Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Elephant Man, Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch

Having seen Bernard Pomerance's highly powerful play twenty years ago in a thoughtful, strongly acted amateur production I was looking forward enormously to finding out how Director Simon Jessop would handle it in today's society.
It's also a fact that if a group, whether amateur or professional, chooses a play that is very well written, with characters which suit the available cast then success is certain to follow. In view of the two most recent productions at the Queen's having flaws which left casts struggling to convince us that they could inhabit their characters, it's a genuine pleasure to say that this was an enormous success of great sensitivity which both emotionally moved and informed us.
Walking into the theatre the astonishing, massive and skeletal set towered into the lighting rigs, reminiscent of both a circus tent with its draped curtains at the back and circular stage within a stage. Set and costume designer Mark Walters had created five different levels of acting spaces. Meanwhile a figure draped in cloth from head to toe lurked at the shadows at the back.
Matthew Eagland's lighting design used differing levels of chiaroscura shadows to great effect, underlining the power of the drama unfolding on stage. Musical Director Steven Markwick's score incorporated his own original music which went from speaker to speaker until it collapsed into Nik Dudley's dramatic soundscape even incorporated rhythms created with chains.
Mark Walters' basic cast costumes were evening trousers and shirts with added pieces of clothing plus Victorian chorus girl-style sexy outfits for the Pinheads and tailored business suits for the professional male characters. Brechtian announcements were displayed on the stage side for each scene while Dan Crews video projections and other visual effects were used as necessary.
In fact all the technical effects combined so seamlessly with the images and actions on stage that these aspects were truly right.
For some of the cast who had struggled with characterisation in Boeing! Boeing! this must have seemed like bliss to be able to slip into really believable characters that fitted them like gloves.
Tom Cornish, portraying the title character "John" Merrick, perfectly captured the anguish of the sensitive soul whose body governed everything he did. This was due to Proteus Syndrome causing parts of his anatomy to grow out of all proportion and made some people fear him. Until they got to know him that is.
Fred Broom also inhabited completely the compassionate Dr Frederick Treves who rescued Merrick. With the help of Stuart Organ's dignified Carr Gomm, administrator of the London Hospital, gave him a home where he was visited by high society dignitaries such as Joanna Hickman's Mrs Kendal; Megan Leigh Mason's Duchess and Princess; and Ellie Rose Boswell's Countess.
This helped Merrick put behind him the degrading years of touring Europe in a steampunk freak show with Ellie and Megan's two weird Pinheads and James Earl Adair's ruthless proprietor.
This production (not suitable for young children) must surely be one of the Queen's most outstanding shows and I was so pleased and delighted to see them all working at full power.
Runs to May 9 2015
Mary Redman  

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