Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Delightful and thought provoking modern day portrayal of Joseph C Merrick, the Elephant Man. Cntains some audience interaction.
The French Institute presents an exciting programme of which this is certainly one. Adapting the real life story of Joseph C. Merrick (the Elephant Man) this is a two person play containing elements of interaction.
His nurse, clothed in a crisp clinical uniform invites the small audience inside the room and shows us to our seats using a torch, successfully building our anticipation in the intimate atmosphere. She sternly tells us not to be afraid, not to show fear and to smile- especially the ladies as Joseph would be devastated if one of the fairer sex were to show horror at his appearance. All the while we see a shadow moving within a large white cube onstage, containing Merrick. We hear his laboured breathing from within and await our introduction with trepidation.
As his nurse swivels back the front door panel John sits there in a tiny room, on a small white metal bed with his back to us. When he eventually turns and reveals himself to us, he regards us carefully. Benoit Hattett (who portrays Merrick) has chosen to portray himself by only using physicality to portray the affliction of elephantitis on himself. By choosing not to opt for tacky prosthetics what transpires is a piece that reveals the person within the shell of human form. We see before us a man whom to all intents and purposes is completely normal, except we as a society (and indeed he himself) regards him as a hideous freak.
The language used within the piece is such that with today’s modern values humour is found within the situation and with our being invited to ask questions of Joseph we feel like spectators at an inappropriate sideshow since it is, after all, a hospital setting and Joseph’s home.
Joseph’s nurse is a curious women- at times kind, at others severe or cruel with Merrick, he himself is gentle, shy, playful and demanding- the two together interacting showing the complexity of human relationships and that of carer and patient.
Whilst Joseph at one point does step down to interact with the audience closely, the show could have played with the audience’s boundaries slightly more, but overall this is a charming and though provoking piece and Joseph is well worth visiting.