A Trilogy: bag--

Mix one of cup of Eat, Pray, Love with three tablespoons of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and you’ll get something a little like A Trilogy: bag--, one of three standalone shows from Dennis Elkins at theSpaceUK.

Bubbles over with irrepressible energy

Feeling lost and looking for an epiphany, Mr Dennis is charmed enough by the sparkling smile of a Belgium friend to decide to explore India for a month upon his recommendation. Despite considering himself to be well-travelled and open-minded, he finds himself completely overwhelmed and bowled over by India.

It’s easy to get carried away by Elkins’ narration, undimmed even by the warmth of the venue, which bubbles over with irrepressible energy. In full storytelling mode, we join Mr Dennis on his Asian adventure, but it’s not all miracles and Maharajas. In fact, much of it seems to be pretty miserable. We often get to hear the audio of his inner thoughts: a bold move as they appear to be transparent and unfiltered. As a result, they are sometimes mean and fearful, and often negative and complaining, as his conventional sensibilities are shocked by his experiences. He feels as though he’s been thrown into the deep end: having to sleep on concrete slabs, forced to relieve himself in public, and left slightly disappointed by the previously unannounced appearance of his good looking Belgian friend’s girlfriend and their Indian companion, which transforms a presumed pairing into an unexpected quartet.

There’s a purpose to this griping: the timing of his journey corresponds with the 2016 American elections. Yes, the one which saw President Trump claim a place in the White House. As an American, white, man on the other side of 50 and brought up in a relatively conservative and traditional Kansas home, Elkins uses bag to examine what makes his compatriots embrace the rhetoric of fear over love. Although he considers himself to not have “a racist bone” in his body, and feels he is more inclined to love than to hate, he is vulnerable enough to admit to foibles he believes he shares with those venerating a different kind of elephant. Upon further examination, it seems that he hates more than he thought: there’s mosquitos for a start, and taking his clothes to the laundrette, among a host of other annoyances. Trying to understand the perspective of Trump voters, he comes to a realisation that fear, ripe for exploitation, is never far away for those feeling out of place.

This critical assessment of himself and his own privileges as a white American of European descent is to be applauded: not everyone in his position has this level of introspective insight. However, although his final conclusion is a positive and hopeful one, it draws a rather simplistic portrait of a country as diverse and complex as India. Calling the locals he encountered people who were “always smiling” despite their difficulties is a hackneyed encapsulation. In the end, this can only be the perspective of one white American man in India, a singular personal journey. In lesser hands, it might feel too clichéd, but Elkins has a self-depreciating charm and warm sense of humour that makes him a very enjoyable travel companion.

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Reviews by Elanor Parker

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★★★
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★★★
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A Trilogy: box.

★★★★

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Performances

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The Blurb

Refusing to join the Old-White-Guys Club, master storyteller Dennis Elkins travels through India searching for a divine life-affirming epiphany. In bag, Mr Dennis criss-crosses India via trains, tuk-tuks and taxis in hopes of uncovering the mysteries of middle age. Clutching his backpack full of guilt and to-do list: seeking guidance from some appropriate spirit; scattering his son’s ashes in an appropriate place; and seeing the Taj Mahal. Traveling with a circus of oddly matched pilgrims, our hero confronts his fears and preconceptions.

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