The story of Elmer, the one-of-a-kind elephant who stands out from the crowd, has been a childhood favourite for 30 years. But unlike many other classic picture books, it has never been officially adapted for the stage – until now.
Award-winning writer and playwright Suzanne Maynard Miller has taken David McKee‘s delightful book and turned it into a colourful and upbeat 60-minute show for children aged one and older, with songs by Allison Leyton-Brown.
Elmer The Patchwork Elephant Show has been touring the UK since January and I decided that its arrival at York’s Grand Opera House would be the perfect time to attempt to introduce Baby Bookworm to the joys of a trip to the theatre…
I was not feeling confident about his ability to sit still when we took our seats, after a fraught story time session at the local Waterstones that morning where he kept legging it for the door, followed by a fidgety lunch.
But thankfully this charming show held his attention and also had me tapping my toes and singing along.
The staging is very true to David McKee’s distinctive illustrative style, as is the story line of Elmer feeling blue about being the only coloured elephant in the herd and heading into the jungle to find himself in a bit of an existential crisis.
He wants to blend in and different animal characters offer suggestions of the best colour to become – but are ultimately trying to show our hero that he’s special just as he is.
A small team of puppeteers play the cast of 21 animals characters, who reminded me a bit of Jim Henson’s Muppets or Fraggles – very apt given that Elmer was also born in the Eighties.
While the story has been expanded a little from the original book, it is still simple enough for toddlers to follow, who will also be captivated by the energetic puppet performances.
For me, the best part was the music, with each of the songs each themed around a different colour and its merits. Our favourites were the bluesy Blue song and the gentle Yellow, where the lion and giraffe sing that it is “the happiest colour I know”.
The play culminates with Elmer trying to cover up his patchwork skin to look like all the other grey elephants, until he can’t hide his jolly true colours. When the other elephants discover his disguise, they are much amused and declare his trick to be his best one ever – and that they will dedicate a day to Elmer once a year.
It’s vibrant, funny and touching – and a wonderfully entertaining way to show your child that their uniqueness is their strength.
Elmer the Patchwork Elephant Show is touring the UK in 2019. For dates and tickets, visit elmertheshow.com
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