Monday, April 07, 2014

Strange animals: Banksy: The Room in the Elephant @arcolatheatre

In 2011, while Banksy was in California he decided to write on a derelict white water tank "this looks a bit like an elephant".

Suddenly a piece of junk in Los Angeles becomes the latest sought after piece of art, cranes arrive and it is carted off to a secret location and offered for sale.

But the work of art had also been a home a man had been living in for the past seven years. He finds the furnishing it with things he found discarded, finds himself homeless.

This is the is the story that makes up Banksy: The Room in the Elephant playing at the Arcola Theatre. Tachowa Covington, the man who lived in the elephant recounts his experiences in LA, living amongst the rich and famous and meeting Banksy.

The inspiration for the work came from a story Did Banksy's latest work bring misery to a homeless man? Presented as a one man show and also as a commentary both on the art world and the theatre world (since both are making something out of someone else's story), it is a fascinating and emotional journey into one man's life outside the mainstream.


Performed by Gary Beadle (known as Eastenders’ Paul Trueman and for acclaimed roles in the Royal Court’s Sucker Punch and Chichester Festival Theatre’s Blue Remembered Hills), he brings raw emotion and humanity to the piece which blends fiction and reality and holds your attention for the entire one hour.

It was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and is at the Arcola Theatre as part of a national tour and is a theatrical experience to remember for its sensitive handling of both homelessness and how we deal with it through art and theatre, which is more than can be said for Banksy. The news story from three years ago seems to give Banksy undeserved credit for drawing attention to the plight of the homeless. You won't find that here. Banksy, like his art, comes across as fairly simple minded.

The piece is presented alongside the film Something From Nothing, which is directed and filmed by Hal Samples. Samples had been documented homelessness since 2004 and met Tachowa in 2008. As writer of the piece Tom Wainwright notes, it is an opportunity to present his work in tandem with the truth. A teaser to the film is available on Hal Samples Youtube channel.

Banksy The Room In the Elephant and the film Something From Nothing runs at the Arcola Theatre until 26 April.

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