Review: The Elephant in the Garden (Barn Theatre, online)

The Elephant in the Garden is a one-woman show based on the book in Michael Morpurgo’s Animals in War series.

A co-production of Poonamallee Productions and the Barn Theatre, Cirencester, this show takes us back to Second World War Germany and sixteen-year-old Lizzie, who watches the persecution of her Jewish neighbours with mounting unease.

Once her father goes to war, Lizzie and her mother are forced to flee their home after the bombing of Dresden. Circumstance sees them accompanied by an elephant they call Marlene (“a fleeing refugee like the rest of us”).

Alison Reid as Lizzie in The Elephant in the Garden

Adapted and directed by Simon Reade, The Elephant in the Garden showcases the acting range of performer Alison Reid. She not only brings the teenage Lizzie to life, but also many other characters from her travels.

Although the book is written for those aged eight and over, the show may be a bit scary at times for more sensitive children. I felt it kept a sensible balance between the horrors of conflict and lighter animal/romance story, but you may want to bear this in mind.

Max John’s set design cleverly hints at dilapidated buildings, farms, and the elephant itself (who remains unseen, except in Reid’s movement and suggestion). Matthew Graham’s lighting and Jason Barnes’s sound bring moments of peril and particularly the burning of Dresden to life.

Alison Reid in The Elephant in the Garden

As Lizzie finds her first love in a barn as they flee, the message is clear. Definitions of good and evil can sometimes be more complex than we think. An enemy airman may be a force for good: it is war which muddles the waters, and causes fear to spread.

An elephant, a compass, a choir, a circus. All have their place in The Elephant in the Garden. And at the end, as at the beginning, Lizzie is back in Berlin at the fall of the Wall, 1989 – as freedom comes to those who watch and wait.

You can watch The Elephant in the Garden until 18 April 2021 – tickets available here.

Image credit: Farrows Creative

LouReviews received complimentary access to review The Elephant in the Garden.