“Meta, self-referential bullshit” – the play’s words, not mine. It was an hour, thereabouts, of talking about what the show was going to be (/was) about. What was it about? Metatheatre and postmodernism, sure, but also juvenilia, male friendships, unspoken truths, and even the relationship between art and sexual selection. Apparently “composed from taped conversations made in the heat of the moment, in the dead of night”, the show was a sustained exercise in intellectual masturbation, but also far more charming than that description suggests.
I saw an arse. Then I saw some testicles dangling underneath that same arse. Why? Well, it was funny, but it also served to undercut the posturing and assure us that these guys don’t take themselves too seriously.
The premise: three dramatists – two young and one middle-aged – debating the contents of an upcoming performance (this performance). While the younger two pushed for self-referentiality, the older one (played by ‘postmodern puppeteer’ Matt Rudkin) claimed it was a tired, hackneyed approach and that a traditional narrative would be better. This struggle between two generations was vital to the play’s dynamic and saved it from pretension, because it was indeed aware of its own pretension.
The play was also brought down to earth by its slapstick, clownish quality. For example, I saw an arse. Then I saw some testicles dangling underneath that same arse. Why? Well, it was funny, but it also served to undercut the posturing and assure us that these guys don’t take themselves too seriously.
Somewhere in the middle of the show (which Rudkin emphasised was not part of the show), we were treated to a seemingly off-the-cuff (but definitely on-the-cuff) lecture about atypical displays of genetic strength, for example the peacock’s tail. While some male animals grow bigger or stronger to attract females, others turn more colourful or develop ornate but useless nests.
However, this was not another random aside by a group of haywire dramatists, but an interesting assessment of their own behaviour. After all, why were they putting on this play? Was it for the love of art or money? Or was The Room in the Elephant an elaborate mating dance, a peculiarly human attempt at attracting the desired sex?
In moments like these, the play transcended its forged transcendence and went beyond your typical absurdist pastiche. Aside from the arduous final segment, it was the finest self-referential bullshit you could ask for.