Banksy The Room With the Elephant

After having the privilege of taking a sneaky peak at a couple of sections of Banksy: The Room in the Elephant, upstairs in a rehearsal room at the Arcola a week before, I was very excited to see the real thing in action at one of my favourite London spaces. The brick wall and wooden partitions, alongside the cosy and idiosyncratic bar, create a perfect vibe to house this unique and special piece of theatre directed by Emma Callander, Associate Director of the Traverse theatre and Co-artistic Director of Theatre Uncut.

Originally commissioned by Bristol’s Tobacco Factory, the show then went on to sell out at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013. It now lands here in East London, a place that many a game-changing creative has flocked to, and continues to do so, to work and live. Gary Beadle maps out the life of Tachowa Covington, an extraordinary man of character and life-force whom we discover so much about in two short but poignant hours.

His home – a large water tank in California, which he had furnished and fitted with CCTV (to name but one impressive feature) – was to become street artist Banksy’s next target, leaving consequence in the shadows. Tachowa’s home was of course hurried into the limelight, and he was evicted. The tank was suddenly a piece of art, with the words “This looks a bit like an elephant” on the side. Tachowa was suddenly homeless, or “rentless”, as he prefers to coin it.

Beadle’s performance is both sensitive and daring. His muscle and drive through the piece makes you hunger for more secrets, more anecdotes, more anything! Tom Wainwright’s script has a poetic pulse that seduces us without our even being conscious of its touch, and allows Beadle freedom and abandon within his emotional dexterity.

The canvas-like sheet acts as a backdrop for Beadle’s unveiling of ‘Titus’, the character representing Tachowa in the play’s version of the true story. His props are minimal and have authenticity and their own quirk, including a particular highlight for me – ‘B’, the plastic, crown-adorned rat whom Titus regularly touches base with. Throughout the piece, Beadle uses the backdrop as his city, his dreamscape, and his blank page to tell Titus’s well-earned story. The play is followed by a screening of Something from Nothing, the documentary maker Hal Sample’s short film about Tachowa and his tank, gathered from material collected over seven years.

This is a fascinating insight into a man who has continually had to find new sources of strength and resilience as a homeless man in California. We see heart, light and laughter in abundance. The laughter is all around me, reverberating off the bricks in the theatre. We all want a little token of his energy by the end of the film, to cash in when we’re in need of perspective, or simply inspiration!

Spanning several years, the film includes Tachowa’s visit to Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where he met Gary Beadle for the first time on stage after a performance – a delicate crossing of life and art before us. What was originally an idea for an interesting new play has developed and grown, and seems to keep spreading its message further. Banksy, whoever he is, has celebrated life and all its beautiful insecurities with his secret brush for years, but I would imagine this is something he never imagined would happen.

A life, sacred and flickering in the wind that can threaten us all when we least expect it, is the real art here. And we must not forget it.

Banksy: The Room in the Elephant is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 26 April. If you’d like to find out more information on how to book tickets please see the Arcola Theatre website.