Reviewed by Richard Lane
The Elephant Man concerns the life of John Merrick in London at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Merrick has a horrifying skin and bone disease and is the subject of travelling sideshows . Prominent surgeon Dr Frederick Treves takes him to Whitechapel Hospital for examination where he provides Merrick with an education. Merrick changes from a sideshow freak to the darling of London’s aristocracy. Merrick’s dream of becoming like other men becomes manifestly and increasingly impossible.
Megan Dansie’s production of this difficult project is superb.
Robert Webb’s stage design is minimalist, providing for the many changes the play requires. The most striking feature is a sloping circular structure which becomes the basis for dreams, imagination, the past, and Merrick’s hospital bed, amongst other things.
And Richard Parkhill’s lighting evokes late Nineteenth Century London, mostly foggy and gloomy.
The performances were uniformly excellent. Director Dansie is supported by a wonderful cast, and the performance by Robert Bell who plays Merrick without prosthetic make-up, instead allowing the audience to imagine his horrible suffering, is staggeringly good
As Treves, Steve Marvanek is compassionate, understanding and we are fascinated by the relationship that he develops with Merrick.
As the hospital administrator Tony Busch gives another strong performance, and as Mrs Kendall, Georgia Stockham is excellent, becoming a great friend to Merrick.
Nicole Rutty, Sharon Malujlo and Georgia were a delight as the mentally retarded “Pinheads” in their marvellously funny circus costumes.
Thorin Cupit, Philip Lineton, Patrick Marlin, John Scholten and Jamie Wright all performed their roles with requisite energy and ensemble playing .
A rather thin opening night audience were clearly moved by this splendid production.