Review: sterling cast aids Candice Moore’s well-paced Hong Kong production of thriller The Elephant Song
Director’s challenge is to keep suspense hanging until play’s end, something she pulls off thanks to strong performances by its three actors – Luke Lampard, Warren Adams and Kath O’Connor
Candice Moore makes a welcome return to Hong Kong stage with Nicolas Billon’s The Elephant Song, a piece that she also directed at the Karamel Club in London earlier this year as part of her master’s in theatre directing at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.
The short (around 70 minutes) but gripping psychological thriller offers plenty of meat for the Scottish director to sink her teeth into.
A psychiatrist has disappeared from a hospital and the director of the institution, Dr Greenberg, needs to find out his whereabouts by interviewing the missing doctor’s patient Michael Aleen. It would have been a straightforward affair had it not been the fact that, as head nurse Miss Peterson warns, Aleen loves playing games.
From the moment the young patient tricks the interrogater into believing his (wild) stories, the dynamics of their relationship swiftly shifts: Aleen soon gains an upper hand over the impatient Dr Greenberg and becomes the hunter, rather than the prey, in the chase.
Moore is tasked to keep the suspense hanging in the air throughout the performance by exploring the relationships between Dr Greenberg and Aleen, Miss Peterson and Aleen, and Dr Greenberg and Miss Peterson, and how those change as the drama unfolds. Each will play a part in the unexpected twist at the end.
It’s a big challenge given The Elephant Song is actually quite a short play and has only three characters (as opposed to, say, the bigger cast of six in Yasmina Reza’s Le Dieu du Carnage, where shifting group dynamics between characters can be manipulated more easily).
Moore largely pulls it off thanks to an earnest cast, but especially Luke Lampard who played Aleen in the London production. Right from the word go, the British actor commands the stage with his strong and confident presence, giving a convincing performance as the cool-headed, manipulating if not overtly intelligent psychiatric patient. But as more of the character’s background is revealed, Lampard is able to unveil the more vulnerable side of Aleen and a history that is both tragic and heartbreaking.
Warren Adams’ Dr Greenberg is uptight, clinical and, at times, weak and he is no match for Aleen in this psychological tug of war. I wish his character was stronger, though, so the dynamics were not so one-sided.
I don’t know what to make of Miss Peterson, played by Kath O’Connor. Is she weary of Aleen (because he is the most intelligent person in the hospital, she tells Dr Greenberg), is she his friend who loves laughing at his jokes, or a mother figure/ guardian – even though Aleen clearly despises her, poking fun at her size (quite nasty) and accusing her of spying on him? It’s just not clear.
The Elephant Song, presented by Sweet & Sour Productions, once again demonstrates Moore’s competence as a director and the power of her storytelling. As in her previous productions, she skilfully paces the performance, leading the audience slowly down the path before springing a surprise on them that catches everyone off guard.
Until December 3
The Elephant Song, Sweet & Sour Productions, Fringe Club. Reviewed: November 30