Directed by Martin Rodwell
Awarded Best Play in NODA East Region 5 for 2014
The Elephant Man is based on the life of John Merrick, who lived in London during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Living with a severely disfiguring skin and bone disease, he has become the star freak attraction in traveling side shows. Found abandoned and helpless, he is admitted to London's prestigious Whitechapel hospital. Under the care of celebrated young physician Frederick Treves, Merrick is introduced to London society and slowly evolves from an object of pity to an urbane and witty favourite of the aristocracy and literati only to be denied his ultimate dream, to become a man like any other.
The 1980 film was directed by David Lynch and starred John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancoft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon and Freddie Jones.
|John Merrick||Matt Scantlebury|
|Frederick Treves||Peter Howell|
|Carr Gomm||Graham Blyth|
|Conductor/Lord John||Martin Howard|
|Mrs Kendall||Annie Culley|
|Nurse Sanwich/Princess||Ruth Elliott|
|Belgian Man||Luke Abendroth|
Review by Richard Batson - Eastern Daily Press - Thursday 13th February
Think of this classic tale of a disfigured man's freak show to fame journey and you see local acting legend John Hurt enhanced by hours of prosthetic movie set make up.
But this "am dram" stage production rips the mask off that - but also reveals the soul of the man inside the deformed body of Victorian John Merrick.
"Dram" it certainly is - with moments of power and poignancy. "Am" it certainly is not - with some stunning individual performances, spearheaded by Matt Scantlebury in the lead role for the Cromer and Sheringham Operatic and Dramatic Society's first offering in its centenary year.
Once the sack comes off his head, he relies on a twisted face, curled arm, bent leg and gurgled speech to remind us of his condition - helped by projected slides from the era.
But the accomplished young actor himself projects the intelligence, sensitivity, and wit of the free thinking romantic trapped inside a tortured body.
Keeping up such a high intensity physical and mental role throughout the play is worthy of an awards nomination.
But he was ably supported by the cast that spark off him, particularly Peter Howell as the suave surgeon Frederick Treves who "saved" Merrick from his circus freak show existence.
The play, directed by Martin Rodwell, uses simple, clever staging to tell the poignant tale of a man who suffered beatings as a child in a workhouse, and made a "I am not an animal, I am a human being" cry for help during his freak show years.
His new life in a hospital home saw his confidence and personality blossom to attract VIP visitors from the world of showbusiness and royalty, while be became the catalyst for many to re-evaluate their lives and beliefs.
There were moments of foggy dialogue, stodgy plot and the odd dodgy accent, but overall this was a compelling and thought - provoking telling of a moving story, whose mammoth lead role alone deserved a bigger audience than the first night delivered.
Review by Sue Dupont - NODA East Region 5 Rep
Thank you very much for the invitation to see The Elephant Man at the refurbished Little Theatre, the first production in Cromer and Sheringham's Centenary Year, and what a beginning to a special year of celebration.
This was very powerful theatre and demonstrated the strength and breadth of talent within the Society, certainly Martin Rodwell should be congratulated for assembling such a cast and for working with them to create such excellent character studies. How sensible to leave the story to tell itself by setting few pieces of good furniture and props with lighting rather than complicating with many scene changes and disrupting the flow. And I must congratulate the Wardrobe Supervisor Nona Gray for the immaculate attention to details.
In the title role, Matt Scantlebury was outstanding, to keep up that stance and speech impediment throughout must have been exhausting, his portrayal and development of the character engendered the pity of all and yet the strength of John Merrick as he took his chances as opportunities opened must be admired, and the exchange of relationships and feelings were so well registered, a tour de force from him. And opposite him in an immaculate portrayal of Frederick Treves, Peter Howell showed again what a superb character actor he is: the amazing amount of dialogue, the humanity and empathy and feeling for his fellow man, the despair on occasions, the underlying research into the problems using the medical skills, the increasing achievements and recognition of the work, the relationships not only towards Merrick but with his colleagues and friends, this was a performance to relish and these two men were perfect casting and the lynchpin of this production.
As Carr Gomm, Graham Blyth showed his authority as the senior man in the medical relationship, also his humanity and interest in the situation of Treves and Merrick, and his use of the situation to gain funding for his own interests, a strong portrayal. The Bishop, Grahame Woodrow, was extremely credible with his strong faith and sympathy, and of good stature both physically and in character. Merrick's manager Ross, Carl Denis, showed the lower classes in exploitation and yet some caring, and the return when impoverished was quite moving when refused help.
Ruth Elliott as Nurse Sandwich gave a good portrayal of supposed efficiency into amazed horror on sight of her patient, well realised. And the warmth of spirit and friendly interest and affection which kindled the feelings in Merrick, Annie Culley gave a superb performance as the lovely actress Mrs Kendall, and we felt sympathy for her relationships with both Merrick and Treves.
And one should not lose sight of the many smaller character roles well realised and which created the feel of the period and life in Victorian London.
We were gripped and enthralled by this play, the silence for long moments at the end before the applause said it all.
The Society was proud to support Changing Faces (Registered Charity: 1011222) a charity for people and families who are living with conditions, marks or scars that affect their appearance. A donation of £500 was made to David Bird, a local volunteer for the charity, after our final performance.
Their work is divided into two areas:
They aim to help individuals lead full, confident and satisfying lives. They give practical and emotional support to adults, children and their families. They also provide training, support and advice to professionals in health and education.
They aim to transform public attitudes towards people with an unusual appearance. Their goal is 'face equality' and they promote fair treatment and equal opportunities for all, irrespective of how they look. They campaign for social change: lobbying for integrated health services; influencing schools and workplaces to create more inclusive environments; and pushing for anti-discrimination protection and enforcement.