“I want to get in a wardrobe and take you to Elephant and Castle”: gig theatre at Camden People’s Theatre

Billie Manning

I think my favourite quote from Elephant & Castle has to be ‘get your anus off my head’. It’s either that or, ‘fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck off fuck you’… one of the two.

Written and performed by married couple Lillian Henley and Tom Adams, Elephant & Castle isn’t your typical piece of gig theatre. Henley describes the production as ‘a live concept album with stories woven together and put on stage with theatrical elements.’ The piece is autobiographical, and revolves around the Adams' unusual nighttime activities: namely, sleepwalking and sleeptalking, and is so named for what he said in his sleep on the first night that the couple spent together. The production includes 3 years’ worth of recordings of Adams’ nocturnal mutterings and musings, as well as original songs, some of which relate hilarious incidents caused by his sleepwalking (including weeing in the bin and trying to escape out the window starkers).

The laughs for these come easily, helped by the fact that sleepwalking and talking is so necessarily surreal and makes for naturally unexpected stories, although sometimes the punchlines could have been more emphasised. Adams is a strong charismatic presence on the stage and has great comic timing, while Henley makes good use of her strong voice. The pair of course also makes use of their natural chemistry to bounce off one another.
Tom Adams and Lillian Henley. Image: Camden People's Theatre

However, futher than comedy, the show is an intimate look at how a couple deals with something that affects their relationship and both of their lives yet cannot be changed. It also explores how the dynamic of Henley being obliged to deal with the consequences of something that is enacted by Adams but isn’t actually under his control – the question is raised about what they will do when they have children. It is also educative on the topic of parasomnia (activities occurring while asleep): some of the verbatim recordings come from an expert consulted in order to find out whether Adams’ sleepwalking could be helped or cured.
The bed, of course, is the central location of the production, with most of the songs and music being played from it, as well as using it as a giant prop. Henley and Adams also wear paisley pyjamas (for most of the production – we wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises for you, though).  This has the effect of creating a very intimate space and rapport with the audience, and you do come out feeling as if you know the couple quite well. All the recordings are also controlled and presented by the couple, adding to the feeling of familiarity. At its heart, this is a very intimate, sweet exploration of one particular couple’s difficulties with a very unusual problem that will manage to make you laugh and warm your cockles.

Elephant and Castle runs Tue 9 - Sat 20 October at Camden People's Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Rd, Kings Cross, London NW1 2PY.

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