Elmer the Patchwork Elephant will come to life on the Bishop's Stortford stage
Beloved children’s character Elmer the Patchwork Elephant is being brought to life on the stage for his 30th birthday.
The show, which is coming to Rhodes Arts Complex on Friday, August 9, is based on the classic book series by author and illustrator David McKee.
First published by Andersen Press in 1989, it is one of the most iconic and widely read children’s book series of all time; more than 10 million copies have been sold worldwide and it has been translated into more than 50 languages.
Elmer The Patchwork Elephant Show tells the tale of an elephant who stands out – both with his patchwork-coloured skin and his sense of humour – but ultimately realises that his friends have always adored his unique characteristics, and love him because of them, not in spite of them.
David, 84, who has penned a number of other children’s classics including King Rollo, Mr Benn and Not Now Bernard, gives Indie readers the lowdown on the loveable elephant.
Why do you think Elmer resonates with generation after generation of readers?
It’s interesting because every time anything does that, and continues to resonate, people always ask the same question! If we knew what it was then we’d just repeat it and do it all the time, you just get it right sometimes. I think it’s just an old-fashioned story with a bright image.
Was there anything in particular about an elephant that appealed to you?
I just liked drawing elephants! At the time I was drawing cartoons for newspapers, and every now and again an elephant would creep in one of those. There’s just something about the shape I think, and of course it ended up decorated, as there was enough space on there to decorate!
Was there anyone who inspired your style of artwork?
The Fauves influenced me a lot for colour, the Cubists for their various points of view at the same time. For style, Paul Klein especially, and then I found Steinberg and thought he was one of the gods!
What are your favourite books from your childhood?
They’re still my favourites now, in fact, and those are the stories of Winnie the Pooh, House at Pooh Corner and all of those stories. Especially the version read on tape by Alan Bennett, he is absolutely incredible with all of those voices. He’s absolutely got that calm of Pooh, the nervousness of Piglet, the grumpiness of Eeyore. That was read to me when I was very young by a teacher, and later when I found the rest they’ve remained at the top.
Also, Treasure Island, which was given to us – they read the first part to us at art class and asked us to draw the opening part. Those two books have remained very much my favourites.
Did you always want to write as well as illustrate?
No, I always told stories, I come from a background of storytellers. I think people always just used to tell stories, teachers used to tell stories. My mother was a storyteller, and when my father said “what’s going on?” and especially when he came home during the war, it was recounted like a story.
When I went to the Scouts, somebody came in and told us about all the local ghosts, those were stories. Eventually I just started telling stories, first to myself – even at college people would ask me “tell us a story!” In fact my book Two Can Toucan was a story I told in college that I eventually went back to.
What messages do you feel children take away from the Elmer series?
The bit about his differences in the original Elmer story – it’s not so much about individuality, it’s more about accepting who you are, realising who you are. I think that’s what’s great about Elmer.
I’d say that for myself, I knew who my grandparents were, my parents, uncles and aunties and all of that – you can’t have any funny ideas about who you are! You can’t be pretentious. You just have to accept that’s who you are and get on with it, and I think that that is the kind of thing that comes up as well.
Elmer has always been alright with the herd, and with the other animals. They were pleased to see him – “Good morning Elmer!” they’d say. But he was more noticeable, that was all.
To book tickets to Elmer the Patchwork Elephant Show, visit rhodesartscomplex.co.uk or call the box office on 01279 710200.
More by this authorCat Barkley