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Review: Elephant at Bush Theatre

Yasmin Elkilany

By Yasmin Elkilany First Published 26 October 2022, Last Updated 21 April 2023

Part gig, part piano lesson, part journey through Empire – Elephant is a powerful new play from Anoushka Lucas (star of Oklahoma!, Young Vic).

A piano came through the sky and landed in Lylah’s council flat, just for her. As she pours over the keys and sound floods into all the rooms, Lylah falls in love. So she asks her piano: Where did you come from? Why are you here? And their shared history tumbles into the light. 

One of the play’s principal themes is the interdependence of history and humankind. The play subtly yet cogently prompts the audience to recognise how the complex history of colonialism is not merely a history, but entirely a pressing and present issue. The interconnected nature of colonial history is aptly summarised by Lylah urging her partner’s family to recognise that ‘there’s so much British Empire in your living room. In you. It’s here with us now’. The play profoundly reminds us of this inescapable fact.

A beautiful aspect of the play is the way in which music guides Lylah. Her passion for music persists throughout the hardships she faces; she draws light to the visceral power of music, such as her exhortation that ‘the sound inside the piano travels into you, and we are all vibrating together’. Elephant demonstrates how music grounds oneself, yet is a powerful tool to challenge thought.

At school, Lylah can’t ask questions – she’s got to be good, good, good or else she’ll lose her scholarship. At home she can’t ask questions; her cousins say she talks weird, and her parents are distracted. Anoushka Lucas’ writing deftly illustrates how colonial legacy detrimentally presents itself in even the most unexpected of social situations. 

The way that the play switches between Lylah facing discrimination different stages in her life, including as a seven-year-old child (when she is too young to recognise it to be such), accurately and meaningfully depicts the process of reflection in later life, which is bound up with understanding Empire and its influence on us all. 

Lylah’s confrontation with her partner’s parents, in which she challenges their treatment of her, skilfully portrays the frustration which marginalised people perpetually face when navigating the social world. Having to modify and change one’s identity is demanding, and reconciling relationships can be even harder.

The set design allows for an incredibly intimate acting performance, allowing you to truly connect with Lylah’s character, as well as to lose yourself in the stunning music which she performs. Anoushka Lucas is an incredible talent with fantastic versatility – this show is not to be missed!

The Bush Theatre is a wonderful venue with plenty of ambiance – it’s a great place to have a drink, grab some food and catch up with friends. There’s lots of artwork and quotes up around the venue – it’s a real cultural hub. The Bush Theatre’s shows often challenge social issues – you’ll certainly leave craving to go back to see more.

Quote on the wall stating 'definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.' Toni Morrison


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Anoushka Lucas bush theatre Elephant

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