Elephant - Bush Theatre
The intertwined history of the piano and colonialism
Promoted from the Bush Theatre’s studio space, Anoushka Lucas’s debut play has made a triumph leap into the Holloway, its recent Evening Standard Theatre Award nomination more than justified.
Lucas imagines Lylah, a woman who has inherited a myriad of identities and heritage, transplanted into a world unequipped and ill-designed for her. Through talent and bursaries, she finds herself in a middle-class world where nobody looks like her and she is forced to fit the mould to survive. Her momentum through the noise is her piano and music, the piano having descended from the sky and through the window to fit into the council that she shares with her parents and sister. We switch between her childhood innocence facing these new complexities and her older, more knowledgeable self, some ten years separating them. Lucas draws upon themes of colonialism, racism and class to convey our bitterly complex society that tries to cookie-cutter individuals whilst simultaneously claiming to celebrate our differences. The result - a heartfelt and impassioned narrative in which Anoushka Lucas devourers.
An upright piano sits within a sunken revolve. Wood panelling, books and clusters of lampshades create an essence of a home for Lucas to play in. Despite this being a one-person play, Lucas draws in the bustling family atmosphere, regularly impersonating her mother’s direct French tone to great effect. She paces around and clambers over the piano, contorting herself as bodiless voices from the music industry instruct her how to conform, the intense pressure of repressing who she is unbearable. It culminates in a fierce outburst that cuts through the charming and witty characterisations laid before, a monologue that reverberates and educates with miraculous intensity. The piece crafts impressive groundwork to assist in the construction of this moment, tiny beats cascade together forming an avalanche of emotion.
The play focuses on the piano and Lylah’s music, Lucas delicately caressing the ivory keys, forming a striking metaphor of what the instrument truly represents, its history steeped in blood and empires. The music is powerful and impressive, grounding the piece and working wonderfully as an extension of Lylah’s voice. The recurring motifs capture the room delightfully and Lucas is of course equipped with the voice to match - once again clad in plaid as she was in the recent Oklahoma revival.
Lighting design from Laura Howard expands and restricts the playing area beautifully, precisely focusing the eye where needed and truly injecting a gig-like essence into the proceedings. A cone of light forms above Lucas, with Gillian Tan's video design spilling out of the circle, existing somewhere between sound and watery waves. The direction, design and performance all link up nicely to offer up a succinct and impressive piece with Anoushka Lucas cementing herself as a writer and performer to watch - outstanding.
Running until 4th November - Tickets
Photography - The Other Richard