It’s hard to find words good enough to describe a such marvellous play; so please, be kind with us because this review will be a really hard job.
The Elephant Man at the Royal Haymarket Theatre it’s, for sure, one of the most emotional play of the season.
We are not here to link this stage performance and Bradley Cooper work to John Hurt’s one for David Lynch’s movie. Especially because everyone knows how different is working live on stage without all the cinema smoke and mirrors tricks.
For Mr. Cooper this is not the first time experience on stage as John Merrick. He played the role in graduate school and again in Williamstown in 2012.
The transformation from Cooper to Merrick is slow and lead step by step by his brilliant co-star Alessandro Nivola as Doctor Trevor in few touching minutes in which the audience can feel all the pain (physical and of the soul) because every step is like a breaking bone. As the script demands, there is not make up or prosthetics in this transformation. Cooper contorts his face and body to cover his character’s disease. Merrick’s mouth is a permanently open wound of pain, the right arm is in an odd angle and the hand is gnarled with the fingers entwined into uselessness. His spine is out of alignments as his head, one leg is completely useless and the feet are in the wrong angle too. Just like the Phantom of the Opera, John Merrick is rescued from being a touring freak show attraction. In this case from a Londoner Doctor played on stage, as we said few lines ahead, by Alessandro Nivola who brings him to his hospital in London and gives him a decent life: a hot meal, new and clean clothes, books, the opportunity to bath when and for how long he desires, friends…a home. And I think it’s Trevor and Merrick chat about having a home one of the most funny and touching moment of the play. Because yes, Merrick can be a “monster” outside, but he is also funny and clever. A genius with big dreams; and I’m sure, every literary critic can feel himself a beginner in front of Merrick’s Romeo and Juliet analysis and, as Cooper said, he never saw himself as a victim.
The cast is extraordinary:
Bradley Cooper is so perfect that if you look at him, even very closely after a little bit, let’s say around 20 minutes after the start, there is not scent of the actor we are used to see on the big screen; he becomes just John Merrick and after the body transformation, for the next 90 minutes, he never relaxed. Cooper goes also with the fact (as Doctor Trevor explains during the transformation) that Merrick’s face is such that he can betray no emotion. Are his eyes to do this work, Cooper’s eyes, and it’s always so clear which emotion he is feeling in the moment: hope, fear, love, pain, betrayal, intelligence, generosity….his performance is just outstanding.
Alessandro Nivola (Goal, A Most Violent Year, Selma, American Hustle, Coco Avant Chanel, Mansfield Park, Devil’s Knot,…sorry, I love his work and I can’t choose just a couple of titles) is the perfect stooge for Cooper. He is so heart breaking in his scene with the priest as a broken man that you can feel the desire to go on stage and to comfort him. He lets the audience understand his unspoken love for Mrs Kendall without a single word or something in particular, just with his acting force. Nivola explained he was initially intrigued by Scott Ellis involvement in the project as he had given him his Broadway debut alongside Helen Mirren in A Month in the Country in 1995 when he was just six months out of acting school. Let me say, with wisdom after the event, that Ellis was really far-sighted.
Patricia Clarkson (Six Feet Under) is the perfect match for this not so easy role. A woman who brings on stage all the strength of Mrs Kendall.
Timothy R. Mackabee (Gotham) set design is perfect. Screens move across the stage to change the locations and the use of few furniture give all really fluid and it’s good for the perfect outcome of the play.
John Gromada score is the icing on the cake.
The Elephant Man is an absolutely must see and we thanks Mr. Bradley Cooper for this childhood dream and, seen the result, we hope this is not the only one he has in his heart.
“Sometimes I think my head is so big because it is so full of dreams” John Merrick