They're caught in a flap

Elephents cast. Picture: Jamie Breen

By Jeffrey Jay Fowler
4 stars
The Last Great Hunt
Blue Room


Jeffrey Jay Fowler knows his way round dystopia. In Second Hands, his recent Fringe World outing, humankind had taken vanity and materialism to a horrific extreme. In Elephents the extremity at which we have arrived is apocalyptic, not merely cosmetic.

We are introduced to it in bite-sized pieces. People entering the various dwellings in which the play is set automatically dry off the sweat with towels left by the door for the purpose. Sometimes their clothes are singed. We hear of things combusting spontaneously. Umbrellas are lead-lined. The climate is to die for.

Certainly for the elephents (the misspelling is deliberate; this is almost our world but not quite). There are only four of the great beasts left, and their time is up. When the zoo's air-conditioning fails, one of them, Caribou, expires in the heat. As the planet cooks, extinction has become the fashion. We learn from off-hand remarks and snatches of conversation that our extinction, too, is fast approaching.

Fowler neither explains nor sermonises about our looming (presumably self-inflicted) ruin. If, like me, you hate being spoon-fed, Equus-style, a play's meaning and overarching narrative, this is one of Elephents' great strengths.

Another is Fowler's metier, the sharp, and very funny, dialogue - this is the blackest of black comedies - between the eight characters who pick their way through the new normalities of the global death bed we have made and they have to lie in.

They couple and uncouple, make and break contracts and vows, and even plan for children, though their hopes for them must be the blackest joke of all.

Fowler, Gita Bezard and Adrianne Daff, from the new The Last Great Hunt theatre company (the director, Kathryn Osborne, is another company founder), perform with their usual flair, and are well supported by Pete Townsend and musical director Brett Smith, who hops on and off piano stools with cool distaste as other cast members commandeer his keyboard.

Because, quirkily, this is a play with songs. While they fit neatly into the action, and some - notably the lament for Caribou performed by Bezard and the romantic ballad, Baby When I Look at You, sung by Townsend - are effective, none really nail the old grey whistle test.

But, from the writing and performances to Osborne's tight, energetic direction and designer Tarryn Gill's inspired, hilarious choice of wigs, that's the only test I can't quite give this spiky, witty and ultimately desolate show an A for.