The Elephant Man

Date 4th October 2015
Society Cast and Crew Theatre Workshop
Venue Cornelius Vermuyden School, Canvey Island
Type of Production Play
Director Rob Simmons


Author: Tessa Davies

I have to confess that I have never seen this play or the film that was made some years ago.  So I was very interested to see how this company performed it.  It has a reputation of being a tricky play to do, not least because of the well documented deformities of its title character, Joseph Carey (John) Merrick.

Director Rob Simmons decision not to use prosthetics of any kind was interesting but it did make it very difficult for the audience to get a sense of the awfulness of the man’s body.  Whilst recreating all of the deformities would, very likely, have distracted the audience from the content, I do feel that some physical reference to them would have been appropriate.  Just referring to the photos in the programme and accompanying pamphlet did not bring it home to me as much as seeing it on stage would have done.

Martin Lepley played the title role and his performance was consistent, however I was not convinced that altering his voice was enough to portray the physical depredation suffered by the character.  Matthew Warner (Dr Treves) gave a good performance and looked the part!  Zahna Hull played Mrs Kendall with great strength and excellent characterisation. Andrew Shore (Carr Gomm) and Jeff Hodgkins (Ross) completed the main cast and they were supported by a strong cast of actors playing all the other roles in the play.

The scenery was good; defining the difference between the plush rooms of the doctor and the basic room that Merrick lived in for most of his adult life.  However, there were occasions when the action took place elsewhere and this was not completely identifiable as it was done in front of the same scenery.  I appreciate that the facilities of the school stage are limiting but I do feel that some provision could have been made to identify, for example, the fairground location of the freak show scenes.

Lighting is limited in this venue but I thought that the use of some limited special affects might have helped to create the atmosphere, especially in the dream sequence when Merrick is describing Treves in the same way that Treves had described Merrick at the beginning of the play.  It took me a while to work that one out!

Overall, though, Cast & Crew produced a strong and thought provoking performance, well done.