THEATRE REVIEW: The Elephant Man

WORTH A LOOK?: ****

WHERE: Theatre Royal Haymarket

WHEN: 25/7/15 running until 8/8/15

How should one rate a three-star play featuring a five-star performance at its heart?

This 2014 Broadway transfer and revival of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 play was Tony-nominated for the three central performances and as best revival but it’s Bradley Cooper’s Merrick that really deserves the accolades. His first appearance is ┬áin boxer shorts only as he contorts himself into an approximation of the 19th century travelling freak show character described by Dr Treves (Alessandro Nivola).

Pomerance’s play tells the familiar story of how the kindly doctor takes Merrick under his wing, is astonished by his intelligence and faith and introduces him to the upper echelons of London society including actress Mrs Kendal (Patricia Clarkson) who too finds herself improved and then tested by Merrick’s friendship.

At two hours including an interval the play seems slight and to swish past in a flurry of curtains be they medical or freak show without ever really fully exploring the story and issues presented. Cooper’s performance however is five-star and a tremendous feat of physicality. How on earth does he manage to make himself heard in this ornate 888-capacity venue (London’s third oldest dating back to 1720) with his mouth so out of shape?

With four Oscar nominations (three for acting and one for producing) it’s to Cooper’s credit that he brought this transfer to the West End, not far from where the story is set.

On exiting the theatre, monstagigz is behind an excited group of young women about to queue to meet Cooper outside the stage door. ‘Totes emosh,’ they agree. A performance to remember certainly but not a play to dwell too long over.

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