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The Sultan’s Elephant

04–08 May 2006, Central London




Thousands packed the streets of central London as Royal de Luxe’s little girl giant and majestic elephant played tourists in May 2006.

The Sultan’s Elephant was the biggest piece of free theatre ever seen in London, set against the city’s magnificent landmarks. French theatrical magicians Royal de Luxe had already toured their elephant across Europe, but had never before performed in the UK.

The vast, time-travelling mechanical elephant, taller than Admiralty Arch and 42 tonnes in weight, was joined by a giant girl, twenty feet high. For four days they enthralled their audience with sprays of water, bus rides and by sewing cars to the ground. Then, when their time was up, they disappeared in a magical puff of smoke, leaving behind many wonderful memories.


The giant marionettes visited many major landmarks across central London. These include Trafalgar Square, St. James's Park, Pall Mall, Horse Guards Parade and Haymarket.

The Artists

Royal de Luxe are an extraordinary European street theatre company, renowned on three continents but hardly known in Britain. The director Jean Luc Courcoult founded the company in 1979. They have performed all over the world ever since.

The company has visited countries all over Europe as well as Korea, China, Vietnam, Chile and Africa. Some of their most celebrated shows – including La véritable histoire de France, Roman photo tournage and Le péplum have been revived many times. They spent six months in Africa and three in China.

In the past dozen years, they have created a series of spectacular shows involving giant figures as big as 11 or 12 metres high. The animal or giant arrives in town and lives its life, going about its business for a few days. Extraordinary interactions take place between passers-by and the performance. By the end of the performance, huge crowds gather daily to watch the latest episode in the life of the visiting creature.

The Sultan’s Elephant was the fifth in the series of giant pieces, the others being Le Géant tombé du ciel, Le géant tombé du ciel: dernier voyage, Retour d'Afrique and Les Chasseurs de girafes.

La visite du sultan des Indes sur son éléphant à voyager dans le tempswas first performed in Nantes in 2005, on the occasion of the centenary of Jules Verne's death. This production was commissioned by the cities of Nantes and Amiens and has received a special grant from the Ministry of Culture and Communication.


Funded by


Supported by

  • Power Station, Battersea
  • Grange Hotels
  • The Wolseley
  • AFAA
  • City of Westminster
  • Transport for London


  • Media Partner
  • BBC London
  • Totally London
  • ARK
  • WSP
  • West One Infrastructure Services

Operational partners

  • Westminster City Council
  • Greater London Authority
  • GLA/Trafalgar Square
  • Royal Parks
  • Visit London
  • Metropolitan Police
  • London Buses
  • London Underground
  • Transport for London
  • London Ambulance Service
  • London Fire Brigade
  • London Traffic Control Centre


The whole event was a success beyond anyone's imagination, enabling not only Londoners but also visitors to connect with the city in a truly groundbreaking way.

David Lammy, Minister for Culture

Just wanted to say thank you. For the first time since the London bombs my daughter rang home with that sparkle back in her voice. She'd gathered with others to watch The Sultan's Elephant. It just made the

Father of audience member

I spent a large part of last Friday in the elephant's company along with an amazingly disparate crowd of others, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most uplifting, joyous, life-enhancing days I have ever spent. Upwards of a million people turned out to see the elephant and its entourage over a four-day period and many of them have testified to the power of the event. But, although it is wonderful to know that statistic, no amount of statistical analysis will capture the value of the elephant's visit or why it will be remembered, and there will be no way of demonstrating any direct causal relationship between it and economic, social or educational outputs. So what were all these people responding to? I think they were recognising that art, like cuckoos and spring, makes you feel better just by being itself.

Baroness McIntosh, House of Lords debate on the Arts

Vital statistics

Pedestrian crossings removed


Members of French company


Members of UK production team




Height of the elephant


Weight of the elephant

42 tonnes


1.5km per hour

No. pistons in the trunk


M2 leather used to make the elephant’s ears


M2 reclaimed poplar used to construct elephant


Height of little girl



1,000,000 according to BBC estimates

Website hits

2 million

Direct spend by audience


Miles of streets closed on route


Selected Media Coverage