The Elephant Man

Devised from the diaries of Fredrick Treves, Fringe Management and Canny Creatures Scotland present The Elephant Man. The show is based on the true story of John Merrick, a man who, despite his kind nature and incredible intelligence, was exhibited in a ‘Freak Show’ in the late 1800s, due to his physical deformities caused by a genetic condition. The play’s plot follows Treves (Gerry Kielty) as he meets and rescues Merrick (Michael Roy Andrew) from the hands of the sinister showman (Nigel Miles-Thomas) and shows the developing relationship between the two men.

Telling audiences a true story in an entertaining and touching way.

Andrew’s performance as Merrick is particularly admirable. The consistent and believable physicality he brings to the role is one thing, but the real strength in his performance lies in the depth and emotion that he brings to the character, which is no small task in a one-act play. Kietly gives a solid performance as Treves and is particularly good at the softer moments between him and Merrick.

Credit for that should also go to Nigel Miles-Thomas’ thoughtful, creative direction. There are individual moments of brilliance: the scene that shows Merrick travelling by boat and train is very cleverly done, as is a very eerie and sinister nightmare sequence. It is clear what is trying to be achieved in each scene and some are executed perfectly, whilst others are not quite so strong. It would be fair to say that the problem (for lack of a better word) with the piece is not any specific moment or performance, but rather the overall flow. The scenes are very short and run straight into each other, with some of the changeovers being clumsy and causing the play to feel quite jumpy. This is possibly not helped by the decision to have all the female roles played by just one actor (Kirsty Eila McIntyre). This is an interesting concept, but the piece would benefit from another female cast member, both to make it run smoother and make the female characters more believable. That is in no way a criticism of McIntyre’s performance, who does well to bring life into each of her five roles, (her take on Mrs Kendal, the theatre star, is especially strong), but it is difficult to get real depth into so many roles in so little time.

Roi Roberston’s original score works well to create a creepy yet intriguing atmosphere as the audience enter. However, it begins to feel slightly repetitive over time and it is not until the end that there is a real change in the score. This moment works beautifully and plays a large part in creating a moving and emotive ending; it would be nice to have more changes in music throughout the piece.

As a whole, the play achieves what it has set out to do; telling audiences a true story in an entertaining and touching way. Despite not being a perfectly polished production, there are some glimpses of genius in both the performances and the direction that make the piece worth going to see.

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The Blurb

From the creators of the critically acclaimed 2015 production of Of Mice and Men, a new working of The Elephant Man from the diaries of Frederick Treves. 1890: The extraordinary true story of John Merrick. Suffering from a rare genetic disorder, Merrick is cruelly exhibited as a monstrosity in a freak show. Rescued by Treves, he emerges as a loving, gentle and dignified human being. An unforgettable and moving story of survival in an unforgiving world. Directed by Nigel Miles-Thomas with a beautiful original score by Roi Robertson of Mechanical Cabaret.