Rosamicula (rosamicula) wrote,

a tea-coloured elephant

This weekend I took two fleeting looks at The Sultan's Elephant. I am disappointed yet also somewhat glad that I didn't get too close or look at it too long. It was so very much more beautiful and mesmerising than I imagined it would be. It was an illusion and all the time I knew it was, yet the elephant moved so very like an elephant and the puppets moved so movingly that I was afraid to get close enough to see the smoke or mirrors. The first time I forgot my camera. The second time I left it behind deliberately because I wanted the freedom to simply stand and gaze. It was strange and beautiful and I want my mind to burnish it with the flattering patina of memory rather than risk the disappointing accuracy of my inept digitisation.

Perhaps the most delightful thing about it was the crowd; it was so splendid a marvel that its magic bathed every adult face in the sunkiss of child-like wonder, and blessed even the most ill-favoured and chavsome brat with the innocent glow of the Ovaltiney. The beauty and the novelty - in the best sense of that word - made a crowd, united in sustained delight, into a community, as crowds so seldom are, with none of the belligerant tribalism of a football crowd nor the smug lemminghood of religious observants, nor the mawkish sentimentality of 'spontaneous' mourning for a dead princess with an empty stomach and emptier head.

It was described before the event as a free theatrical event for adults and children, but was so widely and well-publicised that it gained a much wider audience than worthy middle-class parents with their muesli and ritalin-fuelled offspring and the Hoxton fauxhawks, Brixton faffros and Topshop fauxhemians that such a label would normally appeal to. It was nothing at all like a theatre crowd. I'm usually like the worst possible member of a theatre audience, sitting quietly autopsying the living performance, smugly anticipating the well known scenes and lines, flinching at the way, for example, Sean Bean renders Macbeth's lines meaningless with his illiterate and untrained diction. The Sultan's Elephant, however, bewitched away all cynicism with its democratising beauty. The curators of the Tate Modern should turn their Damien Hursts into performance art by chucking them into the Thames and tell Tracey Emin to throw away her speculum. They should empty their stable of all such one-trick ponies and hide magical elephants in it instead, releasing them only rarely, when this weary old city has most need of them. Then St Paul's can wake on a rainy summer's morning and find the cars all around it are stitched to the street and the tired early morning-cleaners and keen and blank-eyed city boys will stand and gape in wonder.
Tags: london, the sultan's elephant
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