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Theatre Review: The Elephant Man

25th February 2015

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Fourth Monkey Ensemble’s production of The Elephant Man is a disturbing take on the story of Joseph Merrick: the disfigured, socially-excluded former Victorian freak show attraction who both beguiled and terrified nineteenth century society.

Whilst the production is largely successful, those who aren’t fans of minimalist theatre might find it a struggle to fully believe in the world that the cast attempts to transport us in to. Although the cage that Merrick wears in order to highlight his disfigurement allows us to see his face and thus recognise him as a human (and is therefore fully justified in its purpose), seeing him as the disfigured and inhuman creature that those surrounding him do, and then understanding or even believing in their reactions, might be a challenge. At least, it requires a large leap of faith on the part of the audience.

Having said this, the physicality of Merrick (played by Daniel Chrisotomou) and the often eerie performance of his co-stars can’t be faulted. Chrisotomou plays Merrick with little theatricals and in an entirely human and thoughtfully subtle way, and for this his performance has been deservedly praised.

Although there are definite dark moments throughout, there is the chance that the audience will leave this production of The Elephant Man feeling that the story wasn’t quite taken far enough. The horror is slightly underplayed, and could certainly have been stepped up a notch – not in terms of Merrick, whose performance required its restraint, but the other characters – who are, of course, the real embodiments of horror in this story.

The Elephant Man will be touring to the Marlowe Studio, Canterbury, the Arena Theatre Wolverhampton, The Courtyard Theatre Hereford, Dorchester Arts Centre and Bridport Arts Centre, where it will end its run on Saturday 28th March.

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The Fourth Monkey Ensemble is the professional touring arm of the London-based Fourth Monkey Theatre Company, which offers an innovative training programme with an emphasis on repertory performance and learning and working with the best. The Ensemble has been assembled from actors who have trained with Fourth Monkey to deliver original physical work, nationally and internationally, under the direction of Artistic Director, Steven Green.

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