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The Elephant in the Room by Peter Hamilton – Theatre at the Tabard

There’s a touch of the absurd in this somewhat unwieldy play. Ashley Davenport (Fraser Anthony) is compelled, to completely misquote Trainspotting, to choose death. At nineteen years of age, he feels there isn’t much point, at least partly because as a posh white boy who has inherited vast amounts of wealth, he thinks he was born into the wrong century, with power and influence these days in the hands of the global majority. In the fantastical world of this show where this is the case, it’s also a surprise that Ashley is even able to secure accommodation in a retirement home, but it’s one of those places that is happy to take his money regardless.

The Elephant in the RoomThat doesn’t, of course, stop the other residents from questioning his motives, or even discussing between them what precisely should be done with him. There is general consensus that he should be encouraged to go out and live his life, but disagreement on what that specifically means. In the end, it transpires such discussions were ultimately unnecessary, as even in the alternative universe of the play, it isn’t possible to pre-determine one’s own destiny, as Judith Wells (Kristin Milward) discovers when she manifests (so to speak) going to meet her maker: “I want to be gone and be with Christ,” she emphatically declares. Well, let’s just say, as the Rolling Stones put it, you can’t always get what you want.

Krish Iyengar (Yasser Kayani), who I will call a healthcare supervisor, is the outwardly jovial face of the retirement home: his instructions in a staff briefing to healthcare assistant Kim-Ly (Lee Jia-Yu) and cook Miguel (Baptiste Semin) focus on the proverbial stiff upper lip: “Only the residents are allowed to be depressed”. Kayani’s comic timing as ‘Mr Krish’, as his character was generally known, was delightful. The play’s writer, Peter Hamilton, took care to make his play an ensemble piece – every character gets their moment to shine. I’m still not entirely sure what purpose a celebration of Holy Communion in the first half really served, other than to note the retirement home is thoughtful of the spiritual lives of the residents as well as their food and exercise regimens.

Rosemary Broom (Josie Ayers) came across as the most stoical of the core group of residents with whom Ashley finds affinity with. Johnny Copthorne (Craig Crosbie), the oldest in the group, has powers of recall of events decades ago, while David Webley (Stephen Omer) has remained steadfastly socialist into retirement. In the course of the residents’ conversations, Croydon, Guildford, Basingstoke and Reading (amongst many other places) are name-dropped, adding some realism, though it is perhaps Kim-Ly’s determination to get UK citizenship one way or another that keeps the narrative grounded more than anything else. If anything, it’s a reminder that despite Britain’s problems, which seem to be legion at times, some people would still rather live here than in their own country.

Between them, the ‘oldies’ (my choice of word) have achieved quite a bit in their lives, which provides plenty of things to reminisce about. Rightly or wrongly, the memories are all verbally recalled rather than reconstructed or dramatised through flashback scenes. The ‘talking heads’ focus of proceedings might make it difficult for some to maintain interest throughout – I thought it was a bit like watching a documentary on occasion. Then again, it is a portrayal of life in a retirement village, and some of the more humorous moments made me think of the television sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. But I don’t think I learned anything new or detected anything particularly insightful or perceptive, even if it is an imaginative and abstract piece of theatre.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

After a vision of his own mortality Ashley Davenport, a wealthy young Englishman seeks to give up everything and embrace a life of poverty and devotion. But not just yet. Checking himself into an expensive retirement home, he is surrounded by a cast of unique characters all with their own dreams and aspirations.

As Ashley navigates through life and searches for his purpose, he meets Kim-Ly, a young Vietnamese woman who dreams of becoming a cosmologist but is an illegal immigrant. Together, they turn Ashley’s Edwardian villa, complete with a live Indian elephant, into a haven for young illegals to find their footing in life. Through a series of comedic and dramatic encounters, they discover love in unexpected places and embark on an all encompassing journey of self-discovery and growth.

Cast
Baptiste Semin as MIGUEL
Craig Crosbie as GEORGE ‘JOHNNY’ COPTHORNE
Fraser Anthony as ASHLEY DAVENPORT
Josie Ayers as ROSEMARY BROOM
Kristin Milward as JUDITH WELLS
Lee Jia-Yu as KIM-LY
Stephen Omer as DAVID WEBLEY
Yasser Kayani as KRISH IYENGAR

8th November – 2nd December 2023
https://tabard.org.uk/

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