Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Elephant Man

The latest show at the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios’ performance spaces is a staging of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 play of The Elephant Man. The story of the short life of Joseph Merrick is a familiar one, most memorably told in David Lynch’s film. Abandoned as a child, he was forced to work in a freak show before being taken in by surgeon Frederick Treves at the London Hospital. Here he soon became a society favourite, spending his time in the company of artists and aristocrats (though arguably still on display).

In the film Merrick was played by John Hurt, buried under a mound of facial prosthetics. Here they make no attempt to replicate the man’s considerable deformities; instead they are solely conveyed through the contorted movement and speech of actor Marc Pickering. He was the chap who played Johnny Depp’s sidekick Young Masbeth in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow and is now all growed up. I know, I saw. (And though there’s a joke begging to be made here about the Elephant Man’s trunk, I shall step around it, because I am a Nice Girl). Anyway it’s his subtle and touching performance that holds this solid but unspectacular revival together. The production feels rather cramped in the tiny subterranean studio space. Some plays can stand a simple, stripped down staging, but this just felt hugely lacking in the atmosphere department. Not as hideous as some of the critics have been saying, but still a rather plodding and uninspiring piece of theatre.

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