park Theatre for it’s UK premiere. The play follows the suddenly disappearance of a psychiatrist from a mental health unit and Michael, a young patient, is suspected to be involved.

We are always excited to see new thrillers coming to the stage, so were delighted to be able to catch up with OnBook’s creative partnership of Jason Moore and Ian Nicholas to find out more.

Great to meet you both, shall we do introductions first then?

We’re Jason Moore and Ian Nicholas and we created OnBook Theatre in the summer of 2021. Jason is a director, Ian is a set and costume designer. Together we produce plays that we feel passionate about. We seem to be attracted to plays that deal with human relationships, with a dark, comedic undertone. The Elephant Song is no exception. It’s a psychological thriller, with a surprise ending. It’s the kind of play that will haunt you afterwards.

Are we right in thinking that there is also a lot of humour in The Elephant Song? The press material talks about ‘verbal tugs-of-war’ – does this lend itself to black/dark comedy?

The playwright, Nicolas Billon, has peppered the script with lots of witty, intelligent dialogue and in that respect, it feels like dark comedy at times. But at its core, it’s an emotional story of a young man who is fighting to be heard.

How did you first come across the play and what piqued your interest about it?

Ian saw the movie some years ago and loved the story. After researching its background, he went on the hunt for rights, which led him to playwright Nicolas Billon and his agent in Canada. Finding out it had never been produced in the UK made him even more determined. Several emails and phone calls later, we were in business.

Have you spoken with Nicolas directly then, and has he been involved in the process so far?

Absolutely. We reached out to Nicolas and were thrilled to hear from him. After a zoom meeting and several emails, we feel very lucky to have his blessing and involvement in the process. Even better, he’s flying to London to see our production, and he’s agreed to participate in a Q&A after the performance on 24 January. It’s a rare privilege when a theatre company gets to work closely with the writer so we are extremely lucky.

You’ve brought together three very experienced actors, how was the casting process?

The casting process was a little unusual. We both saw Gwithian Evans perform last year and were immediately impressed. He was the first person we cast. Louise Faulkner and Jason went to drama school together. Ian was talking to her about another production altogether. While he didn’t think she was right for that part, Ian instinctively felt she was perfect for Miss Peterson. He sent her the script and her marvelous audition proved she was perfect. We never auditioned anyone else. Similarly, in casting for Dr. Greenberg, we reached out to friends at CDM Talent Agency. They sent Jon Osbaldeston over and again, same story. Wonderful audition and never auditioned anyone else. So, all three actors were our first and only choices. How lucky can you get?

How have rehearsals been going? Did you take a break for the festive period or has it been all go?

Rehearsals have been going great. We had Christmas Day off but that was it. As producers, we work 24/7, always checking emails, always putting out fires. That’s what theatre producing is about. Managing everything. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Park Theatre is a lovely venue and PARK90 can be configured in so many ways, can you give us an idea of what you have planned?

We’re performing in the thrust, so we’ll have audience seating on three sides. It’s a modern, intimate space and just the right size for this play. The last two plays we produced were in the thrust too, it’s a ‘fly on the wall’ approach that we really enjoy. Firstly, there’s not a bad seat in the house. Secondly, there’s no distraction, you’re just a few feet from the stage, immersed in the action.

What is next for you after The Elephant Song?

We are producing Neil Simon’s classic comedy California Suite at OSO Arts Centre in Barnes. That opens February 21. And we are currently piloting OSO’s Youth Theatre project, working with young people interested in Theatre. After that, we’ll be working on two brand new plays, one’s a comedy, the other a courtroom drama based on true events. But we’re also passionate about musicals and produced two sell out cabarets in 2022, a format that we want to expand upon in 2023. We are blessed.

Our thanks to OnBook Theatre for taking some time out of rehearsals to chat with us.

The Elephant Song plays at Park Theatre from 18 January until 11 February. Further information and tickets can be found here.

About Dave B

Originally from Dublin but having moved around a lot, Dave moved to London, for a second time, in 2018. He works for a charity in the Health and Social Care sector. He has a particular interest in plays with an Irish or New Zealand theme/connection - one of these is easier to find in London than the other! Dave made his (somewhat unwilling) stage debut via audience participation on the day before Covid lockdowns began. He believes the two are unrelated but is keen to ensure no further audience participation... just to be on the safe side.