With Elephant Cast and East 15
Stephen Guy, a specialist in automata, approached Carl Heap with the idea of adapting an extraordinary picture book in which the Indian tribal artist Bhajju Shyam recalls his first departure from his native country, when he was commissioned in 2002 to paint the walls of the Masala Zone restaurant in Islington’s Upper Street, in London, with the distinctive traditional designs of his tribal (Gond) culture. He was later persuaded by an Indian publisher (Tara Books) to give a pictorial account of his journey. The outcome was a beautifully surreal outsider’s view that playfully transformed London into a strange and wonderful jungle, inhabited by bizarre species: the London bus becomes a faithful dog, Big Ben a rooster, tube trains morph into snakes,and evening party-goers are portrayed as a gathering of bats. The book’s title has an ironic twist, in that the artist can be seen to be wittily returning Kipling’s imperial gaze – with interest.
To offset a shoestring budget, graciously supplied by East 15 Drama School, a large cast was recruited from the school’s Contemporary Theatre course, who worked alongside the designer, hand-painting most of the props. The NT Studio hosted a final week of exploration which culminated in a showcase that was then transferred to performances at the South Bank’s Alchemy Festival.