Review by Daz Gale
Anoushka Lucas is no stranger to shows moving to bigger venues with her acclaimed turn in Oklahoma transferring to the West End last year. Now she is moving to a bigger space in Bush Theatre with her solo show Elephant, originally performed in the studio space there last year. Having seen all the plaudits and awards for its first outing last year, it was time for me to experience the elephant in the room for myself – but would this be a show I would never forget?
The debut play from Anoushka Lucas first appeared as part of the Bush’s Protest series as a response to the murder of George Floyd. It now returns in an expanded version in the Bush’s larger space, the Holloway Theatre. Elephant can be described as part gig, part musical love story and part journey through Empire. It sees Anoushka portray the character of Lylah as the story veers from her childhood in 1996 to her adult life in 2017/18 as she falls in love in multiple ways, with her love of the piano a constant throughout. As she attempts to get through life being good and not asking questions, a frustration grows and a connection to the show’s title reveals itself.
Anoushka’s writing continuously impresses through the speedy one-act play from the moment Elephant suddenly begins with a phrase that won’t make sense to you at first. As events from the play unfold, the meaning behind this line suddenly becomes apparent, landing with such an impact that speaks of the intelligence of her writing. Perfectly painting the world Lylah finds herself in, events are foreshadowed and the overarching themes of Elephant are given time and patience to have their seeds planted so that when it does finally come to the forefront, it leaves a lasting impression.
Racism plays an integral role in the story. As increasingly shocking comments that Lylah chooses not to act on are initially disregarded, it is a slow burn to give this theme the gravitas it deserves. When that moment does finally happen and Lylah switches in an instant, all the events from the past 80 minutes build up into one explosive moment. The way this is played out felt markedly different from other plays simultaneously luring us into a false sense of security that nothing bad was going to happen while the more logical part of our brain ticks away knowing full well something is about to go down. This speaks volumes to the sheer quality of the writing, knowing that slow and steady will win the race and the eventual outburst is well worthy of the anticipation that leads up to it.
If Anoushka Lucas’ writing is exceptional in itself, it is matched by her sensational acting. Anyone who has been lucky enough to witness her in shows such as Oklahoma and Jesus Christ Superstar will know what a remarkable performer she is. Have her perform a role she has created herself and that artistry takes on a whole new level. Fully tapping in to the character in a way nobody else could, Anoushka gives an outstanding performance, understated for the most part which allows for a mammoth contrast at the show’s climax, showcasing her versatility and skills as a performer.
Anoushka’s musical performances delight throughout. Though they may not be as frequent as you would expect, her beautiful and emotive singing voice is given some stunning self-written songs to sink her teeth into, all of which further the story and again prove her talents as a writer, actor and musician. It’s not a complete one-person-band though as director Jess Edwards ensures Anoushka’s writing can come to life in the best possible way with her always glorious choices.
Elephant is further proof of Anoushka Lucas’ talents as a performer but adds to that just how exceptional she is as a writer. In this show, she has created a powerful and thought-provoking piece that takes crucial topics and brings something new and refreshing in how we should all perceive it. A completely captivating watch throughout, Elephant is a show I will never forget.
Elephant plays at Bush Theatre until 4th November. Tickets from https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/
Photos by The Other Richard