Christmas can be a stressful time for many. The soap opera storylines will be as eventful as ever, but seem to hit closer to home, at least for irregular viewers such as yours truly, during the festive period, and there are plenty of people in the world who spend time with people whose presence they would, if they had things their way, rather not be in. Rupert (Tom Campbell-Moffat) has persuaded his wife, Clara (Morgane Richard), with child, to spend Christmas with his family.
The matriarch, Minerva (Madeleine Joyce) turns out to be rather aloof, in a show unafraid of stereotypes, even if the comic effect evidently adds to the audience’s enjoyment of the production. Orson (Taylor Downs) is Rupert’s brother, and then there’s Rupert’s aunt, Rita (Tamar Geist). Doidle (Gabriel Ballestero Frech), perhaps the most eccentric of the lot, is Minerva’s partner, and Bart (Adam Fitchett) is Rita’s ‘muse’ – her choice of words. Clara appears to have the most to contend with, and yet does her best to hold it together, operating (though she does not say so in so many words) under the ‘keep calm and carry on’ philosophy of those World War Two posters.
Musical accompaniment comes courtesy of John-Paul Muir on keyboards. Sometimes the soundscape plays over the dialogue a little too long – thankfully this is not consistently the case, and the script is therefore largely left to shine on its own merits without the sort of underlying background music that I frankly found more suited for a motion picture with lots of scenery to take in. The music hits its peak in a duet between Rita and Minerva, who harmonise rather beautifully in a mellow tune not in English but nonetheless full of heart.
Rupert ran for cover – he says he ran to get help – but whatever his motives, he left Clara on her own when a couple of thieves held her at knifepoint, taking her handbag. As it turns out, Rupert was going through an existential crisis of sorts, and it is only when Minerva and Clara have a private conversation outside that the former resolves to be more affectionate rather than the disciplinarian she needed to be when her sons were children, and the latter resolves to speak her mind more. The adage about not saying anything at all if one doesn’t have anything nice to say (one which I don’t think I’ve ever accepted as universally applicable) thus discarded, Rupert and Clara may still have a long way to go to restore the harmony between them that once existed, but they do at least know where they stand.
Steadily paced, the play’s characters benefit immensely from being in one another’s company, whether they realise it or not. Their different perspectives and life experiences help one another to see their own situations from another angle. An example: Doidle is asked if he finds Minerva’s manner to be ‘overkill’. But as his ex-partner tried to kill him several times, the most salient point in a long reply about what was clearly an abusive relationship, being with Minerva is a marked improvement for him.
Some of the humour, at least to begin with, feels better suited to the general atmosphere of the Edinburgh Fringe (where this production was performed earlier this year). None of the characters are particularly likeable – I suspect deliberately so – which makes the overall comic and poignant nature of the show all the more remarkable. It seems to end rather abruptly, but this doesn’t detract from what is essentially an amusing and thoughtful sixty minutes.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A devastating incident that shakes the foundations of Clara and Rupert’s marriage is immediately obscured by familial chaos. Desperately trying to overlook her husband’s poorly timed identity crisis, Clara tries to cope as Christmas day grows more and more bizarre. The Glass Elephant’s riot of colourful characters will lure you into the “Land of Difficult Questions” as they are each forced to find the courage to shatter the fragile ‘elephant in the room’.
The Glass Elephant is a brand new comedy drama created by Indian-born writer and neuroscientist Anjali Bhat, with an original score written and performed live by the celebrated pianist John-Paul Muir. The play will premiere during this year’s Edinburgh Festival and return to London for the Bloomsbury Festival in October. If you like Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie or Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, this is for you.
Clara: Morgane Richard
Rupert: Tom Campbell-Moffat
Minerva: Madeleine Joyce
Rita: Tamar Geist
Orson: Taylor Downs
Bart: Adam Fitchett
Doidle: Gabriel Ballestero Frech
Written/directed by: Anjali Bhat
Age guidance: 16+
October 12, 2019