Today I and my fellow explorers Alison and Lisa set forth to capture on film an Elephant of Epic Proportions that I had heard about from Sarah, our Hedwig costumier. The Elephant was actually a mechanical automaton/puppet/street theatre that was put together by Royal de Luxe a French company who put on free outdoor performances all over the world--but apparently, never in London. I had heard it was going to be near Picadilly, so we set out with that as our general destination.
Turns out it wasn't as hard to find as I thought it was going to be. Then again, a 12 meter tall Elephant tends to attract a lot of attention. Even not moving it was an impressive sight, majestic and yet festive at the same time.
The road leading to Picadilly Circus had been shut down--for those of you not familiar with London, this is a major street, five lanes wide, heading to one of the hearts of the city. (Like Dr. Who, London has several hearts) And for once I could stroll down the middle...well, stroll is loosely applied here. Pushed along ina crush of people might be a more accurate term. Lisa, Alison and I managed to squeeze by the behemoth (me snapping pictures frantically) and not get separated before deciding that more elephant hunting was not possible on empty stomachs. We meandered through St. James's street, roughtly toward Trafalgar Square, looking for something edible. I think that's what I enjoyed the most about the Elephant--it allowed me to relate to London in a completely different way. I was more aware of being in an audience, of being part of an event than I ever have been. It was like the fireworks at a Fourth of July display, where everyone is staring. But instead of ooing and aahing, they're staring in disbelief and trying to capture it on their camera phones.
We tea-ed in St. Martins in the Field, then plunged back into the fray. I had had a call from a friend who was standing next to the aforementioned Sarah--the Elephant was on the move! and it was heading to St. James's Park. The story behind the show is simple: a sultan dreamed of a little girl, and he was so struck by her image that he had a time-traveling Elephant created so he could find her.
And he found her in London. We were watching the last "scene" a procession from St. James's Park to the Royal Horse Parade Grounds where the Little Girl was going to go home in a rocket. On the way to the park we passed by the crater in the ground where the Little Girl's rocket had "landed." It was literally a crater, with chunks of pavement torn up and tossed aside, right in the middle of the street (albeit a rarely used one) which staggered me. Imagine a theatre company that requires, as part of it's rider, the closing of several MAJOR streets, the tearing up of a large chunk of concrete, a CRANE TO MOVE YOUR PROPS AROUND, as well as enough sound equipment to raise the dead. I cannot convey how cool this was.
Chasing the Elephant through the streets was exhilarating. It's actually more than just an elephant, it was a procession. First came the Little Girl, then the Elephant, then the band (as Alison pointed out, how can you have a time-traveling Elephant WITHOUT a band?) then a police wagon, then an open double decker bus with camera crews. Appropriately, it was an Elephant and Castle bus. The Little Girl and Elephant headed toward the Parade Grounds--where the guys with fuzzy hats are--where the little girl climbed into her rocket ship, waved to the Elephant (who waved back), and went home. Except that...it took a crane to get her into position and a team of technicians to maneuver the Elephant up close.
I was positively blown away by the experience. It was the most exhilarating piece of theater I have ever seen. Most of the time we were moving through crowds of people, laughing and dancing as we tried to keep up with the Elephant's progress and take pictures. Everywhere you went people were watching with this incredulous air, and there was a feeling of community I haven't felt in London in a long time. Even the Little Girl's disappearance was brilliant. On paper it looks simple: put the cap on, fire the smoke, remove the cap, she's gone, simple like a magic trick, but in reality it was astonishing, probably because the Little Girl in question was fifteen feet high.
I don't know whose brilliant idea it was to bring this company to London, but all I want to know is: WHEN CAN WE DO IT AGAIN?!?!?!
check out more pics: www.thesultanselephant.com