The Elephant Man
4 / 5
A perfect blend of poignancy, compassion, humour and love of life that is sure to stay with the audience long after they have left.
Bradley Cooper leads a brilliant cast in this hugely successful and critically acclaimed Broadway-to-London play, The Elephant Man. The Elephant Man was a wonderful example of theatre at its best, with crafted performances from all actors, tantalizing subtlety combined with the raw, moving and heart-wrenching moments that coalesce to make this brilliant play.
Cooper does not don prosthetics or extensive use of make-up to become Merrick; he effectively assumes each of the ailments that he is suffering from, read out by Treves, to complete his metamorphoses into the disfigured and freakish elephant man. This physical transformation conveyed before the audience was very successful in outlining his deformities without the use of anything at all. Cooper’s speech, or attempts of speech, combined with his appearance, created someone who was not a Hollywood heartthrob, but someone else entirely. His spluttering attempts of speech not only contained many humorous remarks but also an exposure to his romantic spirit and compassion, which was no better displayed in a touching and affecting moment with Mrs Kendal (Patricia Clarkson).
Although most of the newspaper, blogging and independent critics will focus mainly on Cooper’s performance, which was undoubtedly accomplished, I feel that some more recognition should go to Allesandro Nivola, for his excellent portrayal of the eminent surgeon Frederick Treves. He shows his human willingness to provide as normal life as possible for Merrick while trying to understand his disorder that has afflicted him. However as the play steadily moves on, Treves is confronted by something that makes him question himself and his scientific and rational powers. The renowned surgeon is reduced to a desperate, emotional and distressed man who has seen all that he knows to be, just not quite enough. Treves’ emotional transformation almost mirrors Merrick’s transformation from workhouse freak to intelligent gentleman, Treves meanwhile, was introduced as merely a surgeon looking to help Merrick and to study him, but he became a close friend to him, as evidenced in the final scenes. Those scenes in particular demonstrated Nivola’s brilliant performance, as the audience were beautifully silent and transfixed by the passion and compassion of Nivola’s Treves for Merrick.
Sitting on the front row of a sold-out matinee performance was a very pleasurable afternoon indeed, this play by Pomerance was perfectly poignant, delicately nuanced and stunningly thought provoking. The effect; was mesmerising. The production was polished to the finest detail, even the scene changes were choreographed brilliantly, and every actor’s performance was on point. For those of you that are lucky enough to see this play, I envy you. I would have loved another opportunity to see this marvellous play that shows how magical theatre can be.
The Elephant Man is a movingly humane play which is founded on Merrick’s painstaking attempts to express himself, interspersed with his hampered breathing and gulps of air, that not only draw attention to Cooper’s significant technical skill, but to Merrick’s unsuspecting intelligence, passion for life, his tenderness, his subtle humour, and his loving spirit. The Elephant Man encapsulates all of this to deliver a very good performance, one which will leave a lasting impression on all of its watching audiences.