THE Henley College drama students returned to the college’s Rotherfield Hall auditorium just before Christmas for a production of The Elephant Man under the direction of Neil McCurley.
The story of the life of Victorian curiosity Joseph Merrick is told in a series of episodes, starting with his early days in a travelling sideshow and culminating with his final years in a London hospital. Merrick’s life was certainly eventful and for the most part this production was successful in retelling it.
Opening with a fairground prologue I wasn’t entirely convinced by, the production did its best to transport the audience back to the 1880s. However it wasn’t until the second act, when the frenetic pace of the storytelling slowed, that I found myself becoming genuinely absorbed into the action.
It was the second act where the most tender, poignant and memorable scenes were played out — Merrick, free from his crippling disability, lecturing those who would label him different, a dream in which he danced with his “Little Darlings”, his questioning of God for not using both hands when creating him and the completion of his treasured model church.
Without the use of any prosthetics, leading man Ben Cooper physically transformed into Merrick before our eyes and went beyond the surface tics and mannerisms to find the character’s heart and so win the empathy of the audience.
It was an outstanding achievement for an actor so young and both Cooper and McCurley must be congratulated on their work.
There is little doubt that Cooper dominated proceedings, but it would be remiss not to mention the able support provided by the cast around him.
Particular mention should be made of James Fawcett as Frederick Treves and Stella Moss as the aristocratic Mrs Kendall who were both convincing in their respective roles.
This was undoubtedly an emotionally charged retelling of a story which, it seems, I wasn’t as familiar with as I thought.
The Elephant Man
Rotherfield Hall, The Henley College