REVIEW (From a distance): An Elephant in the Garden, The Barn Theatre

The Barn Theatre, Cirencester is building up a strong reputation for transporting the works of War Horse author, Michael Morpurgo to the stage. Following a 2019 adaptation of The Butterfly Lion, and 2020’s Private Peaceful (which missed out on its West End transfer due to Covid but will be back at the Barn digitally later this month) the Barn and Poonamallee Productions bring An Elephant in the Garden to the digital stage for the Easter holidays.

Set against the backdrop of the 1945 Dresden bombings, An Elephant in the Garden follows Lizzie (Alison Reid) and her mother as they flee the Allied fire-bombing with an unusual travelling companion, Marlene the elephant. With their home in flames and their future uncertain, you could forgive the family for harbouring hatred towards the Allied forces. But a chance encounter with a Canadian RAF navigator sees them form an unlikely alliance that will change Lizzie’s life forever.

A masterclass in storytelling, the single-hander sees the adult Lizzie recount the epic tale of courage and determination as she looks back on the turmoil of her teenage years at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Adapted and directed by Simon Reade, it’s a gorgeous production which sensitively explores complex themes of loss, adversity and conflict in an entertaining and engaging way. It’s beautifully done and manages to address the horrors of war in a way which is suitable for young audiences without sugar-coating things or shying from the truth. Reid’s performance is incredibly impressive, holding the attention of an online audience for over an hour as she plays both storyteller and the subjects of the story, switching effortlessly between accents as she recounts encounters with allies and enemies, and even capturing the movement of Marlene.

Alison Reid in An Elephant in the Garden. Credit: Farrows Creative

Although there may not be a live, in-person audience, this is very much a piece of pure theatre. From Max Johns’ circus-inspired set to Matthew Graham’s stunning lighting, it is clearly designed for the stage. Thanks to director of photography, Alex Tabrizi and editor, Ben Thomas, that stage is brought into the homes of the audience in a way that makes them feel almost as if they are in the auditorium. And like all good theatre, it is neither aimed squarely at children nor at adults but is genuinely a joy to watch together. Although there is no age recommendation on the production, we would suggest that the themes and the format make it most suitable for children ages 9 and above. Quaver (7) got a big fidgety during some of the slower sections but Crotchet (9) was enthralled throughout, and it also opened up a good opportunity to talk to her about some of the themes raised afterwards.

An Elephant in the Garden is a poignant production that will unite and delight generations of families as they are drawn into Lizzie’s tale of triumph over adversity. A perfect choice for those looking to bring the magic of theatre into their living room this Easter.

An Elephant in the Garden runs from 2 to 18 April. Tickets cost £13.50 for 24 hour access. We received complimentary press access in return for a review.