Review: The Elephant Thief at Q Theatre

By Janet McAllister

Vanessa Kumar, Nisha Madhan and Jonathon Price star in Indian Ink's latest production The Elephant Thief. Photo / Supplied
Vanessa Kumar, Nisha Madhan and Jonathon Price star in Indian Ink's latest production The Elephant Thief. Photo / Supplied

This entertaining production - Indian Ink's seventh - offers buffoonery (funny teeth and accents), clever theatrics and yards of ramshackle plot. The stories create a crazy patchwork rather than a cohesive whole, but never mind. We're along for the enjoyable pachyderm ride.

Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan have set the play 50 years into the future: India is a superpower receiving all sorts of climate change refugees because, as one character memorably puts it, "Europe's rooted".

This is an interesting turn-the-tables scenario, although it's not fully explored; the play is more interested in Leela, a village girl who might be an elephant mahout (keeper). Maybe it's the French colonial character - yes, stereotypes abound - but the narrative (ever so slightly) seems to echo Apocalypse Now with Leela on an episodic journey through dangerous country towards a meeting with a despot.

The production values are high, and the acting - requiring a complicated choreography of entrances and exits - is superb. Newcomer Vanessa Kumar brings stamina and believability to innocent Leela, and is warmly supported by Nisha Madhan, Patrick Carroll, Julia Croft and Jonathan Price.

The tone veers from tomfoolery to atmospheric; David Ward's music is beautiful and evocative and in one particularly wondrous moment of intense theatre, Carroll seems to mould his own face. Colourful costumes with fun details by Sarah-Jane Blake and Stephen Bain stand out against their corrugated set: there are glitter heels, a gold turban and a uniform of orange and black sporting computer-innard medals.

The last quarter sags a bit and the ending is juddery, offering several pseudo-finishes. Still, the all-audience participation is fun and keeps us happily focused. And we're left with an intriguing question: who is the real elephant thief?

- NZ Herald

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