Jan 26 2018 | By More

★★★★☆   Accomplished debut

Assembly Roxy: Thurs 25 – Sat 27 Jan 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Some excellent acting distinguishes ‘festive black comedy’ Elephants from new company Threepenny Theatricals upstairs at the Roxy.

The elephants in the title of Rose Heiney’s play are of the ‘in the room’ type, as the Llewellyn family prepare for their first Christmas since the death of son Christopher. The family and their guests all have sorrows and problems, both hidden and not so hidden.

Mia Oudeh, Rebekah Lansley, Fiona Main and Elspeth Whyte. Pic Ross Main

In its depiction of the complacencies of a middle-class household punctured by a situation spiralling out of control, all punctuated by pitch-black, razor-sharp witticisms, the first half in particular is so reminiscent of Alan Ayckbourn it almost hurts.

This is not necessarily a drawback. There are far worse models, and it is witty, involving and carefully plotted. Unfortunately, the second half is far more meandering.

There are interesting things being said about guilt, loss, despair and dependency, but they are often couched in unconvincing speeches where the characters tell us how they feel rather than showing us. Add in some clumsy magic realism, and it is in need of serious editing long before a pat resolution that the preceding story has not come close to earning.

achieved and compelling

That said, Threepenny Theatricals make a more than adequate fist of things. Christopher’s ex-girlfriend Lizzy, being an outsider, is perhaps the least extreme character on view, but that is not enough to explain the way that she is the most convincing character here – credit for that must go to Mia Oudeh’s excellent performance. Much less expansive than some other portrayals, it is never less than achieved and compelling.

Mia Oudeh and Rebekah Lansley. Pic Ross Main

Equally impressive is Rebekah Lansley as desperately troubled daughter Daisy. Not only does she display perfect comic timing, she also deals with some very difficult dialogue with genuine emotional clarity. A scene featuring these two is the only time the more serious, ‘let’s all confront our feelings’ dialogue rings true.

Even if some of the serious conversations fall flat, there can be no doubting the quality of the delivery elsewhere. Time and again funny lines are hit perfectly, extracting the maximum humour. Director Fiona Main (founder of the company along with husband Ross) and the cast deserve great praise for this.

Simon Boothroyd, as despairing alcoholic father Richard, is very good at getting laughs from unpromising lines. Main herself, as his wife Sally, is impressive at switching from forced bonhomie to genuine sorrow.

genuine warmth and humanity

Elspeth Whyte and Chris Cotter (houseguests Valerie and Dick) have difficult tasks, as the couple’s paper-thin veneer of liberalism is beyond cartoonish. Dick is a horrendous creation, but once again, Cotter’s gorgeous timing more than compensates. Whyte, meanwhile, invests Valerie with genuine warmth and humanity.

The appearance of Gordon Horne’s character is rather ill-advised, but that isn’t his fault, and his portrayal of the tarnished golden child – irresponsible but still endearing – is spot on.

The name Threepenny Theatricals suggests a somewhat homespun approach, but this is far from evident from the production values. The set is truly impressive, with both a family Christmas and a garden shed being lovingly detailed, and wonderfully lit by Mike Pendlowski.

Equal care has gone into the direction. Not only is there a genuine ensemble feel, the cast manage to navigate two potentially horrendous pitfalls – not only an actual meal eaten on stage, but some real-time kitten wrangling.

Such difficult tasks being effortlessly discharged typifies this production. The play itself must go down as interesting rather than essential, but it is well staged – indeed, there are elements that it is difficult to imagine ever being done better than they are here.

Threepenny Theatricals’ debut outing is a resounding success.

Running time 2 hours 35 minutes including one interval
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Thursday 25 – Saturday 27 January 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinee Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and information: www.assemblyroxy.com
Facebook event page: www.facebook.com

Threepenny Theatrical website: www.threepenny-theatricals.org
Facebook: @3pennytheatre.
Twitter: @3penny_theatre.

Read our interview with director Fiona Main here: Elephants in the Roxy.

The script of Elephants is published by Nick Hern Books: www.nickhernbooks.co.uk.
It is also available from Amazon:

Mia Oudeh, Fiona Main, Rebekah Lansley, Elspeth Whyte, Chris Cotter and (standing) Simon Boothroyd. Pic Ross Main


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,