PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Tonight was only the second public performance, the press haven't been invited in yet, please bear in mind as usual, etc.
I know that in her many Equus
became fond of the Broadway version of Nugget, but I hope she hasn't forgotten the production's original lead horsey, Will Kemp. I'm sure she'd be interested to know that in a very literal sense, Kemp lay down at my feet tonight. The fact that this was only because I happened to be sitting right where the script required him to lie down is of course irrelevant. As with that other play he was in there is in fact a human playing an animal onstage, but Kemp himself gets to play a human in Bekah Brunstetter's curious piece of magic realism, Miss Lilly Gets Boned, or, The Loss of All Elephant Elders
. Part conservation story, part psychological tragicomedy, there's two connected stories going on here, kept almost entirely separate. The story is largely triggered by true stories of how elephants have, in recent years, turned increasingly violent towards humans, other animals, and each other. In fact a leading theory for the cause of this is that after years of poaching and human encroachment into their territory, the elephants are experiencing post-traumatic stress.
In a town somewhere in America, 31-year-old Sunday school teacher Lilly (Lorna Beckett) is "born again" and a virgin, but becoming increasingly desperate for a man and obsessing over Hugh Grant movies. She doesn't quite get him but Kemp seems not that far off as Richard, a recently-widowed South African, the father of one of the Sunday school kids (played tonight by TV's most terrifying child actor, Daniel Roche from Outnumbered
.) In a parallel story, Vandalla (Sheena Patel) is a scientist who wants to rescue an elephant from execution, after it went berserk and killed a woman. James Russell plays Harold the elephant with subtle touches, and he and Patel have an interesting dynamic. The main story's cast also work well together and in the first act in particular there's a lot of gentle humour that's nicely played, plus scene-stealing turns from Sarah Goldberg as Lilly's sister Lara (I felt sorry for Goldberg as her character is a fitness instructor, so she frequently had to jog or exercise in a small room that was, trust me, hot enough already.)
I got the overall feeling that Brunstetter is telling a story about how loss can turn to violence, but outside of that the themes didn't quite feel cohesive for me, especially in the second half. But this may be something that becomes clearer with more performances (the programme lists the characters in order of appearance but in fact they appear in a completely different order, which suggests to me they might still be reshuffling some scenes around.) Lily Bevan's production seems well on track though and apart from the odd fluffed line felt very assured tonight. A mention has to go to designer Libby Watson as well, a simple-looking enough set but probably the most interesting use of this particular space I've seen so far - being familiar with the Finborough I for one was impressed by the transformation as soon as I got through the door.Miss Lilly Gets Boned, or, The Loss of All Elephant Elders
by Bekah Brunstetter is booking until the 10th of July at the Finborough Theatre.