Joseph Merrick – Bradley Cooper
Fredrick Treves – Alessandro Nivola
Mrs Kendal – Patricia Clarkson
Show Date – Friday 3rd July 2015
The Elephant Man transferred across from a highly praised and Tony nominated run on Broadway, bringing the key cast members in the process. Especially Hollywood heavyweight Bradley Cooper in the starring role, along with well-known actor Alessandro Nivolva and actress Patricia Clarkson. It seems that more shows at the moment are transferring from Broadway to the West End.
It was more luck than anything that I managed to get my ticket pretty early for this one, as I had already plans in place to come down to London this weekend. All it took was a good old pop up on a website which had Bradley Cooper and London on it and it wasn’t long until I purchased my ticket. It is currently the most expensive ticket I have ever bought for a show! In the second row of the grand circle, quite central.
While yes I had heard of the Elephant Man and knew a little bit (haven’t seen the film) this really filled in the gaps and pushed your emotions to the edge. It was very impressive to see that Cooper was not having any prosthetics to help with the deformities, instead this was put together in a very moving moment as the problems were described we see Cooper go from his normal self to taking form of Joseph Merrick.
The opening scenes before we even get to see Merrick are very sad, seeing the way a person has been treated just because he looks very different. It was rather difficult to watch, everything changes when he meets Dr. Fredrick Treves. He actually cares and wants to help Merrick, while also getting to the bottom of why he has ended up the way he is.
It was fascinating to watch Cooper move around the stage and talk with his lip across his face as he had totally become the character. I cannot imagine how draining it must be to do that role night after night, really a massive compliment to his skills as an actor. I am very impressed by engaging he was, something you would hope a three-time Oscar nominee would do. But sometimes you have to see them on a stage, all bare to prove what they really have got in live theatre. He more than delivers, the way he shuffles/moves around the stage really is something.
This was probably helped and complimented by a very strong and outstanding performance from Alessandro Nivola. I really was very impressed with him in this play, he had some very tricky dialogue and nailed it wonderfully, and showing just how much the friendship with Merrick meant to him as he struggled to come to terms with how much he was deteriorating. Really standing up for the man and showing that some kindness can be found in people. He never ever judged or was shocked with what Merrick looked like and always treated him as an equal.
Merrick really got a second chance to have a more normal life, well as normal as it could be. But trying to actually meet people who did not scream or show massive shock when actually seeing him. Even if they had seen the photographs in preparation for that moment. This changes when Mrs. Kendal comes into it and she is the first and pretty much only woman who has managed to talk to him. She also becomes close and a friend for the tragic young man.
Patricia Clarkson was very good as Mrs. Kendal and was even given some rather amusing lines as well. She was an actress, but was she really acting with Merrick? Also fair play to Clarkson for having to go topless on the stage that cannot be something that is easy to do. No hiding for that moment at all, I was very impressed with her performance.
The staging was very simplistic but it did not have to be anything more in all honesty, a few things moved around from time to time to show some changes. But this was about the performances, and Cooper really did blow me away. I will admit that in the end I really was close to tears. Greeted with a standing ovation I am sure that is a nightly occurrence for a well acted play. Would it be nice to see it more in modern times though, just updating to make some parts more relevant? This has been done with a few plays recently. Just thinking about the more contemporary ‘A Street Car Named Desire’. I guess it doesn’t massively matter when you have an actor like Cooper in the leading role.