Ambitious work acknowledges the elephant in the room
By Myron My
Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Heard of Elephants is a musical on elephant conservation that follows a herd of elephants over a year as they face daily threats from nature and man. Further to that, the play explores the intricate relationships these animals share with each other by exploring their strong links to family, mating rituals and traditions within their species.
The way writer and director Katherine Phelps has humanized elephants with her cast (Alanna Baschera, Victoria Haslam, Karanvir Malhorta, Suhasini Seelin and Harlene Hercules) is surprisingly clever and charming. Their basic movements and simple costumes easily persuade you that they are indeed elephants, provided you allow the magic of theatre to do its work.
The narrative switches between two perspectives: that of the elephants, and that of Chene (James Ao), a conservationist working to keep the elephants safe in their uncertain present. It is here that Heard of Elephants begins to struggle finding a balance between entertaining and educating the audience. Phelps is clearly passionate about conservation and saving the elephants however, in order to make her point, the story unfortunately loses its heart and its engagement with the audience. We spend close to an hour getting to understand how elephants live and the threats that surround them, but the final ten minutes seem chaotic and clumsy as Phelps attempts to cover too much plot too fast.
The stage design, while minimal, is actually quite effective; the scene where the herd is bathing in water, the birthing of Mim and the lighting during the drought are creatively constructed. However, it would benefit the show more if the sound and lighting crew were not positioned at the front of the stage with the cast, as this was often distracting from the actual performance.
While Heard of Elephants has an important message to convey, I feel it needs to rethink the story it wants to share and take its time telling it, so that the audience can truly appreciate what is happening and being said.
Venue: SomaChi Yoga Studio, 15 Belford St, Collingwood
Season: until 2 October | Fri – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 2.30pm
Length: 70 minutes
Tickets: $25 Full | $22.50 Conc / Groups 6+ | $20 Children
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival
Image by Gregg Kerr