Wednesday 7th June 2017 at Harrogate Theatre (Studio)
Elephant and Castle is a gig-theatre show which explores the humour, the confusion and the darker side of sleep walk and sleep talk. Real-life couple Tom Adams and Lillian Henley use recordings from three years of sleep talk as the catalyst for songs and narrative snippets which range from genuinely laugh-out-loud revelations to sardonic punchlines and the unexpected whispers of a polluted consciousness. For me, the driving force of this show is humour; it deals with some darker ideas but it’s quite a playful performance from Adams and Henley – sometimes the laughter is uncomfortable and sometimes it borders on the hysterical, but there is most certainly plenty of it!
There are moments of serious contemplation on the possible consequences of sleeping beside someone who is so unpredictable; vulnerable and defenceless beside the chaotic and potentially unwittingly violent makes for an uncomfortable vision of love. One disturbing news story in particular is given unnerving resonance beside one of Adams’ unconscious incidents – and this seriousness is subsequently shattered with a single darkly humorous one liner within a song. The musical talents of the pair are put front and centre, with the duo using phrases from the recordings on which to hang songs of a variety of genres – Lillian Henley’s style is haunting, jaunty and lyrical – her delivery is always arrestingly nuanced and full of character while Tom Adams’ voice is gentle and playful; he gives the impression of a permanent state of light heartedness and that’s a charm which finds its way into his music.
At times, this performance feels claustrophobic in the inevitable close quarters of a studio space – this may well be intended as there was space enough for them to sit upstage on their simple mattress, but they chose to be up close and personal with the audience, making eye contact while relaying weird and wonderfully funny oddities from the past three years of disrupted sleep. Their intimate sleeping quarters become part of our personal space, making us just as tense as Henley must sometimes feel. I enjoyed the brief video montage; a whimsical visual of how disorientating disturbed sleep can be. Also playing a part are snippets of fascinating medical insights into the causes and symptoms of somnambulism and somniloquy or indeed, people who are affected by both parasomnias. It’s a simply staged piece which puts the central focus on a few recordings, the narratives and the ditties; transitions between these three components are not always fluent (which again may be intentional, considering the subject matter) but Elephant and Castle is certainly refreshingly different in dealing with territory relatively untouched on stage.
Elephant And Castle explores the territory well, using the talents of the cast cannily to deliver material that has the potential to be a static, uninteresting piece of theatre in the wrong hands (thankfully, Adams and Henley have the right hands). Yes, it deals with sleep, but it’s no snooze fest; it’s a warm, light-hearted piece which rests comfortably on the charm of this duo and its key strength is the prominence of humour and fun; even the darker references are lightened by a witty remark, making this a cleverly constructed performance. We’ve all heard funny sleep talking/walking stories and had a cackle over the tales and this show takes full advantage of our fascination with the way the mind can make us embarrass ourselves, but the inclusion of more sobering moments allows the pair to stop short of making this a ‘Sleepwalkers and Talkers Do The Darndest Things’ show. It’s well worth seeing if you’re after something different, something intriguing and something both gleefully and awkwardly funny!
You can catch Elephant and Castle in Margate in July – you can get your tickets here.