Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants

BATS Theatre, Wellington

10/11/2009 - 21/11/2009

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

13/05/2011 - 04/06/2011


Production Details

It’s all make-believe…Isn’t it? 

Everything seems connected. So what is really going on? Do you know? Do we?

It is a question that’s impossible to answer. It could just be a lie after all.

A Slightly Isolated Dog presents a mysterious new event that is simply unlike anything seen in Wellington theatre. Different? Yes. Pushing the boundary of dramatic art? We’d like to think so. Pretentious? Maybe.  Provocative? Yes.

Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants, proudly presented as part of the 2009 STAB season at BATS Theatre, is a production that brings theatre out from four walls and into the grandest stage of all: Life itself. It seems to be everywhere, but what exactly is it?  Will you play along?

What we do know is that something will indeed be happening on November 10, 2009 at BATS Theatre. And what we do know is that the performances within those four walls are but a climax of a something – or some thing – that will reveal itself when the time is right. Before then…

There will be noir. There will be a detective. Maybe a prostitute. The lonely streets of Wellington. A seedy nightclub. Oh, and definitely an Elephant hunt…  

I mean, ya’ know, all this stuff is true. We wouldn’t lie.  It is happening. And it will definitely happen. The only things we’ll make up are the facts.

Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants
STAB 2009
BATS Theatre, Wellington
November 10 – 21 (8pm start)
Tickets: $20 full / $13 Concession & groups (6+)
Book at or call 04 802 4175  


Death and the Dreamlife of Elephantspiqued our interest not only as a live performance but an experience across multiple platforms – on the streets of Wellington, on the radio, in a city-wide treasure hunt, and by delving into an interactive website due to launch March 2011.

This contemporary company is one of the most interesting and creative working in theatre today. Their ethos is to make entertaining and provocative experiences for audiences, to strengthen, reflect and celebrate Wellington. They do this by opening their process up to the community and developing partnerships wherever possible. In the making of…Elephantsthis included Mary Potter Hospice, Wellington Buddhist Centre, Lychgate Funeral Home, Victoria University and many other local businesses.

Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants
Downstage Theatre
13 May – 4 Jun  
Performance Times
Tuesday – Wednesday 6.30pm
Thursday – Saturday 8pm
(no shows Sun and Mon) 
Public Matinees
Sat 28 May 2pm | Sat 4 June 2pm
Meet the Artists
Tue 17 May
Ticket Prices
(Allocated Seating)
Best 100:
Full A Reserve:
Concession/Groups 6+:

Suitable for age 14+
Schools matinee
Tue 24 May, 11am

Book at our box office, phone: 04 801 6946   

Vaughan Slinn 
Sara Allen 
Harriette Cowan 
Aaron Cortesi 
Hannah Banks
Paul Waggott
Uther Dean
Louise Lethbridge (2009 on;y)

Leo Gene Peters (Director)
Esther Rose Green (Producer, 2009)
Charlotte Gordon (Assistant Producer)
Andrew Foster (Dramaturge)
Tracey Monastra (Set Designer)
Paul Tozer (Technical Director)
Thomas Press (Sound Designer)
Adam Walker (Lighting Designer)
Meg Frauenstein (Audio Visual Designer)
Thomas Charlet (Web Designer)
Klas Eriksson (Moving Image intern) 
Further 2011 credits:
Project Designer and Manger / Costume Designer:    Meg Rollandi
Web Video Designer
:    Rowan Pierce
Website:    Rob Appierdo and DNation
Production Intern:   
Nicola Clements
Season stage manager:    Rebekah Sherratt
New media performer and original performer / creator:    Louise Lethbridge
Producing Support:    Angela Green (by arrangement with Downstage) 

2hrs 30mins, incl. interval

Magical Dreamscape

Review by Michael Wray 21st May 2011

Originally commissioned by Bats for the 2009 STAB festival, the award-winning Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants is back for a return season at Downstage.

The cast has reduced by one and there are some clever theatrical elements introduced. Downstage’s larger stage suits the play. Director Leo Gene Peters has transitioned this enigmatic combination of film noir and magical realism into a bigger setting and the play has grown to meet the challenge.

Tracey Monastra’s set, Adam Walker’s lighting and Thomas Press’ sound provide an eerie and dreamlike quality. Four rows of plastic panels slide across the stage on rails. It means scene changes are instant, allowing the pace of the performance to be maintained without blackout periods or stage hands. Some scenes are performed behind the sheets, with back lighting used to cast shadows or provide a blurred ghostly appearance. When the next scene is played out with the screens pulled away, the contrast is like being exposed to high-definition.

It’s a strong ensemble performance, with most of the seven cast members playing multiple characters. The exception is Vaughn Slinn, who only plays Julian Gallo. Julian is grieving for his mother and is soon on a quest to find an elephant statue that once belonged to her. Slinn delivers an amiable laidback performance, charismatically drawing us in to this awkward man with the tendency to not stop talking when he should.

Harriette Cowan plays several roles, with the stand-out being the Nan character. Aaron Cortesi excels, particularly as Gallo’s cousin Dennis. Sara Allen, Uther Dean, Hannah Banks and Paul Waggott complete the ensemble with strong, albeit undemanding, performances of their own.

The play has you wondering whether some scenes are the figment of Gallo’s imagination. The re-appearance of a long-lost cousin, the stereotypical American-style private investigator, the enigmatic collector… all hint at a disturbed individual working his way through emotional trauma, what writer Patrick McGrath would call “the unreliable narrator.” Whether Gallo’s drama is real or imagined, it’s certainly magical.
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Quest poetic but just too elephantine

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 16th May 2011

When Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants first appeared at Bats two years ago it seemed strikingly original with its trunk finding its way onto National Radio, a website, Facebook, Twitter, and about town on posters, in street performances and installations of origami. But it was the brilliant staging, the low-key, slightly off-beat acting, the wry comedy and the excitement of watching a group of performers riding high that really caught the imagination. 

Now, on the larger stage of Downstage, all the ingredients that made the first production so successful are still on display seemingly new-minted. Julian (Vaughan Slinn), a Mr. Average Guy, is still searching for a small ebony elephant with the help of a strange private eye (Aaron Cortesi) and his scene-stealing dog (Paul Waggott) in their film noir lair with early morning bluesy jazz playing deep in the heart of Cuba Street. 

The elephant is sought after too by others and so we come across a campy Mr. Big (Paul Waggott) hiding behind a bunch of balloons and a young woman, Yvonne, (Sara Allen) who is caring for her elderly gran (Harriette Cowan). A possible love interest for the undemonstrative Julian appears at a party when he meets a young woman (Hannah Banks) as emotionally tentative as he is. There is also Julian’s sad relative (Aaron Cortesi) who stands at a window counting the people who enter the café on the street below. 

It seems at times that Julian and the characters he meets on his quest represent the fears, neuroses, and tensions of life in the 21st century and the story of his quest becomes a confusion of mysteries in which the laws of physics, the past and present, dreams and reality, and the dead and the living are intriguingly blurred. 

The play strives for a poetic ending (a long spoken-in-the-dark soliloquy) but the real poetry is in the lighting (Adam Walker), and the fleeting images and silhouettes projected onto the brilliantly conceived (Tracey Monastra) and operated sliding panels. However, like most quests, whether they are about a ring, a chalice or an ebony elephant, (and this I don’t remember from Bats) it goes on far too long and becomes repetitive. 
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Mesmerising rhythm, flow and dynamic pacing makes for a riveting performance

Review by John Smythe 14th May 2011

What makes this wondrously theatrical mix of hyper-naturalism, magic realism and surrealism work for me is the constant recognition of true human experience. Others may have a different sense of what is most memorable and of greatest value – for example the design elements; the ensemble work; the way it captures the essence of Wellington life in particular and urban life in general – but it is that core veracity that makes me trust Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants enough to enquire into its more elusive elements and to more fully appreciate the way it is presented.

My natural human urge, for which I make no apology, is to identify the objective reality from which this subjective evocation of a year in the life if Julian Gallo, arises. This may amount to a spoiler for those who’d prefer to discover it in their own way, so my upfront advice is: go to this play, abandon yourself to it and for heavens sake return after interval (some on opening night didn’t). Trust me, it offers a special and rare experience that will haunt you for days to come.

Read on only if you want more convincing that it is for you, or you’d like some hints on what to look out for. Otherwise come back to this after you’ve seen it. My purpose now is to acknowledge its qualities for the historical record. And I don’t think what follows constitutes a spoiler.

At the play’s heart is Julian Gallo, a young man whose life has stalled in the wake of his mother’s death and a devastating breakup with his girlfriend. His quest to track down a particular one of the many miniature elephants his mother collected takes him down the dangerous path of re-igniting his life.

In parallel runs the story of Yvonne, a Cuba St coffee bar waitress whose Nan’s health is failing. Her Nan collects elephants too and Yvonne brings her one she bought from a hospice shop in Miramar. Only towards the end of the play do Julian and Yvonne meet, thanks to the erratic behaviour of Nan, who used to be a neighbour of his and brought him a postcard from his mother some months after she died.

Meanwhile: Julian braves the bureaucratic maelstrom to have a job interview; Yvonne’s wake / shower / work / sleep routine is broken when she discovers a drowned body on the waterfront; also on the waterfront, Julian encounters Kerryn holding hands with a bronze statue (the Max Patte ‘Solace in the Wind’ sculpture), they reconnect at a party and a deliciously awkward and tentative relationship develops; Yvonne sees her increasingly problematic Nan into the hospice and visits her often; Julian reconnects with his cousin Dennis, who wears a silk petticoat, spends hours at his upstairs window and may or may not be a transvestite MC at a night club …

Subjectively Yvonne appears to remind Julian of his slinky, dancing, wine-glass-cradling, quasi New Age mother and the transvestite could be seen as a dreamed conflation of her and Dennis. There is much merging of the actual, the imagined and the dreamed, and much of the joy in engaging with it is in trying to work out which is what. More than once Julian is told, “It’s all make believe” – and who has not confronted the metaphysical and oxymoronic conundrum of where truth lies and some point in the lives?

When I reviewed the 2009 Bats/Stab debut (link below), I hadn’t reconciled the film noir private investigator voice-over narration of Joseph Grieve with the second half switch to Julian’s voice-over. Now I see it all as Julian’s take on – his embellishment of – what happened. And being in his 20s, so seeing himself as the centre of the universe, he is naturally inclined to fantasise that a collector of exotic artefacts is so determined to get the elephant that he has hired a private detective to trace his every movement. Therefore the question of how he himself, being unemployed, has the wherewithal to hire Grieve to find the elephant is too logical.

Apparently the elephant has the power to either consume you or let you see everything. That is, it’s as potentially dangerous or as rewarding as living your life purposefully can be. The quest to find the thing may therefore be seen as a metaphor for risking participation in life – or for following your bliss, as his mother put it on the postcard – as opposed to dropping out into self-defeating torpor.

But enough of my take on the what and the why; it’s how this is done that makes it memorable. Tracey Monastra’s sliding panels of translucent plastic, four rows deep, transfer splendidly to the Downstage end-on space. Adam Walker’s rows of overhead household lights, augmented by backlighting to create some stunning shadow effects, is simply brilliant. Thomas Press’s soundscape adds immensely to the atmosphere, often in subtle and sometimes in suddenly dramatic ways.

Directed by Leo Gene Peters, there is a military precision behind this staging of Julian’s relatively random yet quest-driven life. Seven actors work tirelessly to create a seamless succession of astonishingly vivid scenes that capture inner city life: the street, offices, a café, dwellings, the harbour side, the coast … Large sheets of the translucent plastic ingeniously evoke calm harbour water and surging south coast seas, and contribute to an astounding effect concerning the fate of PI Grieve.

Vaughan Slinn is totally true to Julian’s wants, needs, failings and small victories, not least in the way he talks too much when he’s nervous, digging himself into ever-deeper holes. It’s an extraordinarily compelling representation of a very ordinary guy – and the scene where his converses with his Dad, abetted by sliding screens, is a gem.

Although the somewhat obsessive-compulsive behaviour that introduces us to Sara Allen’s Yvonne disappears without a trace, I feel instant connections with her trials at work, her coping with finding the body, and especially with her compassionate love for her Nan.

Harriette Cowan precedes the increasingly doddery Nan characterisation with a spot-on cameo as the HR manager who interviews Julian, and pops up a couple of times as a dysfunctional regular where Yvonne works. (I’d have liked the programme to name the key characters each actor plays.)

First as a voice, then as the classic fedora-hatted figure invariably in shadow, Aaron Cortesi hits just the right tone as the Kiwi PI Joseph Grieve. His Dennis is a total contrast, blending a very still physicality and droning voice with a constantly active mind. His ability to see and know what others cannot suggests he has had contact with the elusive elephant, if not in ‘reality’ then in Julian’s dreamlife …

Grieve’s dog Floyd is brilliantly played by Paul Waggott, who also plays the Collector behind a bunch of while helium balloons – his voice shared by the ensemble in a spooky echo effect. I recall this as being a much more visible role the first time round and find myself at a loss to answer who he might be in ‘reality’ and what his actual power is.

Hannah Banks draws us into her world instantly simply by standing hand-in-hand with the waterfront sculpture (Waggott), and goes on to reveal an extremely credible Kerryn, much more centred in telling counterbalance to Julian.

In a range of roles, some involving beautifully perceptive lines, Uther Dean is most memorable as the film student Matthew, on the balcony at a party, who questions Julian about his fears. It’s here that Julian’s prosaic fear of death is mocked. (The play’s longer title could be Julian’s fear of death – and before that of life – and his dreamlife involving elephants.)

They all pitch in as party-goers, office workers, police men and women, people in the street … not to mention as sliders of panels, placers of furniture and providers of offstage sound, working together to maintain a mesmerising rhythm, flow and dynamic pacing which – with Thomas Press’s technical operating – makes for a riveting performance.

One question that puzzles me unsatisfactorily concerns Julian’s reaction – or rather non-reaction – when his quest is finally fulfilled. It’s a curiously dead moment considering the build-up and if there is something for us to get in the way it happens, I don’t. Perhaps the answer lies in the way he then passes it on to the collector. Is he opting out? Proving himself to be risk-averse? Or is there a whole other way of looking at it? (Comments welcome.)

Only you can answer these questions, for yourselves. Of you missed it at Bats (where it quickly sold out), book early this time. If you saw it back then, I’m sure you will find this refreshed season as rewarding as I do.


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Brilliant death

Review by Lynn Freeman 18th Nov 2009

This second of Bat’s commissioned STAB productions has had maximum hype, with masses of pre-show marketing – on radio, in print, on Twitter, on the streets, even in the Bats toilets! With many questions to be answered, I joined the opening night audience.

Two and a quarter hours later I left with pretty much all those questions still unanswered, but what a wild ride. There are moments of jaw-dropping brilliance in this work, but for all the programme notes talking about it looking at "death, growing older, family, the natural violence of the world and searching for our purpose in life", the basic story about a man searching for a mystical elephant carving and finding love along the way, is pretty flimsy. It’s also a mishmash of genres.

What the heck. I say again, it’s a wild ride.

Tracey Monastra’s sliding door set is astonishing as is the way Adam Walker lights it. Both designers give director Leo Gene Peters tremendous scope to have his cast move like they’re a corps de ballet. His multiple uses for a large plastic sheet were wonderfully creative. The shadow play strangulation scene is something you won’t forget in a hurry. However the first half is way too long.

The acting ranges from good to unforgettable, Harriette Cowan was a revelation as both the jargon-spouting HR woman to the shuffling grandmother in whose hands the sought elephant is delivered. Vaughan Slinn made Julian a very likeable chap trying to make sense of all the craziness and Aaron Cortesi’s noir detective and creepy Dennis, Julian’s cousin, were intriguing to watch. Paul Waggott’s dog Floyd was a mini-masterpiece.

So, a degree of style over substance here but it’s ambitious and beautiful to watch.
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A must-see for any theatre connoisseur

Review by Jackson Coe 13th Nov 2009

The nature of ‘devised’ work means that it is bound to strike debate.  Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants invites this further with an intriguing, if vague, viral marketing campaign aimed at piquing interest without really giving much clue as to what is going on.  A murder?  A break-up?  A Wellington answer to Ionesco’s Rhinoceros?  All we know going in is that this will definitely not pan out the way we think it will.

Dreamlife is a challenge to the search for and creation of meaning.  We follow a set of loosely connected people drifting through a loosely connected series of events.  The world is hazy and surreal; a man is lost in endless corridors of office space, characters are viewed through smoky set pieces and dark shadows lurk in the wings.  Our protagonist is soon given the vague and ultimately meaningless goal of finding the focal point of time, space and infinity.  If this sounds a bit like Stephen King’s The Dark Tower cycle to anyone else, I would certainly be inclined to agree with them.

Yet unlike The Dark Tower and more like the sliding rails and billowing plastic sheets which comprise the dynamic and creative set, Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants floats in a kind of surreal nothing-space with only a small amount of context for the audience to root its understanding in.  Where The Dark Tower will quote T.S. Elliot and The Rolling Stones, Dreamlife is devoid of any citation or pointers which may guide our understanding other than a few references to Wellington and a couple of programme notes.  We are ‘cut loose’ from the world as we know it, both figuratively and symbolically, and respond with as much uncertainty about what we are experiencing as the characters before us.

There are some truly monumental performances at hand to help guide us through this tricky and perplexing play.  Highlights include two stunning character roles from Harriette Cowan, and Aaron Cortesi playing the challenging role of our protagonist Julian’s strange cousin.  Our awkward every-man Julian rings true to home as played by Vaughn Slinn, and Paul Waggott offers a habitually absorbing performance whilst sucking on a helium balloon.

Yet it is Dreamlife’s clever aesthetic and striking design which gives this play the credibility and boost it needs to become an accomplished piece.  Some incredible interplay is achieved between Tracey Monastra’s dynamic set and director Leo Gene Peter’s unique style of story-telling.  Three rows of foggy plastic sheets on sliding frames provide glorious opportunities for silhouettes, movement and framing.  Watching the show, it feels like every moment and unit of action has been broken down to its most basic of components, and the grand effect is that one is turning the pages of a beautiful graphic novel.  In some cases we are actually watching the story progress frame by frame, a feat which has a dazzling effect.

It may be easy to feel put off by talk about themes of vagueness and uncertainty.  The title alone is probably enough to leave most people going wtf?.  Could anything be more vague and uncertain than dreams and death?  Dreamlife‘s only weakness may well be its greatest strength; that it is a show designed and developed for people with a refined taste and thorough understanding of theatre.  The textures of the piece are dazzling and the layers are luscious and thick, but this really is a show made for people who appreciate that sort of thing.  It’s not pretentious and it isn’t inaccessible, but a good rule of thumb might be that it’s best to take along friends who enjoy the occasional art film more than they enjoyed the latest season of Heroes.

This show is a must-see for any theatre connoisseur.  If you are someone who digs creativity, being lost in an acid trip, and/or having a damn good think, then you should make it your business to check this out.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Lucien November 18th, 2009

Stephen King? The play is pretty heavily Murakami-influenced.  Weird that none of the reviewers cottoned on to this

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Elephant show has big impact

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 12th Nov 2009

A slightly isolated dog company is presenting the second Stab production for the year and as the programme notes it isn’t a show you only watch at Bats, "It’s amorphous, and like an elephant, it’s big."

It’s so big that since last month its form has been spread over National Radio with short stories and it can also be reached on its website, on Facebook and Twitter. It can also be found without technology at occasional street performances, and on posters and by the installations of origami elephants around the city.

But you can also be ignorant (as I was) of these tentacles that have wound their way into Wellington and have a thoroughly good time watching the brilliantly produced, amazing, multi-faceted and, in some ways, very traditional show at Bats.

It’s all about a search for a small ebony elephant, which becomes something like the Maltese Falcon because a sinister private eye called Mr. Grieves (Aaron Cortesi) who inhabits a film noir Cuba Street, is hired by the cautious, decent, but unprepossessing Julian (Vaughan Slinn) to find it.

But others are after it too and so we come across a campy, snappish sprite-like creature with a strange voice (Paul Waggott), a young woman, Yvonne, (Sara Allen) who is caring for her elderly gran (Harriette Cowan), and a dog (Paul Waggott). A possible love interest for the undemonstrative Julian appears at a party when he meets a young woman (Hannah Banks) as emotionally tentative as he is. There is also Julian’s sad cousin (Aaron Cortesi) who stands at a window counting the people who enter the café on the street below.

No doubt one has to go on line and other places to complete some of the jigsaw, such as a religious mysticism, Yvonne’s compulsive counting, the dead body in the harbour, and Julian’s relationship with his dead mother, even though she does appear in one excellent scene with a moody jazz soundtrack and film noir lighting.

Leo Gene Peters has done an outstanding job co-coordinating the smoothly choreographed production, which is performed on Tracey Monastra’s magnificently adaptable setting.

Three sets of sliding plastic screens and panels are used to superb effect to suggest in an instant a labyrinth of offices, corridors, cramped rooms, and open spaces. They are also beautifully lit by Adam Walker so that setting, lighting, silhouettes, shadows, movement, and acting coalesce into scenes of powerful emotional impact.  
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Superbly produced and performed

Review by John Smythe 11th Nov 2009

A ‘film noir’ sensibility brings an air of mystery with an edge of danger to compelling glimpses of randomly connected lives adrift in Wellington.

You may have some brand awareness of Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants already, from seeing posters, line-drawn stickers or origami elephant installations in bars; hearing a multi-voiced reading on Radio New Zealand National; interacting with the website or getting hooked into stuff on Facebook or Twitter.

Some of these encounters may have drawn you into parts of the story and made you familiar with some of the characters. I’ll confine myself here to its performed play dimension of ‘a slightly isolated dog’s contribution to this years Bats Stab season (but please feel free to add commentary on the other stuff). 

Created by the performers – and presumably the director, Leo Gene Peters – it is a discursive tale of urban existence that slowly coalesces around the quest for, and questions surrounding, a particular carved elephant. Once part of a collection owned by a young man’s now dead mother, it is desired by a collector but it has the power to either consume you or let you see everything. 

While private dick Joseph Grieves (Aaron Cortesi) guides and narrates the story initially, he directs our attention to Julian Gallo (Vaughan Slinn), the aforementioned young man, trapped in a mediocre life of involuntary solitude. Born premature, he hasn’t yet caught up with himself.

Set designer Tracy Monsatra’s four-deep ranks of sliding clear-plastic panels, with just a couple of box benches to move about the space, selectively lit by Adam Walker as much for darkness and shadows as illumination, allows for an evocative array of snapshot imagery and ingenious scene setting. Pedestrian traffic in Cuba Street is as quickly captured as the series of same-only-different office cubicles that Julian passes on his long trek to a job interview: a superbly realised sequence thanks to impeccable ensemble work.

It is when HR Manager Aileen Walters (Harriette Cowan) asks Julian, "If you were an animal, what would you be? And why?" that elephants first get mentioned.

The mildly obsessive-compulsive Yvonne Quinn (Sara Allen) makes her entrance by rolling out of a vast sheet of clear plastic, which gets utilised to excellent effect throughout the show. Her discovery of a drowned body at a harbour beach and the way she handles the police involvement is another memorable sequence.

Also at the waterfront, a quiet moment enjoyed by Kerryn Bell (Hannah Banks) with Max Patte’s ‘Solace in the Wind’ sculpture – instantly recognisable in the posture of Paul Waggott, who perhaps significantly, also plays the drowned body – is misinterpreted by Julian, and so begins their tentative relationship. 

The carved elephant first appears as a gift from Yvonne to her verbally obsessive-compulsive nanna, Sheila (Cowan), who is headed for a hospice.  Here too the strands of other levels of reality and impending death are drawn through the continuing action.

Death also comes into focus at a party where film student Matthew (Uther Dean) asks Julian to names his five top fears and critiques them for being self- centred, death-centric and unimaginative.

Much of the interaction is hyper-naturalistic in style, none more so that the scene where, back at her place, Julian and Kerryn contemplate the prospect of intimacy. Achingly funny.

It is Julian’s surreal encounter with a high-voiced Collector (Waggot) that sets up his quest for the Elephant, gives his life some kind of purpose, threatens to rescue him from his own mediocrity, connects him with the PI Grieves – and his dog, Floyd (Waggot) – and brings him into contact with a strange cousin called Dennis (Cortesi), who wears a silk chemise and stands at his upstairs window counting coffee shop customers, and who may – or may not – see everything …

The danger factor intensifies, dream-lives merge with real lives but the surrealism remains well-rooted in the subjective realities of those we have come to know. And we’re only at the interval!

The mysterious fate of Grieves (a spectacular theatrical moment) leaves Julian on his own and immerses him in dreamlife memories of his slinky, dancing, New-Age cliché-spouting mother (Allen), not to mention a brief encounter, later, with his Dad, doubled by Slinn in yet another scene that ingeniously uses a sliding panel and clever lighting.

A strange – and never rationally explained – visitation in Julian’s flat from the physically incapacitated Sheila intensifies the spookiness and facilitates his getting to meet Yvonne, subtly adding a romantic complication since it is intuitively obvious they are made for each other. Once more a hyper-real non-conversation speaks volumes in subtext.  

Louise Lethbridge completes the tireless cast, featuring as the Hospice Nurse and otherwise working within the ensemble to create the extraordinary flow of action.  

Abetted by the subtly integrated compositions and sound design of Thomas Press, the sense of being sucked into a dream-like state displaces objective reality while keeping us empathetically connected to Julian’s subjective reality. And it is he, now, who is narrating his story via voice-over, in the classic noir tradition, which – by virtue of briefly possessing the elephant – allows for an ingenious recapping and filling of gaps in the run-up to a satisfying dénouement.

I hesitate to say there are story elements that fascinate but come to nothing, and loose ends left dangling, because I have the feeling a second viewing with the wisdom of hindsight would validate quite a lot of what seems incidental. There are some quite different story elements in the radio version, moving and still images can be found on the website, and then there is the Facebook page of Keryn Bell …  

As for what it all means, perhaps it all alludes to the proverbial elephant in the room that no-one likes to talk about. Or maybe Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants amounts to an essay on the essential meaninglessness of human existence, and the ways we attempt to give it meaning and value.  

One thing is for sure, though: Leo Gene Peters and his team have created a mesmerising two hours of superbly produced and performed live theatre.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


John Smythe November 11th, 2009

Further to the above, if you're on facebook you can send a friend request to the main characters Julian Gallo and Yvonne Quinn and you can follow Julian's Twittering at  Is it just me or is it fair to say that more could have been done to facilitate these connections with strategically-placed links?

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