All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.
Imagine living as someone who is treated like an animal. Imagine thinking like a human, but knowing that you sound and appear as a monster to others. Imagine being laughed at and trying to make yourself understood, but failing time and time again. This is the life of the Elephant Man.
As hard as it may be to believe, The Elephant Man is based on a true story. Bernard Pomerace, the author, writes of the life of Joseph Merrick (John Merrick in the play), an Englishman with an abnormal body. Because of Merrick’s lumpy skin, large lips, and irreversible lameness, Merrick is put on display at a freak show as “the Elephant Man.” When Merrick is kicked out of the show, he finds himself in the London Hospital, where Frederick Treves, a doctor, is determined to help him carry on a regular life. The Elephant Man first debuted in 1979 as a play and was revived more recently in 2002, receiving a Tony Award for both productions.
Ross (Bryan Ward), the manager of the freak show, declares early on that Merrick is “utterly incapable of emotion.” Sean Driggers, playing John Merrick, spends the whole show proving him wrong. Though his face was only half visible for the majority of the show and his mouth was in a strange position, Driggers delivered his lines clearly and enunciated every word well. Driggers carried the show and held the audience’s interest. Though probably quite difficult for him, Driggers never broke character and stayed committed throughout the show. His interaction with other characters and impressive physicality took Merrick’s bizarre situation and made it believable.
Kiki Skotte, playing Mrs. Kendall, an actress who often visited Merrick, also shined in her role. She used clear facial expressions and projected her lines. Skotte captivated the audience with her performance, transitioning between scenes and making her words flow naturally.
A notable ensemble was the Pinheads, another group who was featured at the freak show. They mastered their role well, combining facial expressions of curiosity and fear with graceful, entrancing movements to draw the audience in. Their natural interaction with each other enhanced their performance, showing that they realized it was not only their performance that counted, but those of their counterparts as well.
The technical aspects were very sophisticated and nearly flawless. The crew chose to have projections of different settings serving as the background, and while Treeves (Sam Blagg) was describing Merrick’s physical appearance and deformities, a slideshow of pictures from the actual Joseph Merrick were displayed above the stage. The transitions made use of the large stage, elegant lighting design, and background music to flow between scenes. The music provided an atmosphere suitable for each scene, fading out and in when appropriate so as to make sure the lines weren’t lost.
The actors and crew worked together to make a difficult and dramatic play enjoyable for all audiences, even managing some comic relief in a few places. Not only was the storyline fascinating, but the committed actors and the effort exerted by the crew came together to create a successful performance of the tale of a tragic life.