29 October 2021

The Magician's Elephant (Royal Shakespeare Company) Review

 "You look into its eyes and for a moment it feels real"

"Follow, follow, follow the elephant" the ensemble sing, and this new musical from The Royal Shakespeare Company delivers magic and intrigue that will delight the young and old as the theatre welcomes audiences back inside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for the first time since March 2020.

The Elephant (Puppeteers - Zoe Halliday, Wela Mbusi, and Suzanne Nixon) and Peter (Jack Wolfe). Photo by Manuel Harlan.


This musical adaptation by Nancy Harris and Marc Teitler from Kate DiCamillo's fantasy book is brilliantly stylised with superb design by Colin Richmond. Set in the fantasy town of Baltese, in the midst of a bleak post-war winter, it's a dark cleverly designed production and is beautiful to look at and is fabulously enhanced by Oliver Fenwick's lighting design.

The town is full of eccentric characters who are all going about their lives but the story centres on young Peter Duchene, an orphan who lost his Dad in the recent conflict and who is driven by his desire to find his long-lost sister. A visit to a mysterious fortune teller who tells Peter to "follow the elephant" as it will lead him to her sets of a chain of events.

The then arrival of an elephant conjured by accident by the Magician sets off a chain of events that helps Peter in his search for his missing sister but also lifts the entire town with its magical effect.

Jack Wolfe portrays Peter and he is outstanding. He captures the whole journey of the character with such skill, he is captivating. His voice soars with real beauty and control. It's a real star turn. 

Peter (Jack Wolfe). Photo by Manuel Harlan


The elephant gets much of the attention of the audience, especially the younger ones. The almost life-sized puppet designed by Tracy Waller and Mervyn Millar is stunning. You look into its eyes and for a moment it feels real. The team of puppeteers, Zoe Halliday, Wela Mbusi, and Suzanne Nixon characterise the movements expertly.

Lifting the gloom a little there are some fine comedic performances. Forbes Masson's Policeman who drinks liquor concealed in his truncheon and delights at every opportunity. Sam Harrison's dejected Count Quintet who is constantly belittled by his wife shines in the second act and gives an energetically flamboyant number "The Count Who Doesn't Count". 

Summer Strallen's Cruell DeVil-esque Countess Quintet feels a little underused as she craves to wrestle back the town's attention but in her villainous moments she's tremendously looming and her vocals are fantastic. Marc Antolin and Melissa James are really touching as Leo and Gloria Matienne. Antolin's lovely commanding presence in particular and voice are lovely to watch and hear. Amy Booth-Steel's narrator holds the action together with charm and she relishes the role, often connecting to the audience directly. 

Musically it lacks a little but there's just enough in the score to carry it through. Sarah Tipple's direction allows for the beauty of the story to shine, and Act Two is much stronger especially as it heads to the uplifting and moving conclusion. The 2 hours 40 minutes running time is slightly lengthy and did cause a few restless children around me but overall this production is good for the soul.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ a wonderfully styled and realised musical production.

The Magician's Elephant plays at The Royal Shakespeare Company with booking until January 1st, 2022. Tickets are available from https://www.rsc.org.uk/

Narrator. (Amy Booth-Steel). Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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