by Steve Green.
Jack Studio, Brockley Jack 410 Brockley Road SE4 2DH To 21 February 2015.
Runs 1hr 30min. No interval.
TICKETS: 0333 666 3366.
Review: William Russell 3 February.
Small and perfectly-formed production.
The life of Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, was the subject of David Lynch’s memorable 1980 film, starring John Hurt as Merrick and Anthony Hopkins as Frederick Treves, the surgeon who rescued him from a Victorian fairground freak show. Steve Green’s play is not a reworking of the film but a piece in its own right and is extremely moving.
At the centre is a fine performance from Daniel Chrisostomou as Merrick, his head encased in a massive wire frame simulating Merrick’s huge distorted skull, which earned him his nickname. It is an inspired piece of costume design and Chrosostomou carries it off superbly, creating the intelligent, sensitive man beneath the horrors of his deformity – one arm was useless and his body distorted – slowly revealed as Dr Treves investigates just why he has ended up like this.
But what makes it really fascinating is that, while the man who has put Merrick on show may be exploiting his deformity, he does have a genuine feeling for him, Treves is also in a way exploiting him for the sake of career. As for nurses who look after him, some treat him well, others regard him as someone to taunt and abuse. The landed gentry who invite him to stay see him as some kind of rare beast to have in their parkland, a creature to be cosseted but not befriended.
The playing of the five strong cast is impeccable. Scott McGarrick manages to suggest the ambivalence in Treves’ behaviour, Adam Trussell is impressive in a clutch of roles – a fairground tout, a jealous doctor out to sabotage what Treves is doing, and a friendly gamekeeper who takes care of Merrick on a visit to the country, while Ami Sayers and Katie Turner play an assortment of female roles with style.
The play is thought-provoking, touching and challenging because it makes the audience face up to how people who are different should be viewed – beneath that horribly distorted skull and the contorted body Merrick, suffering from Proteus syndrome, was just a man like any other man.
Mr Tom Norman/Dr Reginald Tickett/Mr Goldby: Adam Trussell.
Joseph Merrick: Daniel Chrisostomou.
Mr Frederick Treves: Scott McGarrick.
Sister Ireland/Mrs Treves/Lady Knightly: Ami Sayers.
Nurse/Maggie/Elizabeth Goldby: Katie Turner.
Director: Steve Green.
Design: Zahra Mansouri.
Lighting: Pablo Fernandez Baz.
Sound/Composer: Stu Sibley.
Movement: Charleen Qwaye.
Merrick’s sculpted costume design: Anastasia Sarajeva.