There is probably not a single animal which is excluded from the theatre under Toon Tellegen’s direction: the mosquito and the mole, the stick insect and the sperm whale, the hippopotamus, the hedgehog and the snail. Besides the main characters, squirrel and ant, there is, however, a special role reserved for the elephant. In Tellegen’s animal stories he is the only one who has managed to winkle a name off the author. Four years ago Jannes suddenly appeared, a tiny pachyderm protagonist in a world inhabited exclusively by elephants who, together with his mother, led a contented existence that precisely resembled that of a human toddler. Accordingly, he wore overalls and his mother a long tent dress.
On the cover of Teunis, however, the eponymous hero marches around on four legs with his bare grey skin exposed to the surrounding, neatly-dressed people who clearly turn away from him. Tony walks alone, because apart from his parents and himself, everyone around him is human. All day long Tony exerts himself with human activities. He goes to school, to the museum, to the beach and to music lessons. But still he remains an elephant. Sometimes it’s an advantage - he’s great at football and he can calm bothersome gentlemen just by lifting them up - but usually it’s worry. Uprooting a delicious rose bush for example is frowned upon, and trying to choose a new coat splits a shop’s entire winter collection.
As is fitting for a Tellegen character, Tony is most bothered by his thoughts about ‘elephanthood’. He worries about his identity and would do anything to be normal. He is desperately in search of a role model, but father elephant is always off travelling the world in search of strange kinds of people. His son has to learn to accept being different and this gives the funny, almost slapstick, stories about his existence a darker undertone.
Teunis shows us clearly why the elephant is the Tellegenic animal par excellence: no matter how stylishly you curl the trunk, the basic colour remains grey.
By Bregje Boonstra