Review – The Elephant Man with Bradley Cooper, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Thursday 28 May 2015


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.

Still, fame is relative. When Phil told his sister he was seeing Bradley Cooper as The Elephant Man she said she’d never heard of him.

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.







6 Responses to “Review – The Elephant Man with Bradley Cooper, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

  1. Lisa Says:

    Apparently it’s a SOUVENIR booklet, not a programme! Bored me to tears – I can’t believe these people were nominated for anything!

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      Thanks for the correction, needless to say I didn’t purchase one. Not just us then. This elephant prefers to forget….

  2. KirstenSE Says:

    I wasn’t that bored, but also wondering how the performances could get any nominations or standing ovations.

  3. Billy Says:

    Kirsten and Lisa have a point – as followers of the Broadway know, for years the Tony awards have made FIFA look honest – they merely reflect high pressure sales tactics by groups of producers, who have made sure that people who might actually know something about theatre are no longer allowed to vote for who gets the awards! As a result, gross injustices occur all the time, with sins of omission being far more annoying that sins of commission. In short, the Tony’s are a disgrace and quite unindicative of what is good – or not – across the pond.

  4. Gerry. Says:

    Saw this last night. And bought the expensive brochure. The star is wonderful the rest I agree with your review. Second act I couldn’t wait to get out. As they say in NY go figure. Nivola all over the place. Man beside me stated “I’m bored”. Pleased I saw it. Never again.

  5. Esme Johnstone Says:

    Hurry down to Chichester and see Damsel in Distress.Its dismal.Awful.Waste of time.Reviews will probably say A musical in Distress!

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