Hinduism is a polytheistic religion – and of its many Gods and Goddesses, elephant-headed Ganesha is a popular one. I grew up listening to tales of his wisdom, his childlike innocence and his devotion to his parents. Ganesha’s stories render him as an approachable friend to many children; he is the sort of God you confess stealing cookies to. And a lot of these aspects that are brought to life in Elephant in the Room.
Lord Shiva has beheaded his own son and now Ganesha, lumped with a huge elephant head, goes to the forest looking for his original clay one. Along the way, he has many adventures. Makdee the spider lures him into the trap of Moorkh the hunter, where a deal is struck. The three then meet Chirta the Cheetah, Mona the Hyena and Wordswraith, all on the way to the Isle of Dorne, where the clay head has been spotted by the Falcon.
Yuki Ellias, assisted by great light and sound effects, plays all these animals. Her talent at both dancing and slipping into distinctive different animal voices is commendable. Her costume is also well-designed, allowing her to go from elephant to spider in an instant. She fills the space with the image of a dark forest full of intrigue, and holds her own for the entire piece.
But there are too many themes and messages. Deforestation, endangered animals, immigration and the struggles of refugees; all these are touched upon, while wider themes of faith, religion and man’s relationship with nature also make an appearance. Wordsworth and Tennyson are both quoted, and the Isle of Dorne and the Narrow Sea are picked from Game of Thrones.
And even though Ganesha, Chitra and Wordswraith’s lines are beautiful, the humorous elements in the form of Moorkh and Hyena didn’t do it for me. They just weren’t funny; their accents are somewhere between a bad parody of South Indian and Punjabi, their jibes at the West unnecessary. The central story of Ganesha’s clay head, and his eventual coming to terms with his father, would have been enough material.
Ignoring the noise in the script, this is a lovely show about the beloved elephant God that is a very recognisable mascot for one of the largest religions of the world. I will give the show this: it was Mowgli-esque. And that alone was a good use of my evening!