"The Sultan's Elephant" created in London by theater group Royal de Luxe

"The Sultan's Elephant," a 12-meter- (40-foot-) tall contraption constructed mostly of wood and metal, was created by the Nantes, France-based theater group Royal de Luxe to tell the story of a forlorn sultan beguiled by visions of a young girl whom he believed was traveling through time.

Desperate to find her, the sultan builds a time-traveling elephant to lead him on a journey to find the girl, who is represented by a giant marionette towering over five meters (16 feet) high.

The animal is a feat of engineering that stands 12 meters (40 feet) tall and weighs 42 tons. Its trunk is operated by 22 pistons and its floppy ears were created from over 70 square meters (720 square feet) of leather.

"It's terrifying! "I've never seen such a spectacle," exclaimed Japanese student Mina Yagi, 34, as the elephant approached a fence separating it from the crowd at Horse Guards Parade - a dusty site commonly used for royal ceremonies. But on Friday it took on a circus-like atmosphere.

A loud boom - audible at the nearby residence of Prime Minister Tony Blair as a cabinet reshuffle was under way - signaled the start of the show as characters dressed as the sultan and his entourage mounted the prostrate pachyderm.

The creature drew gasps and cheers from the crowd as it rose to its feet and swung its trunk from side to side, spraying water on people wilting under a sun worthy of midsummer.

Helen Marriage, whose company Artichoke Productions helped bring the three-day exhibit to the streets of London, said: "We wanted to bring something really monumental, and free and accessible to the public here."

Red-uniformed men hauled ropes attached to the limbs of the girl, who arrived from a "crashed spaceship" in nearby Waterloo Place. The girl "meets" the elephant for the first time, and is greeted with an affectionate spray of water. The puppet showed vivid human-like body language.

"She's full of expression--her eyes, her smile. They manage to move her face as well," said Annette Hales-Tiberghien, a London resident. "I'm not surprised (the sultan) is in love with her."

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