An Elephant Never Forgets

Wellington Zoo Elephant House, Wellington

22/01/2007 - 04/03/2007

Production Details

By Janie Walker
Directed by Charlie Bleakley


When texting-crazy Molly visits the Wellington Zoo for a school assignment, she mets Alfred, the Zoo’s 100 year old retiring Zoo Keeper. Together they go back in time in search of the strange sounds of Kamala the elephant. And they meet a rare duck, drink tea at a chimp tea party and talk Asian proverbs with a Himalayan red panda.

Why can’t Alfred leave the zoo? What has he forgotten? And will Molly complete her school assignment?

A funny and touching play by Wellington playwright, Janie Walker.

Elephant House
General zoo admission prices apply
Last chance: Sunday 4 March
11.30am,  12.45pm,  2.00pm  

Kamala, Tibetan Red Panda,
Rare Duck, Chimp - STEVE WRIGLEY


Theatre ,

30 mins

Note to play: listen to yourself …

Review by John Smythe 25th Feb 2007

Commissioned as part of Wellington Zoo’s 100th birthday celebrations, Janie Walker’s An Elephant Never Forgets – directed by Charlie Bleakley – is part whimsy, part theatre-in-education. Performed in the now-historical Elephant House three-times-a-Sunday (click on the title above for details), it adds an intriguing half hour to a visit to the zoo.

The ghost of Kamala the elephant (Steve Wrigley) is doomed to haunt the zoo, emitting his plaintive trumpeting sound, until the 100 year-old zoo keeper, Alfred (Nathan Meister), remembers the song that will liberate his spirit. But all Alfred knows is that he can’t retire (to Las Vegas to spend the kids’ inheritance) until he remembers something he has forgotten …

It’s a classic set-up. Undoubtedly the kids in the audience will be called upon to become instrumental in resolving the impasse.

The catalyst for moving the story along is schoolgirl Molly (Angela Green), who has to complete a school assignment based on three things she’s learned at the zoo, but she’s really more interested in texting her friends and getting back home to her computer games.

Although Molly and Alfred are initially repelled by each other, they agree to help each other out so they can each get on with their lives. And of course they gain respect for each other in the process.

When a Tibetan Red Panda (Wrigley again) mentions an ancient proverb – “Tell me and I will forget; Show me and I may remember; Involve me and I’ll understand” – the promise of audience involvement seems assured.

Green’s Molly and Meister’s Alfred establish a good rapport with their young audience but, unaccountably, they never appeal to them directly for the answers to any questions at all, let alone involve them in solving their major problems.

It is Wrigley – who also plays a rare Duck and a Chimp – who uses his Theatresports experience to elicit comments from the audience and knit them into the play. But these are incidental to the main quests.

When at last memories of the Chimps’ Tea Parties of old unlock Alfred’s memory, he is suddenly singing the long lost song before we know it. All that build-up and the climax is a fizzer. Why?

Having denied the audience any role in the resolution, the players then sing a song of celebration for the Zoo’s 100th birthday by way of a finale, and we don’t even get invited to join in that! Bewildering.

I don’t need to spell out what’s wrong here. The old Tibetan proverb – repeated towards the end of the play – says it all. The play simply needs to listen to itself and act accordingly.

But the last words should go to our 9 year-old companions. They noted the gags about texting and Nintendo and NZ Idol would be over the heads of the very young and decided it was really about information, because that’s what they got most of.

Asked what would make it better they said, “Getting us to join in. Like he [one of the animal characters] started singing ‘Going To The Zoo’ which most kids know but we didn’t even get to join in with that!”

Enough said.


Steve Wrigley February 28th, 2007

Hey man, I'm just glad you remembered me from theatresports! Thanks for the review John. I must say it's a jo for me whenever kids do get involved in the show. I'm glad you were there for THAT performance with the darling young lady who insisted I wasn't pretty, and not the next one of the day where I accidently wore the wrong feet as red panda. I probably shouldn't have confessed that, LOL. Hope the funders and sponsors don't read this post! Amen.

neil furby February 27th, 2007

Children live in the now. They respond to external stimulation without reflection or intellectual analysis. They love involvement and verbal interaction in a theatrical situation. Passive involvement with children does not work in theatre or in life. The production did” add an intriguing half hour” to our visit to the zoo so please keep up the good work The animals and humans do need you . .

Janie Walker February 27th, 2007

Sorry John. Cranky morning. I do appreciate some of the other comments about the play you made, but I still agree with my comments about audience involvement. I think it's interesting that Capital E almost never has audience involvement - even for the little ones. Bye.

Janie Walker February 27th, 2007

Well, I think you should get over that aspect of the play, because it's made you totally incapable of seeing anything else positive about it.

John Smythe February 26th, 2007

Janie, I totally agree that gratuitous 'involvement' is tacky. But when asked to help with something that materially affects the outcome of the play, it is amazing what inhibitions even adults will overcome. And given your specific emphasis on the value of involvement, I remain bemused that you've settled for passive involvement only.

Janie Walker February 26th, 2007

Whoops, forgot to say...audience involvement in kids shows is usually tacky and thrown in because apparently kids love it. Yes they do, but they also like going to intelligent theatre where they can think for themselves without being told what to do, and use their imaginations.

Janie Walker February 26th, 2007

Oh well. Every time I've seen my play the kids love it, and are engrossed (totally) for the half hour - even the 2-3 year olds and they love it. My friends child wouldn't stop talking about the chimp and duck for days after. And some kids now have a new respect for the zoo. Those are my achievements. I'm very proud of my play, and the production. The actors are fabulous and the cosutmes are brilliant. Good on us. Love Janie.

David Wood February 26th, 2007

John Smyth moan moan moan er...moan... er... moan moan

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