Ian Nicholas is a theatre producer, running OnBook Theatre alongside director Jason Moore. He talks here about their next production, The Elephant Song, which opens at Park Theatre on 18 January and runs to 11 February.
What’s The Elephant Song about?
The Elephant Song is set in a psychiatric hospital. A psychiatrist has suddenly gone missing and the last person to see him was Michael, a young patient at the hospital. Dr Greenberg, the hospital director, interviews Michael, hoping to find out if he knows anything. In a turbulent power struggle with Greenberg, Michael attempts to barter the truth for his potential freedom, with devastating consequences. Fraught with mind games and verbal tugs-of-war, The Elephant Song is a cat-and-mouse game that will keep you guessing until its startling conclusion.
Tell us a bit about the playwright, Nicolas Billon
We are very lucky to have a working relationship Nicolas and we’ve had several lovely conversations about his play. We’re also thrilled that he’s coming to London from Canada just to see our production and he’ll be doing a Q&A on January 24 after that evening’s performance. Nic writes for theatre, television, and film and his work has been produced around the world. The Elephant Song was his first play and he adapted it into a feature film starring Xavier Dolan, Bruce Greenwood, and Catherine Keener. His latest play, Butcher, was mounted across Canada. A graduate of the CFC’s Prime Time TV program, Nic wrote for CBC’s WWII spy series X Company and on the reboot of Street Legal and he’s garnered over a dozen awards, including a Governor-General’s Award for Drama, a Canadian Screen Award, and a Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award for his adapted screenplay for The Elephant Song.
How did you come across the play and what made you want to bring it to London?
I saw the movie several years ago. I was deeply affected by it and after doing some investigating, I discovered it was originally a play. Better yet, it was a play that has never been produced in the UK. It took a while to hunt down the rights but I’m persistent and it paid off. The Elephant Song is the kind of play I love to see. Psychological thrillers are always a favourite of mine. We are spoiled for musicals and comedy in London. But dramas and thrillers are not well represented, so it’s a goal of mine to add those to the menu for theatre goers.
What will the experience be like for the audience?
Park 90 theatre is a modern, intimate space and we are staging the play in thrust with seating on three sides, just a few feet from the stage. The audience will have a ‘fly on the wall’ experience. There isn’t a bad seat on the house, everyone will be close to the action. I always like an audience to feel immersed in the experience. When you’re far away from the stage, there’s opportunity for distraction. Also, this play is one act, no interval and in real time. It’s like eavesdropping on someone’s private conversation which feels naughty but delicious at the same time.
Is there a line or moment that you think sums it up really well?
There’s a line Michael says close to the end of the play: “Some people spend a lifetime wondering “What am I worth?”” It’s haunting and sad and it’s something I think everyone has asked themselves at one time or another during their lifetime. For me, personally, I’m not sure I’d want to know. Would the answer be satisfying? Could it ever be? I always say ‘Don’t ask a question if you’re afraid to hear the answer’. So I don’t. But Michael does. And you’ll have to see the play to find out the answer.
What’s next for the company?
Together with my partner, Jason Moore, who directs all our productions, OnBook theatre is producing Neil Simon’s “California Suite” at OSO Arts Centre in February 2023 and we are currently working with a new playwright to produce two new plays in the Autumn of 2023. One is a dark comedy and the other is a courtroom drama based on real events. Then in 2024 we might possibly be going overseas to produce the musical “Cabaret”. OnBook Theatre just keeps going, because that’s what we love.
The Elephant Song runs at Park Theatre 18 Jan – 11 Feb, tickets available here https://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-elephant-song/