Reviews Edinburgh Published 14 August 2013

Banksy: The Room in the Elephant

Pleasance Courtyard ⋄ 31st July - 26th August

Art and property.

Catherine Love

In today’s society, the idea of home is arguably more fragile than ever. A whole generation of young people are growing up with the mounting impossibility of ever owning their own houses, while many of those who can lay claim to bricks and mortar are in danger of losing it. Homelessness is a growing problem as the impact of recession continues to be felt. There is wider resonance, then, for Tom Wainwright’s tale of a home gained and a home lost.

Based on the true story of the man made homeless when his makeshift residence unexpectedly became a coveted work of art, Wainwright’s one man play traces the fallout of a careless creative act. In 2011, mysterious graffiti artist Banksy sprayed “this looks a bit like an elephant” on the side of a water tank. For the last seven years, that water tank had been a man’s home, but as soon as Banksy left his mark it suddenly had a price tag and was transformed from a dwelling to a commodity. One man had his home snatched from him and the art world had a new addition to its collection.

In Wainwright’s imagining of events, the water tank is its resident’s one retreat from a world that has extinguished his dreams one by one. It is this wronged individual who narrates events, deliberately and cleverly subverting the emphasis of the title. Titus Coventry – real name Tachova Covington – is fed up of being sidelined. As he frustratedly tells us, all anyone wants to hear about is Banksy. It’s perhaps telling that in today’s society a label means more than a life; glossy mystery is more attractive than messy reality. And Titus’ reality is about as messy as it gets. In the water tank, though, he finds hope and happiness again, building a home that is presented as much more genuinely creative than Banksy’s glib stamp on its side.

Wainwright’s interest, however, lies as much in ideas of storytelling and art as in the central figure of Titus (brought to charismatic life by Gary Beadle). As our narrator begins by telling us, “ain’t no one want the truth, they want the story”. This is a tale saturated with the movies made in the Hollywood hills where Titus makes his unusual home, taking care to offer twists at the right point and plot its events along a thrilling graph. Through the piece’s self-awareness, we are made conscious of our own complicity in the stories spun by journalists and theatremakers alike. Do we really care about the truth, or do we just want a good yarn? And who really has the right to tell another’s story? Art also gets a good pummelling, as the loose definitions used to categorise creativity come in for sharp criticism, while the rapidity with which a work of art becomes a commodity speaks of a grasping, greedy cynicism embedded in our culture.

This dual focus is problematised throughout, asking meaty questions about how art blithely appropriates the lives and stories of others. The production implicitly asks: is what we’re doing really any better than what Banksy did? But the questions, while often fascinating, approach the piece’s deconstruction with a heavy hand. Emma Callander’s production, meanwhile, feels a little roughly put together, incorporating a series of projections that never quite gel with the action taking place in front of them. The plastic back sheet of the set, however – though not providing the best surface for projection – makes an apt comment about the vulnerability of Titus’ home. As he bitterly discovers, property is delicate, illusory and easily torn.

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Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist and theatre critic. She writes regularly for titles including The Guardian, The Stage and WhatsOnStage. She is also currently an AHRC funded PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, pursuing research into the relationship between text and performance in 21st century British theatre.

Banksy: The Room in the Elephant Show Info


Directed by Emma Callander

Written by Tom Wainwright

Cast includes Gary Beadle

Link http://www.pleasance.co.uk/

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