Review: Gill Manly and Joanna Scanlan – The Elephant in the Room, Matthews Yard, Croydon

Gill Manley and Joanna Scanlan performing Elephant in the Room. Photo credit: Croydonites Festival

“One, two, three, four, there’s no pussy at the door. Check!” shout the sold-out crowd at Matthew’s Yard. And no, we are not chanting along to Croydon’s latest grime superstar, but immersing ourselves in the heartfelt and transformative ‘playsical’ The Elephant in the Room from Gill Manly and Joanna Scanlan.

A ‘playsical’, in case you’re wondering, is described on the programme as ‘a play with a few songs. Not quite a musical, not quite a cabaret.’ The show is running for two nights as part of the Croydonites Festival of New Theatre and it is really exciting to have such bold new work commissioned locally. As Mental Health Awareness Week comes to a close, with its focus this year on body image, there couldn’t be a more fitting theatre experience to go and see.

Exploring the complex and too often unrecognised relationship between mental health and obesity, this brave and revealing project sheds new light on the path to becoming so overweight that even moving around becomes a challenge, and the reality of facing bariatric surgery. Manly unpacks her emotional baggage, ably assisted by Scanlan’s colourful and supportive Fairy Rainbow and Ellie Scanlan as Nurse Ellie, with humour, songs and charm. The jazz and cabaret spirit are ever present in the musical numbers and more than once I am reminded of the fabulous vulnerability of Sally Bowles singing through the heartache inCabaret.

Manly’s voice is wonderfully raw and the musical numbers, directed by Adrian York, bring an extra dimension to the storytelling. Comedy is very useful in exploring such a deep and often painful topic and helped me feel invited into the very personal space of the work. I was moved from laughing along with the well-received gags about Croydon to wanting to give Manly a huge hug. And looking around, mine weren’t the only shiny eyes when the lights went up. There was recognition and gratitude for the strength and honesty of Manly’s performance.

The piece resonates with people because it challenges us to confront our own preconceptions about obesity while asking us to celebrate self-compassion and acceptance. It is billed as stage one of a work in progress but already speaks with an authentic voice and is brimming with heart. I want to urge everyone to go see the next iteration of this important work and am keeping my fingers crossed for a tour.

Originally published on Croydonites webisite:–joanna-scanlan–the-elephant-in-the-room.html

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