Tag Archives: Theatre Royal Haymarket

REVIEW: The Elephant Man – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London

The Elephant Man, Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 play charting the life of Joseph Merrick, lacks narrative drive and its stereotypical portrayal of Victorian society is dated, but the whole endeavour is resoundingly saved by two compelling central performances from Bradley Cooper and Alessandro Nivola. 

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Cooper has stated that at age 12, it was John Hurt’s 1980 performance in David Lynch’s film version of The Elephant Man that made him decide to become an actor, he also performed the role for his master’s thesis at New York’s Actors Studio. Having previously appeared at both the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2012 and on Broadway in 2014, Cooper, director Scott Ellis and his team complete their “amazing journey” by bringing the play home to London.

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Pomerance’s play takes Merrick from the squalor and inhuman treatment as a side-show freak, his “saving” by Dr. Frederick Treves, to celebrity and patronage by the scions of Victorian society.

Cooper uses only gesture and mannerism in an impressive physical display, to portray Merrick, and it is a hugely sensitive, brilliantly subtle and deeply affecting performance delivered with an impeccable English accent. It is a performance of such quality that it immediately dispels any worries that this is a mere vanity project for the double Oscar nominee.

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The action is played out with minimal props on a sparse wooden boarded stage, the scenes changing with a swish of the onstage muslin curtains, it is a small scale play and it benefits from this intimate chamber staging.

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Whilst the acting abilities of Cooper and Nivola (Treves) are in no doubt, the play itself is problematic: the pace is laboured throughout despite the scenes being played out in short sharp bursts, and the narrative lacks drive, it ambles along perfectly pleasantly but it lacks light and shade and the treatment of the subject matter is either superficial or heavy handed. That said, I defy anyone not to be moved at by the close of Act One and the declaration by Merrick “sometimes I think my head is so big because it is so full of dreams”.

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A beautifully judged, and perfectly delivered performance from Cooper let down by a dated play.

Runs until 8th August 2015

 

REVIEW: The Tempest – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London

There were crowds forming before ten in the morning for return tickets outside the theatre and indeed the draw of seeing Ralph Fiennes play Shakespeare was the reason I booked to see this.

Fiennes is a fine, fine actor in full command of his powers and his is a highly impressive and commanding Prospero. He manages to convey the torture and complexity of the role and has a lucid way with Shakespeare’s verse, speaking it beautifully, meaningfully and clearly. He also has a magnetic quality like most true acting stars and you are drawn to him wherever he is on stage. Fiennes is, by far, the best thing about this production and is certainly worth the admission price alone. When he opens his mouth for the first time and his magnificent voice sounds out you really are transfixed.

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, however this version by Trevor Nunn comes in at 3 hours. All faults in this production have been laid squarely at the feet of Nunn by the critics. Charles Spencer from the Telegraph blames Nunn’s ability to “bore for England.” It may be due to the fact that Nunn never seems to resist the temptation to turn everything he does into a lavish musical production – the parallels can really be drawn here as the set, with its crumbled buildings looks like he’s recycled it from Cats.

There are some moments of spectacle here as well as some Cirque de Soleil inspired ones and a whole lot of music (which probably results in its running time) but ultimately it’s Fiennes who is the source of all real quality and interest in the whole production.

Tom Byam Shaw is a bleached blonde Ariel and he captures the character’s sprightly nature well (he has an impish face which helps) but at moments to me he seemed a bit on the camp side – which elicited a few sniggers from the audience.

Elisabeth Hill as Miranda seemed wooden and unnatural at times when playing against Fiennes. Two years ago the 23yr old was at Manchester University and this is her first major role. Playing alongside a star such as Fiennes seem to be a step too far. His naturalness and believability just highlighted her stage school expressions of emotion.

Nicholas Lyndhurst displays his comic timing well as Trinculo and Clive Wood plays a spectacularly drunk and boorish Stephano.

I am glad I saw this, for all its faults I wouldn’t have passed up the chance to see Ralph Fiennes on stage and he certainly surpassed any expectations I had. A truly great actor at the height of his powers and a real talent for Shakespeare.