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Posts Tagged ‘Bernard Pomerance’

When Bernard Pomerance’s play premiered in the late 70’s, the minimalist staging and acting without prosthetics were groundbreaking. Today, we’re more used to the less naturalistic, more used to using our imagination perhaps. Thirty-five years on the play seems lacking in depth and the production more than a little bit average.

In the late nineteenth century John Merrick, ‘The Elephant Man’, has to participate in freak shows to survive, exploited by his ‘manager’ Ross, the public paying to be repulsed by his appearance. A chance meeting with up-and-coming doctor Treves changes everything as he at first becomes the subject of medical study and is subsequently adopted by society figures, nobility and royalty, who seem to get satisfaction from showering him with sympathy, hospitality and gifts. Public donations secure his future as well as contributing to the London Hospital where he is housed. He proves himself an intelligent, humorous man who is good company and who becomes a good friend of Treves and actress Miss Kendall, one of the first to befriend him.

It seemed very perfunctory last night and at only 90 minutes playing time (with a wholly unnecessary interval to contribute to the profits) appeared to skim the surface of an interesting story. Bradley Cooper, hot on the heels of his three consecutive Oscar nominations (the last for American Sniper, a film which still leaves a bad taste in my mouth), had a lot to live up to for me as I saw the man who took over the role in the original production on Broadway in 1980 – an excellent David Bowie, no less – but I thought he was very good, conveying the deformity with contortions, with a decent accent (others were all over the place). I thought Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson as Treves and Miss Kendal were good too, though the latter’s accent was one of the culprits mentioned above. I can’t credit anyone else as I refused to pay £10 for a brochure and there were no programmes or cast lists available.

The play hasn’t really stood up to the test of time, so it does prove to be just a star vehicle after all. Cooper is good rather than great, so the evening doesn’t really live up to the hype. It’s a lot of money to pay to see something as good as we see on a regular basis in London in the subsidised sector and on the fringe, though I suspect most of the audience don’t frequent such places and left the theatre happier than me, able to tick off another celebrity on their list which, as others have said, isn’t that different from the Victorian’s paying to see the Elephant Man!

 

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