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Elephant & Castle love story opens at shopping centre theatre

James Hatts and Faye Stevenson

A new play set in the Elephant & Castle area opens this week at the temporary theatre in the shopping centre.

The play, Elephant 21, has been produced by The Mayhem Company and will be performed in the Royal Court's Theatre Local space on the upper floor of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre.

"This play has been developed over the last nine months and what we've done is trained a group of young people – and people who live in the area – to go out and interview members of that community," explains artistic director Ben May.

"We've gone out and interviewed about 50 members of the community of all different ages and all different backgrounds. They've told us their stories about their lives and experiences of living in Elephant & Castle.

"We've interviewed people that we interviewed people who went to Geoffrey Chaucer Technology College, we've interviewed people who've been at the Blackfriars Settlement and we've interviewed people what have built – and lived on – the Heygate Estate.

"With those stories what we've done is transcribed them and given them to a writer and she has turned them into a play. The play is called Elephant 21 because it's Elephant & Castle and 21 because it's the 21st century."

The play – described as a story of unrequited love – follows four generations of the Valentine family over the past century. It is laced with references to local places: the family lives in Victory Place, shops in East Street and goes to the pictures at the Trocadero.

It will be performed by a cast of about 35 people – the core company of 16 to 25-year olds, plus five professional actors and four older people from Blackfriars Settlement.

The Mayhem Company itself is firmly rooted in SE1: now based at the Royal Festival Hall, it was founded as a Southwark Playhouse-backed project at a local school.

"We started life as a drama group at Geoffrey Chaucer Technology College – now called Globe Academy – meeting every Saturday morning with a group of young people from that school," says Ben.

Mayhem tends to generate its own material rather than performing existing plays: "The way we work is that we devise work, we do improvisations, we develop scenes, we develop ideas and then we produce the material from within the company. That material is given to a writer and she turns it into a play.

"We have performed at the Young Vic Studio and we've performed at Southwark Playhouse," says Ben. "Most recently we did a production in 2008 called The Butterfly Club looking at young people and suicide; not a cheery subject but something that was challenging and engaging."

Elephant 21 is at Theatre Local from 14 to 24 July; see our what's on guide. Tickets cost 8; Southwark residents (with proof of address) qualify for the concessionary rate of just 5. You can book online at or in person at the shopping centre 2 hours before the show.

• The stories collected as part of the oral history project have been transcribed and will be available in a booklet at the theatre.

• There will be post-show discussions about the Elephant & Castle regeneration after the matinee on Saturday 17 July and after the evening show on Thursday 22 July.

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