Mammoth production: Surreal Cuban ball-games

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Tieatro Buendia last visited London in September 1993 with Innocent Erendira, a beautifully choreographed, disturbing stage version of Marquez's dark tale. Full of startling rich images, the piece drew on the theatre tradition of the company's native Cuba to translate into stage terms the eerie story of Erendira and her cruel grandmother. When the company launches its new UK tour on Saturday with a children's play An Elephant Takes Too Much Room (as part of the Great Outdoors festival on the South Bank), we can expect the same use of flamboyant theatricality and traditional music, but the mood could scarcely be more different. True, the piece tells the touching story of an elephant's identity crisis, but it does so using magic clowning and, above all, 15 giant beach balls.

The elephant, who consists of brightly coloured balls - large ones for his ears and small ones for his trunk - spots himself in a mirror and undergoes a personality change (he falls over and, being constructed of beach balls, falls apart), whereupon the company begins the tale of his search for his true identity. No language is used, only movements, music - and balls.

The play won the company the Critics' Prize in Cuba in 1992, and though it's a children's piece of only 45 minutes, it illustrates the actors' skill. Part of the company's ethos is to be able to create something from nothing - important artistically, but also practically, since the resources for grand stage pyrotechnics are not available in Cuba. After the Great Outdoors, Tieatro Buendia tours the country, starting at the Edinburgh Festival. The company returns to the South Bank in late September with a more extensive programme which includes this sunny children's show, but also the more sultry Safo, about a 1940s bolero singer and her struggle against censorship, and Buendia Havana, an evening of salsa, rumba and traditional Cuban songs.

'An Elephant Takes Too Much Room' is performed on Sat 20 and Sun 21 Aug at 4.30pm in front of the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, free

(Photograph omitted)

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