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Review: THE ELEPHANT SONG, Park Theatre

Two-hander (plus one) sets a psychiatrist against a patient in a battle of wills

Review: THE ELEPHANT SONG, Park Theatre

Review: THE ELEPHANT SONG, Park Theatre Nicolas Billon's 2004 play, The Elephant Song, arrives on these shores for its UK premiere some 19 years after its first staging in Canada and eight years on from its movie adaptation. It pits a psychiatrist against a patient, with a missing doctor the mystery each needs the other to solve.

Gwithian Evans lends the intelligent narcissist, Michael, the perfect mix of charisma and irritation as he circles the man attempting to winkle out the truth of the young man's relationship with his therapist and how that may have led to the disappearance. Michael weaves tales of abuse and cruelty into his account, one that slips and slides until he lands on firm ground to disastrous effect.

Jon Osbaldeston shows patience under stress as the psychiatrist, Greenberg, the butt of Michael's games, displacing some of his understandable discomfort into impatience with Nurse Peterson (Louise Faulkner). When, after 70 minutes of increasing tension, the inevitable showdown arrives, it's not quite as expected.

It's banal to assert that much has changed in the world in the two decades since audiences first witnessed this play, but mental health, particularly that of young men dealing with childhood trauma, is now much more a part of society's discourse, if still an intractable problem. We're also more aware of the narcissist's need to dissemble as they insist on pulling the narrative back to themselves since politics is attracting more and more of such personalities and rewarding them with the attention they crave. What might have been seen as eccentric or mystrerious in 2004 is now so clearly pathological that it changes the balance of the drama and draws credibility from the unfolding relationships. Did I believe that this happened, even back then? No I did not.

Director, Jason Moore, delivers a crisp, professional production, but the play lacks a heart, has an absence of empathy where hope should reside and delivers a message that is, alas, all too familiar from the perspective of 2023.

The Elephant Song is at Park Theatre until 11 February

Photo Credit: Giacomo Giannelli

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