Famous tale powerfully retold
By Jessica Cornish
In a modern world where interesting things continue to be collected and people that are different are still being shunned by society, the heart-breaking historical tale of Joseph Merrick is bought to life in the 2017 season of The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man, currently showing at the Malthouse Theatre.
Joseph is born different into an cold and industrial society that spits him out on to the cruel streets of nineteenth-century London. People flit in and out of his life, and ultimately he finds himself trapped as a patient at a hospital, entertaining aristocrats and posing as an educational tool for doctors. It is at once his saving grace and downfall, whereupon eventually he decides to return to the streets to live a life of a different nature.
Under the adroit direction of Matthew Lutton, the script as written by Tom Wright is heavy and bleak, but remains scattered with moments of comic relief that break through the darkness. The strong cast of five performers (including Paula Arundell, Julie Forsyth, Emma J Hawkins and Sophie Moss) are well-rehearsed and confident and easily draw you into this atmospheric world.
Leading man Daniel Monks gave an incredible performance, showing great strength and vulnerability as Joseph Merrick. The actor himself also did an extraordinary job in convincingly morphing into the physicality of this character across the entire night, including contorting his face for the duration of the performance.
The stage was remarkably bare and stark, with the muted and minimal set design of Marg Horwell, whereupon feelings of isolation, hopelessness and entrapment laid heavy upon the world of Mr Merrick. This was mirrored in the severe lighting design by Paul Jackson that relied heavily on silhouettes and harsh flood lights. However, this enduring sterility was then complemented by a beautiful delicate soundscape designed and composed by Jethro Woodward that bought an element of tenderness in to the performance.
This was an inspiring reimagining of the famous real-life story, that shows the best and worst of humanity. It asks its audience to connect themselves to his world and to do what his peers struggled to accomplish: recognise the man that is Joseph Merrick, and allow him to simply be.
The Elephant Man will be showing at the Malthouse Theatre from 4-27 August 2017.
Tickets: Standard / $69, Senior / $64, Concession / $49 , Under 30s & Students / $35
AUSLAN INTERPRETED PERFORMANCE: 7.30pm, Thursday 24 August
Image by Zan Wimberley