Named after the mountains, mighty Mlima the elephant is the last 'Great Tusker' in Kenya. These enormous tusks make Mlima a national treasure -- and a prime target for poachers. But, legend states that when an elephant is killed and left without a proper burial, he will haunt the perpetrators forever. A competent cast of five shift roles to take us on a journey from distraught park rangers and duplicitous police chiefs to customs officers and billionaire art collectors, uncovering the layers of corruption that make up the international ivory trade.
Ira Mandela Siobhan commands the stage with a stripped back portrayal of Mlima. Instead of relying on puppetry and costume, he conveys the elephant's suffering with raw physicality, prowling around, stalking every interaction and marking all those who are complicit with chalk. His lithe body contorts, negotiating the strength and scale of an elephant with the vulnerability of an animal at the hands of human cruelty and greed. Gabrielle Brooks is adept at drawing out the dark comedy of bullying business officials, while Pui Fan Lee and Natey Jones transform the coy, coded back-and-forth of dodgy dealings into a coquettish dance à deux.
Amelia Jane Hankin's stage design relies on suggestion and symbolism. We never see the magnificent tusks that propel the drama. Instead they are conveyed by the trail of white chalk that stains each person who seeks to make a profit from them. Shadows and draped fabric create occasional glimpses of elephant ears, but the thrust of the drama is communicated through movement.
This stark simplicity complements the force of Nottage's text, which dips from Mlima's poetic communication with his elephant ancestors to a sculptor's eagerness to sidestep moral misgivings for the sake of beauty. But showing us the whole tangled web of people trying to exploit and profit from the ivory trade, Mlima's Tale denies any easy solution or blame. Instead it leaves us feeling complicit, as though we too are marked by Mlima's suffering.
|What||Mlima's Tale, Kiln Theatre review|
|Where||Kiln Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, London, NW6 7JR | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Brondesbury (overground)|
27 Sep 23 – 21 Oct 23, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Price||£15 - £35|
|Website||Click here to book|