Banksy: The Room in the Elephant and Something From Nothing

Room in the Elephant

Originally written for The Public Reviews

The real beauty of Tom Wainright’s solo production about a man who was dispossessed of his home after it was turned into a work of art, is that it isn’t about a man who was dispossessed of his home after it was turned into a work of art.

Although Gary Beadle’s hypnotically erratic Titus Coventry is based on Tachowa Covington, whose LA water tank and home was carted away after Banksy wrote ‘This looks a bit like an elephant’ on it, Wainright has made a conscious decision to not quite tell Tachowa’s story, but to comment on the nigh on frantic gold rush for his story and our obsession with narrating a permutation of the truth.

Skipping from film references to the contrast of wealth and poverty in LA, the question of what really makes art and who decides it is so, Wainright creates a self-referential narrative journey about our unconscious desperation for there to be a story at the heart of it all, rather than the aleatory and, like Tachowa himself, less straightforward truth.

Written entirely using only the provocation and information available in a newspaper article found by director Emma Callander, it is fascinating to see the production presented alongside Hal Samples’ documentary Something From Nothing, in which he followed Tachowa’s life for several years both before and after the Banksy ‘incident’.

What emerges is that the truth is far more complex than we can fictionalise and some characters are even more fantastic than can be written. Tachowa’s story isn’t really about the tank, or art, or Banksy, or even ownership, but the life of a man who truly is “content with less than more”.

However, it cannot avoid being a rather shocking commentary on the reality of the marginalised, and the image of a man now living in a tent on the side of hill in LA being shown a video of someone on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe and told that “this is the guy that’s playing you” proves so surreal and so heartbreaking that it sears itself on the mind.

The juxtaposition of the play and the film allows them to comment on each other in a way that would not have been effective had they not been conceived wholly independently of each other and the result; the contrast of Tachowa’s wholly affecting reality and its outstripping of his story as viewed (and unavoidably muted) through a narrative lens, is fascinating and, latterly, fantastically moving.

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