This article first appeared on The Oxford Student website on 3 June 2015.
An intimate story about a pair of middle-class couples dripping in angst, Elephants is a witty, fast-paced play with a wonderfully bleak undertone. Everyone has secrets they’re keeping from everyone else, which bubble constantly beneath the surface, intermittently boiling over with painful (and hilarious) results. The title says it all: the play is set in one room containing a veritable stampede.
The plot is a fairly standard sitcom setup, imbued with a sense of humanity and pathos. Laura (Olivia Homewood) and Greg (Alex Hill) are an unhappy ex-couple, together for the evening after a period of living separately. After Greg makes a fool of himself at their son’s parents’ evening, Laura drags him home and informs him that their friends Jennifer and Todd (Maddy Walker and Anthony Maskell) will be coming round, and that they must act the happy couple in order to get their son into Jennifer’s posh school. From there the play slowly builds from Laura and Greg’s passive-aggressive loathing into a maelstrom of fury, jealousy and bitterness, which leaves no one untouched. All the characters are horrible, twisted and spiteful to one degree or another, but in an extremely human, relatable way. If the audience occasionally winces at the more histrionic outbursts, it is only because we recognise a bit too much of ourselves in there.
If the play has problems, they’re strictly structural; the first ten minutes or so are a bit weak, with Homewood and Hill left alone on stage to set things up. You can practically hear the grinding of gears as bits of back-story slide into place, and one can’t shake the feeling that we’re just waiting around for the plot to turn up. Once Walker and Maskell stroll on stage we’re off to the races, but a slow start does not help matters.
The cast, however, are largely impeccable. Olivia Homewood is the emotional centre of the play and handles the transitions between passive-aggressive charmer and screaming psycho perfectly. Alex Hill is charming and funny, lending an effortless breeziness to his comic lines, while Maddy Walker does an excellent job as a prim and proper headmistress, with a similar lightness of touch. Anthony Maskell is brilliant as Todd, bringing a knack for understatement and physical comedy to what could easily have been a bog-standard straight man role.
Elephants is a solid comedy with a wonderfully morbid streak, and while Maskell’s script has a few flaws which prevent it from attaining perfection, it nonetheless makes for a very entertaining evening. Another hit in what has so far proven to be an excellent term for student drama.
Elephants is on at the BT Studio until Saturday 6th June, performing at 9.30.