Although written in 2004 this production of The Elephant Song at The Park Theatre is the UK premiere of Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon’s captivating psychological thriller, of which a film adaptation was made in 2014.
Captivating psychological thriller
Michael (Gwithian Evans) is a patient in a psychiatric hospital of which Dr Greenberg (Jon Osbaldeston) is the director. His regular psychiatrist has mysteriously disappeared, but there are suspicions that Michael might have some knowledge of what has happened to him. Against the advice of Miss Peterson (Louise Faulker), the head nurse, who knows how cunning Michael can be, Dr Greenberg decides to question Michael. Wishing to get straight to the heart of the matter he chooses not to read Michael’s notes as this is not going to be a psychiatric consultation. This proves to be an error of judgment. Little does he know what he is letting himself in for.
The classic period office, with a desk and chair, an important tall cupboard, a couple of soft armless lounge chairs and a coffee table, designed by Ian Nicholas, allows Director Jason Moore plenty of scope for movement. He makes the most of the space and furnishings which enable Michael to occupy various positions, places and levels, including sitting on the floor, that match his controlling strategies.
Michael has the upper hand throughout the mind-games he plays with the insecure Greenberg. He knows the layout of the room and the locations of key items that will play a role in his various stories. In a gripping performance, Evans oozes intelligence and navigates a course full of twists and turns, suddenly embarking on a surprise new tack with calm yet resolute aplomb that leaves Dr Greenberg all at sea. Osbaldeston shows the effects of this in often floundering and nervous responses that suggest Greenberg is not really up to the job. He falls for the quid pro quo of favours Michael wants in return for information. He fears threats of a sexual scandal being revealed, not for the first time. He only manages to control the head nurse by virtue of his position but Faulker, in a slender role also knows how to stand up for herself and carries the air of one who knows rather more than the doctor would wish. Collectively they capture the all-round discomfort of the situation.
As for the elephant, there is one in the room and another that features in a life-changing story that Michael tells, if it’s true, that is. In either case it’s part of the emotional journey Evans recounts with mesmerising conviction and magnetic charm, at the end of which, like the elephant, you might even shed a tear.