Sat 6th – Mon 29th August 2016


Charlotte Thomas

at 10:06 on 11th Aug 2016



Black Sheep Productions’s new piece, 'Tyke', purported to throw into question ‘our morality and power as human beings’. They base their story around true events surrounding the abused titular elephant. While exhibiting some redeeming aspects, this piece falls rather flat.

First and foremost, I must mention and praise those involved with the creation of Tyke herself – for me, the star of the show. Presented through the medium of a large puppet, the elephant is utterly charming. Maia Kirkman-Richards (puppet builder), Alice Stillet (puppet director) and puppeteers Blake Barbiche and Lucinda French must all be thoroughly commended. Even the briefest shift of focus from a puppeteer away from their puppet ruins the illusion for an audience member, however both puppeteers are committed throughout. The puppet itself is beautiful, and as the only semblance of set or backdrop in the production, is very effective.

Unfortunately, other aspects of the production are less impressive. I feel that the cast are hampered by an unimaginative script by Rebecca Monks, and this comes across in some rather stilted, uncomfortable performances. Joe Derringdon, as the abusive ringmaster Proudlove, shows the most confidence, and his opening to the show is persuasive, however his performance tends towards the over-exaggerated. If he shows a bit of restraint in the more disturbing dialogues, the truly sinister nature of the character could be better portrayed. Having said this, the desperation of his scene with Tyke towards the end of the piece is evident.

Andrew Armitage (Stefan) and Madison Maylin (Veronica) are unconvincing as a young couple so in love that they are prepared to give up their work and livelihoods to be together. However, it must be reiterated that this is (for me, at least) almost entirely down to the script itself, not necessarily the actors. Maylin, in particular, shows moments of clarity – her relationship with the elephant is very touching, and demonstrates the chemistry lacking between the cast as an ensemble.

As a general point, I feel that the cast could get more out of the script if they all employ more variation in characterisation – both vocally and physically. Each character has a very stock timbre and physical expression, which results in no real development of the characters, or the arc of the story. This means that the final video - footage of the real-life Tyke and her fate – feels jarring and heavy-handed, rather than moving and emotional.

Overall, this production exhibits some truly impressive puppetry, but a clunky script and evident discomfort onstage makes for an uninspiring result.



Izzie Fernandes

at 12:19 on 11th Aug 2016



‘If you truly believe you can’t change a thing's nature, you’re no better’. Think what you will of this statement, I can only say that this sort of exaggerated cliché epitomizes the forty minutes spent in none other than Edinburgh’s’ nightclub Silk.

You will undoubtedly have had some bizarre clubbing encounters in your time. But this early evening performance topped all prior experiences. There was quite literally an elephant in the room.

The play’s overarching message is touching, and the cast should be applauded for tackling the true story of Tyke; an abused circus elephant pushed to kill her trainer in front of a crowd.

The subject matter has potential for poignancy, but the tale of a circus master blinded by desire to make money from a ‘bloody great beast’ only goes so far. The coexisting love story of young and idealistic Veronica (Maralin Maylin) and Stefan (Andrew Armitage), who both want to help Tyke, is also underdeveloped, and the lack of plot progression can be largely blamed on the script.

The exchanges between Malin and Armitage are performed with attempted seriousness, but never seem to surpass a reel of clichés . A particularly empty energy is created when, in moments of greatest dilemma, Armitage’s delivery seems deflated and two-dimensional. The circus master Proudlove (Joe Derrington) gives an enthusiastic performance, yet his growing frustration escalates into bellowing tones, which became a little numbing to the ear.

Tyke is quite literally the saving grace of his own performance. The large grey structure is an imaginative and aesthetically-pleasing centrepiece, which resembles the puppetry in the West End production of the Lion King. A lot is owed to the puppeteers Lucinda French and Blake Barbiche, whose swaying movements and elephant cooings adjust and balance the mood despite fluctuations in the weak script. Energy is high when Tyke is whipped, and mellow when he stands chained: the pair sustain sensitivity to sound and movement throughout.

Yet, enjoyment of this spectacle is hindered by dim lighting and uneven staging. The three characters tend to block one another in a cluster around the puppet, and Tyke's presence would be more effective if he was brought further forward on stage.

With just three audience members in each of the five rows, the mood of the whole performance is, at times, unengaging. Then it all ends abruptly. It is a jarring decision to conclude the performance by showing harrowing real life footage of Tyke killing his trainer and being shot.

The issues addressed are thought provoking, but the production fails to develop these fully . The video confirms this, coming across as a final attempt to add depth, by stirring the audience into shock.


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