Banksy: The Room in the Elephant

Tom Wainwright
Tobacco Factory Theatres and The Sum
Arcola Theatre (Studio 2)

Gary Beadle as Tachowa Covington Credit: Richard Davenport
Gary Beadle as Tachowa Covington Credit: Richard Davenport

In 2011, when Banksy was in Los Angeles, an old water tank caught his eye that he thought looked a bit like an elephant. It may once have been a bit of left over scrap but inside local man Tachowa Covington had turned it into his home.

According to Wainwright’s version, the artist asked Tachowa's permission and wrote what he thought: This looks a bit like an elephant" along the side of the tank. It wasn’t a drawing or one of Banksy’s trademark picture stencils, just capital letters, but this spur to a viewer’s quirky imagination had turned the whole thing into an art object with a commercial value. It wasn’t long before someone came along claiming ownership and gave Tachowa notice to quit.

In this solo performance Wainwright presents Tachowa telling his story, including his Banksy encounter, though preserving the artist’s anonymity.

It is given a lively performance by Gary Beadle entering with a backpack loaded with his belongings and setting up to make a recording on the video camera some stranger gave him. Beadle gives him appropriate eccentricities, including what must be a difficult to maintain knee tremor and has moments of welled-up emotion but it is the actor who engages attention rather than the material.

There are delightful touches, such as Tachowa’s relationship with his gold-crowned toy rat, and it is not without humour, but Beadle needs deeper material to work with. The videoing concept forms something of a barrier between actor and audience, though is frequently broken away from to present material more directly giving change of focus to Emma Callander’s direction.

There is also some arbitrary use of music and colour changes of lighting around Rosanna Vize’s simply setting that serve no purpose but suggest an effort to add auxiliary stimulus.

This fictionalising of Tachowa reveals too little about the person and feels like the very cashing-in on the Banksy connection that it presumably sets out to satirise. Indeed, what is the purpose of this piece? It presents us with Tachowa as put-upon without offering any real critique of ownership or what gives a person artistic or property rights and points up the difficulty of giving a monologue the conflict, intellectual or dramatic, that fuels theatre.

The play is followed, after an interval, by Hal Samples’s film Something From Nothing, partly shot by Tachowa and offering a factual take on his story. It’s a home movie-like montage of the LA story and Tachowa’s encounter with Wainwright’s play when presented in Edinburgh that shows Tachowa as an artist in his own right, his exotic home decoration and personal presentation more colourfully creative than writing a few words on an existing object.

Despite its confusions, the film shows a Tachowa much more intriguing than the character in the play.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton