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The Elephant Man – a timeless tale of Victorian vanity & illusion


Review by Emma Whitelaw

YOU would have to be made of stone not to be moved by the heart-rendering tale of John Merrick, The Elephant Man and Sincera’s production of the touching tale is truly second to none.

Before I go any further, I simply must make mention of the absolutely stunning performance given by Nick Court as John Merrick. Reminiscent of that given by John Hurt’s in the film version, Court’s characterization of the helplessly tormented soul was flawlessly remarkable!

And he held this for the entire duration of the play, a true credit to his talent.

Without aid of illusive make-up, Court captured every essence of what Merrick was; sensitive, intelligent, grotesquely deformed yet beautifully pure and childishly innocent.

Having lived the majority of his life as part of a traveling freak show, John is 'discovered' by a young, up and coming scientist, Dr Frederick Treves, played by the talented Antony Eden.

Treves rescues Merrick from a fate worse than death as he is attacked by a ravenous crowd at Liverpool Street station.

Treves takes Merrick under his wing and gives him shelter in the form of a home at the London Hospital. The young doctor discovers his new 'project' is extremely intelligent and decides to introduce him into polite society.

The first introduction is to a Mrs Kendal, played by Sarah Jane Wolverson. Wolverson is absolutely spectacular as the famous actress / socialite. She is the first woman not to run screaming from John and he becomes fascinated by her beautiful femininity.

The introductions continue and soon John has an audience fit for a King, filled with Dukes and Ladies, professors and clergymen. But this soon begs the question; are these people any better than those who paid to ogle at his deformities? They all want something of him, but are their intentions honourable?

Is it sympathy or vanity that draws these supposedly well bred individuals to Merrick? Do they love John, as they claim, or do the love the thought of being seen to care? Is it, as John so significantly points out in his analysis of Romeo’s love for Juliet, a mere illusion?

Although Court and Wolverson stole the show, they certainly did not detract from the other characters. There was such delicate balance between the lead roles that, as a cast, they worked perfectly.

The costuming, set sound and lighting were also excellent. Although simplified, they were very effective and incredibly entertaining.

The Elephant Man’s true story is one of hypocrisy, vanity, humanity and a courage that knows no bounds.

Merrick’s tale is both heart-rendering and inspirational. He is more heavenly than human, perhaps because his head is so full of dreams.

The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance. Directed by Alex Blake. Starring Antony Eden, Alistair Gillyatt, Philip Desmeules, Nick Court, John Lake, Vivienne Gibbs, Alice Ritchie and Sarah Jane Wolverston. At The Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, Southwark, SE1.

 

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