Bristol Old Vic presents the audience with a gripping one-man performance by local writer Matt Grinter, developed at Ferment Fortnight.
Local-legend-turned-fiction-turned-theatre-turned-life – this is what Matt’s story represents. Researching a local legend about an elephant being buried in the graveyard of a church between Armley and Kingswood back in 1891, Grinter developed a transfixing piece of physical theatre. By keeping it simple – a sole actor, a simple set, and 50 minutes length – he showcased the power of a strong story, as if unconsciously relating the adage ‘Less is more’.
The Dog and the Elephant relates the story of the Bristolian bare-knuckle boxer Bendigo Barlow, displayed chapter by chapter by his body tattoos and his unusual friendship with Ina, the elephant. Bendigo (Jack Johns) has Tourette’s syndrome, and his ultimate solace is the bond he finds with animals. Because of his vocal tics, the local community nicknames him ‘The Dog Boy’, which urges him to fight back and eventually drives him away from home and into the Romany Gypsy village. There he feels accepted and starts fighting on their behalf in bare-knuckle rings. After a while, he’s in trouble again, forced to leave once again, and he ends up under the guardianship of a man that works with animals, where he first meets Ina, the elephant.
As to be expected, underlying the personal story are layers that speak of Victorian Britain and the travelling community of Romany Gypsies.
Bendigo never settles. He’s constantly in motion, full of energy, of speed, undertaking a huge task –filling in all the layers, colour the other characters that make the story, and undergoing his own transformation from vulnerability turned into violence. His alienation and loneliness that make him an outsider count for the general theme that’s accessible to all, provoking a broad sympathy from the viewer.
It’s the universal story of Shelley’s Frankenstein that criticises the never-changing society of always perpetuating new taboos and the rejection of being different.
The Dog and the Elephant is at Bristol Old Vic Studio until Saturday, Feb 6. For more info and to book tickets, visit: www.bristololdvic.org.uk/dogandtheelephant.html.
Photos: Found Studio