Elephant: Tyke is on at Silk, Venue 444, in Edinburgh's Fringe Festival
Elephant: Tyke is on at Silk, Venue 444, in Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival

Tyke, Silk, Venue 444, Edinburgh Fringe

In the darkened rooms of a nightclub within the shadow of Edinburgh Castle an elephant is reaching breaking point. Beaten, whipped, chained-up and forced to do circus tricks, Tyke the elephant is the mute character at the centre of Rebecca Monk’s play. The 40 minute drama is inspired by the tragic death of a circus elephant in Honolulu in 1994. The true story of Tyke is one of animal abuse, the death of the elephant trainer, injuries to others and the shooting dead of the maddened animal. Recriminations followed and the affair created something of a milestone in ending animal cruelty in circus rinks.

Monk works in a love story, a bullying employer and sexually charged eroticism in the form of beatings, chains and whips. In a tightly scripted story, the lovers Stefan (Andrew Armitage) and Veronica (Madison Maylin) are caught in a moral dilemma about the way Tyke is abused for public entertainment. Their relationship was delivered with passion and power, revealing the impossible position they were in which was set up by shouty, menacing and aggressive ringmaster played by Joe Lewis Jager. The plays strengths were in two areas: the constant confrontations between the protagonists and the puppetry of the elephant. Although only a head and two legs Blake Barbiche and Lucy French animated the theatrical representation of the noble beast with conviction.

A film projected on a wall showed the real moments of horror from Honolulu as Tyke attacked her keeper which seemed in some ways at odds with the production. The play was powerful enough as a stand-alone and visually looked different from the grainy footage from 1994. With costumes from the 1990s, a slower build up to the relationship between Stephan and Veronica along with a more three dimensional ringmaster could take this drama into a new life as a longer and stronger play. As it is, Tyke takes centre stage in this shocking story of power and control.

Tyke continues to August 27, 2016. Unticketed, free but donations welcome.

Harry Mottram

Four Stars

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