Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Elephant Man

2.5/5 rating
The Elephant Man | Royal Haymarket Theatre

We watched The Elephant Man in the Royal Haymarket Theatre. It was weirdly surreal because the theatre is so old and maintained that way. The play is set in 19th century London and the sets were simple and the use of lights basic. So when the lights were out and the actors were on the stage you felt like you were transported back in time. I suppose that was the intended effect.


Now before we go any further, let me just copy and paste the synopsis from the play's website:

Based on the real life of Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man tells the story of 19th-century London man Merrick(Bradley Cooper) who became a star of the traveling freak show circuit. When the renowned Dr. Treves(Alessandro Nivola) takes Merrick under his care, he is astonished by the man’s brilliant intelligence, unshakable faith and, most of all, his resounding desire for love and understanding. He introduces Merrick to the beautiful actress Mrs. Kendal (Patricia Clarkson), who is deeply touched by this pure and genuine soul. As a complex friendship blossoms among the three, Treves and Kendal struggle to protect Merrick from a world of questionable intentions… and so begins a story of love as unique as “The Elephant Man” himself.

We bought tickets for the play simply because we heard Bradley Cooper was playing the lead role. After buying the tickets we read rave reviews of the show on Broadway. And then I read the story of The Elephant Man. It is a true story and deeply sad and moving.

The play was not sad or moving. And going back to the synopsis, Merrick became a star in the freak show circuit. He was shown to be a failure. 
Merrick was supposed to be astonishingly intelligent. Bradley Cooper was just someone who had never been spoken to and was just happy to talk to and seemed like a normal human being who philosophises mostly because he had so much time on his hands.
Merrick had a resounding desire for love and understanding. It seemed more like DrTrevis wanted to find Bradley Cooper company because he is aware the for most part of his life he didn't have normal human relationships.
Mrs Kendal was deeply touched by his pure and genuine soul. Patricia Clarkson truly was.
As the complex friendship between the three blossomed... It wasn't that complex and neither was it shown to be. It tried to be.

Bradley Cooper was really good at contorting his body, yes. May have been a little difficult, yes. But with practice it's not that hard and he had no other expression.
Alessandro Nivola had the weirdest diction I've heard in theatre and never properly projected his voice across and many of his lines had him facing his back to the audience. So it was really difficult to hear him.
Patricia Clarkson was remarkable. If anyone touched your heart, she did. It didn't make me happy that the most talented performance in the show needed to bare herself. It was so avoidable and easily doable in many other ways.
The story was pretty plain but the sadness was not very evident and the fact that Merrick was dying doesn't hit you as it should. And what really happens in the second half was not that clear or necessary.

What I make of all of this? It is all down to bad direction from Scott Ellis. And that a star studded performances in the Broadway doesn't need to be good. And that the producers can getaway with ticket revenues from audience who adore the stars. Not very different from mass local cinema in India. Oh wait, that at least has some entertainment value.

The Elephant Man at Royal Haymarket was plain disappointing.

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