theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
The French company, Royal de Luxe, got everyone talking about its street theatre event, The Sultan’s Elephant, which took place in London over the weekend, not least critics Carole Woddis and Howard Loxton. One says Great Art, Life-changing Communality, the other says Big Event, Bad Theatre.
Carole describes the production, organized by Helen Marriage and Nicky Webb of Artichoke Productions, as the “most fantastic thing” she’s ever seen. (Marriage and Webb spent five years persuading Royal de Luxe to visit and the London authorities to agree.)
“I was in tears. The size of it, the response of the crowd, the Pied Piperedness of it, the slow processing of it down the Mall and Piccadilly with its great ears flapping and the French style rock then Indian music, the response of the kids on the shoulders of their parents, the response of the parents. I just gazed in wonder.
“You could see all its articulations, its wires, you could see it wasn’t ‘real’; but like any great puppetry, the unreality, as Lyn Gardner so eloquently put it in her Guardian review, was transformed into art. And the art was in the streets, in the ambience, in the communality of it all, the wild and wonderful gallic flair and imagination.
“I remember many years ago a company called Le Grand Magic Circus coming to the Roundhouse and they had a similar kind of controlled, imaginative anarchy. I couldn’t bear to leave it – her, he. I was late for all my appointments on Monday but was so pleased to have caught it and told other friends who were equally awed!
“The French have it, just that little extra sense of wildness and style which can turn the impossible into a life-changing event.”
But can it be described as street theatre? Howard, who has already written about his experience of The Sultan’s Elephant, says:
“What I saw of this four-day event – and most members of the public probably only saw a short episode – still did not make me rank this work highly as a piece of street theatre. But I, and thousands more, enjoyed it. Lots of people have told me how impressed they were. It must count as a success. But with the enormous effort and resources involved – not to mention cost – there should have been more to it.
“It proved that such events are manageable in London. There were hints that this might be the kind of thing to attempt for the Olympics. I hope we’ve learned something about the proxemics of working with crowds and that we will show more theatrical imagination and offer a more involving structure, instead of fencing off the public at a great distance.”
© Sarah Vernon 2006
Originally published on R&V 10-05-06
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