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Elephant Thief offers chills, laughter and food for thought

By: stuff.co.nz

Only a complete fool would fail to realise the world is rapidly becoming a pretty horrible place.

Catastrophic climate change, random massacres, terrorism, ceaseless war, primitive belief systems, thousands of species forced to the brink of extinction: Dolphins, rhinos, gorillas, tigers, elephants…

Yes, even elephants.

Hilarious, yet unsettling and thought-provoking, Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis’ The Elephant Thief looks at the prospect of a world without elephants through the misadventures of mahout (elephant handler) Leela Devi, as she encounters corrupt officials, black market organ thieves, refugees and fanatical, fascistic rulers in a story that ranges from bleak tragedy to science fiction comedy.

The multitude of characters and action belies the fact that there are only really five players taking the stage. Vanessa Kumar’s bewildered Leela holds the whole thing together, while former Shortland Streeter Nisha Madhan excels in three key roles.

However it is Julia Croft’s comical, tragic detective Irina Sharma who provides the most emotional gravitas and laugh-out loud moments. Top stuff.

The very clever and surprisingly simple set design – primarily a series of perspex panels hanging from the ceiling – allows for evocative back projection and forward projection. The Meteor is the perfect venue for such innovation. The music, composed by David Ward and featuring some weird and wonderful instruments, will stay in your head long after leaving the theatre.

And the initial appearance of Balthazar the elephant, and his moving final scene, will have you holding your breath.

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the Indian Ink theatre company, and I am told big plans and projects are in the works to mark this – but for the meantime this is unmissable theatre. Revel in it.

Finally, a caveat: Could folk making their way to the bar during the intermission please be mindful of stepping in any elephant poo on the way there. Thank you.

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