One of the world’s most desirable film stars playing an undesirable? No wonder the seats prices range up to an undesirably eye-watering £108.
Mr Cooper is called upon to impersonate the hugely deformed “half man”, “half elephant” John Merrick (which should be Joseph Merrick apparently) with the added hurdle of making us forget John Hurt’s memorable performance in the 1980 David Lynch film. This he manages rather successfully by instead reminding Phil of David Walliams.
The play by Bernard Pomerance predates the film (which wasn’t based on the play). Phil saw the original version back in 1979 when David Schofield delivered a remarkable performance in the lead. And bollock-naked to boot. But don’t get too excited. Mr Cooper conceals his elephant’s trunk with a pair of bloomers as he contorts into sideshow freak rather effectively. Later moving on to become the intelligently sensitive person Victorian society queued up to patronise. Don’t come expecting prosthetics. Our imaginations must work overtime to see the buff, handsomely-coiffed Tony-nominated Mr Cooper as a grotesque.
This production comes to us from the Broadway complete with some inexplicable Tony nominations and American star Alessandro Nivola as Dr. Frederick Treves the surgeon who rescued “third man”, “third elephant”,”third Walliams” from a lifetime of fairgrounds. Also still on board from New York is the wonderful Tony-nominated Patricia Clarkson (Six Feet Under, Parks and Recreation etc) as an American actress who befriends Merrick but is clearly saving her skills at projecting for a later performance and is moved to show us her tears and her tits.
Scott Ellis‘ production is played out with minimal scenery but plenty of curtain swooshery and feels bitty, underpowered and sometimes under-projected. It relates the occasionally affecting, occasionally humorous story through to the moment Merrick dies, thus leading to his remains becoming a collectable object of desire for Michael Jackson.
But goodness there’s some strange things going on in some of the supporting performances. Some are stilted, some produce what might be considered an English accent on the Broadway but won’t wash here. Tony-nominated Nivola is all over the place. He became the elephant in the room. To say much more would be most uncharitable.
There are several longuers despite running at a mere 110 minutes (including interval). That’s over a £1 a minute of actual playing time for those who have elected to fork out for Premium Seats. Were there herds of Americans in? The play got a standing ovation at the curtain call, which must be reassuring for the Broadway stars who have come to expect that sort of approbation every night.
The white elephant of the evening is the over-sized souvenir programme which will add £10 to your already stretched budget. Someone is having a laugh.