After a 2015 Broadway and West-End revival that broke box office records, Tony award-winning classic THE ELEPHANT MAN will open at Adelaide’s Arts Theatre on April 14 in a stunning start to The Rep’s 2016 season.
The play tells the true story of Joseph Merrick, famously known as “the Elephant Man” for his hideous physical deformities, who rose from sideshow squalor to become the unlikely toast of 1880s London society.
With thick, lumpy skin, an impossibly twisted skeleton, claw-like right hand and massive facial tumours, Merrick’s disfigurement made him a popular fairground freak show attraction. Outside the circus, however, crowds were not so accepting; he was almost lynched by an angry mob when his masked appearance and bent body caused hysteria at Liverpool train station.
Taken in by young surgeon Sir Frederick Treves, Merrick was instantly transported to a life of gentility. Introduced to the “who’s who” of London society, he quickly became something of a celebrity, living the gentleman’s life he’d always dreamed of.
But as the play examines: is a “normal” existence something the Elephant Man can really achieve, or even want?
First staged in London in 1977, Bernard Pomerance’s play has had many high profile productions with stars such as David Bowie and Star Wars actor Mark Hamill in the title role, and won a legion of new fans in 2015 with a critically acclaimed Broadway season starring Academy Award winner Bradley Cooper, a revival that was nominated for four Tony Awards.
With its deliberate lack of special prosthetics or make-up, the play requires a formidable performance from its lead actor to portray Merrick simply by manipulating body and voice, a challenge taken on in The Rep’s production by Robert Bell (2015 Adelaide Theatre Guide Best Actor).
Director Megan Dansie says the play is a moving look at a real life character that challenges perceptions of normality and difference.
“It’s a really fascinating true story that has a lot to say about how we treat people who are different,” she says.
“It explores in sharp detail how society perceives people with physical disabilities, and it’s also about the cruelty and injustice of objectifying people or judging them on the basis of their looks. Merrick is initially shunned from society, but once he is given an opportunity, he blossoms, and everyone can see that underneath his horrible deformities lies an artistic, sensitive, romantic and intelligent man.”
Dansie says even though the story of Joseph Merrick is more than 130 years old, it still has much to teach modern audiences.
“Even though the play is set in Victorian England it still resonates today, because many of us still have that fear of the ‘different’, even now in 2016,” she says.
“So I think in many ways it has some really important lessons for modern audiences.”
Wonderful, moving and gloriously triumphant, THE ELEPHANT MAN is a poignant and powerful look at difference, disability and the cult of celebrity.
THE ELEPHANT MAN runs in a limited season of just eight performances at The Arts Theatre, 53 Angas St Adelaide, fromApril 14 to 23, with all tickets $22 or less.
“A breathtakingly beautiful play… about social perceptions of physical ugliness,” – The Telegraph
“Touching and wonderful… wrenches us away from the prejudices of image and helps us to love the inner man,” – The Daily Mail
“Impressive and often touching… a canny mixture of historical drama, moral inquiry and social satire,” – TIME
Adelaide Repertory Theatre by arrangement with ORiGiN Theatrical Ltd presents
The Elephant Man
by Bernard Pomerance
April 14 to 23, 2016
The Arts Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
April 14-16 and 20-23 at 8pm, also matinee Saturday April 23 at 2pm.
Tickets: $22 adult, $17 conc., plus special discounts for groups of 10+
Book at adelaiderep.com or call 8212 5777
Robert Bell, Steve Marvanek, Georgia Stockham, Jamie Wright, Jonathan Scholten, Nicole Rutty, Patrick Marlin, Philip Lineton, Sharon Malujlo, Thorin Cupit, Tony Busch and Sue Wylie.