Review: Elephantology Festival, Blue Elephant Theatre

The Blue Elephant Theatre’s Elephantology Festival throws up some great new work from recent graduates, particularly Active B!tch Face’s Violent Circumstances

“My hand is held all the way home”

It is worth remembering that the recent Arts Council England funding decisions affected smaller organisations as well as those that dominated the headlines. So whilst the likes of ENO and Hampstead Theatre can rely on newspaper front pages and extended coverage in The Stage to wage public battles against the cuts and even somewhere like Oldham Coliseum can call on Maxine Peake and Julie Hesmondhalgh to rally to their cause, the loss of NPO status to undersung venues like Camberwell’s Blue Elephant Theatre is no less devastating for its relative lack of attention.

As a result, the theatre is having to pause its programming from April as it goes through a process of redirecting its resources so I was glad to be able to get along to attend two of the three shows forming part of its Elephantology Festival. Elephantology is Blue Elephant Theatre’s Festival for recent graduates and those who are just entering the performing arts industry, platforming new plays alongside a solo performance showcase featuring talent from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Trinity Laban, The Free Association, University of Chichester and more.

First up for me though was Sally MacAlister’s Tiny Babies, a curious three-hander circling around notions of inherited trauma and tricky family dynamics. Opening on an overturned urn of spilled ashes, Lowri Mathias’ production certainly makes an impact from the off but I’m not entirely sure that it maintained it through its hour-long running time. Twin sisters Sophie and Rona have a secret but differ on what to do with it, especially once Sophie’s partner Robbie arrives on the scene. Ricocheting around a fractured timeline, it looks at the consequences of delving into family past with a twist of academic arrogance.

Produced by Active B!tch Face Theatre, Susannah Cann’s Violent Circumstances burns with immediacy and a painful relevance. Inspired by the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, it weaves together different experiences of being a woman in a contemporary society where feeling safe is no longer a guarantee. From nightclubs with too many stairs to daily commutes to work that should be secure, male friends who can’t help but f*ck up with 15 year olds to female friends who reckon #notallmen, it’s a blistering look at the state of the world today and powerfully told.

Cann’s direction has a pleasing theatrical bent to it, transitions used to reinforce ideas of community in the face of such desperation as opposed to basic scene changes. And there’s a vein of (often dark) comedy that does a little to alleviate some of the trauma. But through the deep commitment of the performances from Cann, Catherine Thomas, Phoebe Shepherd and Annabel Lisk, there’s a stark request to sit and listen, not to look away or laugh off the daily realities of danger, harassment and outright violence. A company to watch out for.

The Elephantology Festival is booking at the Blue Elephant Theatre until 25th February

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