When the directors’s notes in the program talk about exploring things like anxieties, spirituality and purpose, you worry. Well, I do. I usually expect something that’s more like a ‘performance piece’ than a play, and something that, to quote an esteemed colleague, is ‘as deep as whale poo’. What I don’t generally expect is a play like Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants.
This play, staged at Wellington’s independent Bats Theatre, is the culmination of a collaborative project (I seem to be encountering a few of these this year), that has apparently involved a broad cross-section of the Wellington community. The action is set in Wellington, so I’m glad I didn’t see it on my first night here, because I would have missed half of the references! Nonetheless, I would still have walked out of the theatre a little dazed, a little confused, but nonetheless happy to have witnessed Julian’s story played out, and to have recognised something of myself in it.
Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants could reasonably be slotted into the Deep as Whale Poo genre, but this is probably the first play I’ve ever seen from that genre that has a (discernable) plot, as well as recognisable figures. Of course, the more intellectually challenged of my tribe would have trouble following the plot, but it is there, and it is both engaging and distinct. And as deep as whale poo.