Review: An Elephant in the Garden, Poonamallee Productions and the Barn Theatre

RATING: ★★★★

Produced by Poonamallee Productions in collaboration with the Barn Theatre and in association with Exeter Northcott Theatre, An Elephant in the Garden is a unique wartime coming-of-age story now available to stream online. Based on the book by Michael Morpurgo, the play is adapted and directed by Simon Reade. It explores World War II from the perspective of a teenage girl from Dresden, Germany. This one-woman show, with all characters performed by Alison Reid, is the Barn Theatre's latest in a line of fantastic digital offerings. 

An Elephant in the Garden has been performed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the Bristol Old Vic and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe, and on tour in the UK. This is the show's first time being brought to the digital stage. Reid, dressed in dungarees and a floral button-down, tells the story directly to the audience. 

The show opens on November 9, 1989 with Lizzie hearing on the radio that the Berlin Wall is being torn down. She reflects back on her childhood in Dresden leading up to the war. Her father worked at the Dresden Art Gallery and the family had Jewish friends. She chronicles how things started to change in the city and her father was called up to war and her mother began working at the zoo. 

Most of the show focuses on the 1945 Dresden bombings and 16-year-old Lizzie, her mother, and an elephant named Marlene walking across the country to try to find safety. Reid brings to life all the people that Lizzie meets along the way from a Canadian Air Force soldier to a countess. 

The show's design is excellent from the fantastic sound design by Jason Barnes to the lighting work by Matthew Graham. In particular, the red lighting as Lizzie talks about the bombing of Dresden is very effective. Max Johns's set design is minimalistic, with its main piece being a bombed out section of a wall, and there are few props used. 

It's Reid who fully emerges us in the story as she brings all of the characters to life. She does a fantastic job of conjuring up visuals with her high-energy body language and voice work. She makes the piece completely engaging for its one-hour runtime. 

It's interesting to explore World War II from a German perspective and to see issues of wartime intertwined with the usual coming-of-age topics like first love and disagreements with parents. This story of a teenage girl and her mother traipsing across Germany with an elephant will touch your heart and make you laugh. 

This is the first of two Michael Morpurgo productions to be revived for streaming by the Barn Theatre. Private Peaceful will air later in April. Buying a ticket for An Elephant in the Garden provides 24-hour access and is available internationally. 

You can find more information and buy tickets on the Barn Theatre website. The show runs until April 18. 

Photo Credit: Farrows Creative

I was given a press ticket to this show for the purposes of review, but all opinions are my own. 

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