by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Everyone deserves a happy ending, and as we head towards the festive season, messages of hope and forgiveness start to provide us with a real sense of magic. This is perhaps what the RSC is tying to do with its winter production of The Magician’s Elephant, based on Kate DiCamillo’s book. A young orphan is told by a fortune teller that he will find his sister if he follows the elephant. But there has never been an elephant in Baltese…or has there?
It’s a fairly traditional arc, with our suffering hero going on a journey of discovery, helped and hindered by plenty of interesting characters. It begins with a mesmerising opening scene. A magical narrator (Amy Booth-Steel) introduces us to the town and her sleight of hand provides ripples of anticipation and excitement around the theatre.
Our hero Peter (Jack Wolfe) is excellent. Naive and curious with an excellent voice and stage presence, he is totally believable as a young boy looking to belong. The police chief (Forbes Masson) provides the comedy, while the young couple (Melissa James and Marc Antolin) guide our hero on his quest. Antolin and James are wonderful to watch. Their chemistry is genuine, but their sadness is heartbreaking; in spite of this their concern for Peter is very natural and touching. Summer Strallen plays the ‘villain’ – a spoilt, childlike countess who is incensed that the elephant’s arrival has stopped people talking about her. But the real star is of course the elephant, which is an impressive feat of stage design and incredibly realistic. The lighting works well to create a mysterious ambiance which is effective and intense.
It’s a lovely story, with simple songs that children will enjoy and a nice sprinkling of humour for the adults. Although a good production, it feels quite safe and there’s little to make it stand out from other musicals. At times it is very hard to hear some of the actors, especially those speaking quickly. There are also certain topics that make the story very dark in places and almost unsuitable for very young audience members. That said, this is still a magical production that leaves you with a fuzzy, festive feeling of joy.
The Magician’s Elephant runs through 1 January.
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