THEATRE: 23 OCTOBER 2016
By JOHN ROZENTALS
The Turquoise Elephant, by Stephen Carleton | Directed by Gale Edwards
Griffin Theatre Company (http://www.griffintheatre.com.au) | Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst, Sydney | Until 26 November
What is the colour when black is burned?
No, I’m not sure about the answer to the riddle posed by Neil Young in his 1979 song I Am a Child, either.
But if I was, I’d probably have an adequate descriptor for The Turquoise Elephant, Stephen Carleton’s new play, which last year won the Griffin Theatre Award for best new work by an Australian playwright.
It is, as quite accurately described in the publicity notes, “a shockingly black, black, black political farce”.
I’m not convinced that it will grow into an iconic Australian play in the way that David Williamson’s The Removalists or Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll have.
But it is an important work that says, very dramatically, very strongly and with delicious humour, that the world is on a precipice, facing a challenge which, if unsolved, could well end life as we know it.
That challenge is, of course, global warming something about which Carleton paints a pretty dismal, pessimistic picture.
Augusta (Maggie Dence) is a former Governor General, a woman of considerable influence, yet someone who believes that the solution lies with fossil fuels, even as average maximum temperatures head towards 48ºC and she resorts to life behind triple-glazed windows.
She lives with her grand-daughter Basra (Olivia Rose), who well recognises the problem at hand, but only seems to have blogging as a solution as Melbourne drowns in a rapidly rising tide of seawater and its own faeces while Sydney stages a business summit.
Augusta’s sister Olympia (Belinda Giblin) is one of Australian theatre’s great caricatures. She positively endorses global warming as providing the opportunity for the rich to travel to landmarks such as Kilimanjaro and see the last snows on the African continent.
Her greatest pleasure seems to come from dining on endangered species.
Great support is provided by Julian Garner as the rampant, immoral entrepreneur lusting after Olympia’s money and the favours of Augusta’s maid Visi (Catherine Davies), who also seems to provide the play’s real voice of reason.
This is dark, humorous writing, directed superbly by Gale Edwards, and acted wonderfully by a talented cast garbed in gorgeously sumptuous costumes (Emma Vine) and working on a lavish set (Brian Thomson) that simply screams wealth and privilege.
Go and see. Thumbs up.