An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo
- Kelly Apter
- 22 August 2018
This article is from 2018
Superb solo show captures all the beauty, fear and humour of Morpurgo's novel
When we first meet Lizzie, she's celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's 9 November 1989 and the reunification of Germany has her thrilled and relieved in equal measure. From here, Lizzie begins to reminisce – back to a time when the build-up to something, not the tearing down, was uppermost in her mind.
As a little girl growing up in Dresden, she could hear the rumblings of Hitler's rise to power, on the streets and in her own living room, where her parents locked horns with their right-wind siblings. Actor Alison Reid switches between characters – her younger self, her mother, father, uncle – with nothing but a twist of the voice. No costumes or props required, just her own remarkable skill.
When war breaks, and Dresden Zoo (where her mother works) starts to shoot all the animals, a young elephant comes to stay, as the title suggest, in their garden. But as tension mounts, Lizzie, her mother and the eponymous lumbering beast set off across Germany chasing safety.
It's an epic journey lasting months, and Reid plants images in our head one step at a time. We can see the farmhouse where they meet a lost Canadian airman, visualise the Countess who offers temporary shelter in her mansion. Most of all, we can see the elephant who ends up in one garden after another, provoking laughter from the crowd each time he's mentioned.
Commanding a stage all by yourself, and never letting go of the hold you have over your audience is no mean feat. But Reid takes us by the hand to war-torn Germany and back with such assurance, there's never any question of her losing us.