Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Elephant Man tale is about more than physical deformity

THINK of the Elephant Man and you will probably remember John Hurt in amazing but grotesque make up in the

THINK of the Elephant Man and you will probably remember John Hurt in amazing but grotesque make up in the 1980 David Lynch film. But a Christmas stage production by The Henley College will recreate Joseph Merrick’s deformities without the use of prosthesis.

Director and college teacher Neil McCurley said: “The playwright, Bernard Pomerance, actually forbids the use of any make-up. Instead, we recreate Merrick’s deformities through facial expression and suggestion. The most famous production of the play was in New York with David Bowie playing the leading role, and if you look at it on YouTube you will see he did not use make-up.”

The play examines the life of Merrick who, born in 1862, was exhibited for his deformities before a kind-hearted doctor, Frederick Treves, befriended him and allowed him to stay at the London Hospital for life.

Mr McCurley said: “Everyone has heard of Merrick and the Elephant Man and thinks they know his story. The film was outstanding but the play draws on a different set of sources and approaches the story in quite a different way, widening the focus to examine not only Merrick himself, but those around him.

“Everyone remembers John Hurt’s performance but fewer remember Anthony Hopkins’ performance as his doctor Treves and the play is much more balanced in its treatment of both men.

“On a simplistic level, the play is about prejudice and that’s a central issue but the play is also about the relationship between science and religion — it’s a fascinating story and I’m hoping audiences will be both entertained and moved by it.”

Student Ben Cooper, who plays Merrick, said the role is “physically very demanding”, adding that it was difficult “to twist and contort my body into Merrick’s and to try to capture his voice.

“I hope people think I’m doing a good job but I also hope they see beyond that and connect with his story and the experiences he had, some incredibly violent and traumatic and some really life-affirming.”

* The Elephant Man opens at the college’s Rotherfield Hall on Wednesday, December 11 and runs until Saturday, December 14. Doors open at 7pm. There are matinée performances on the Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets are £8 (£7 concessions, matinée £5). To buy tickets, call (01491) 579988 or call into the college’s main reception at its Deanfield site.

A CHRISTMAS concert performed by Henley Symphony Orchestra will provide a rare chance for young children to experience a live orchestra — and learn a little about the instruments.

This year’s concerts will be held at the Christ Church Centre in Henley on Sunday, December 15 and there will be two performances, one at 4.30pm for young children and another at 6.30pm for families.

The afternoon concert is aimed at very young children aged two to six, and will feature the musical fairy-tale Peter And The Wolf by Prokofiev as well as Christmas classics including Sleigh Ride and Jingle Bells.

The Russian story, narrated by Nick Mercer, tells of how Peter and his grandfather, who live in the forest, outwit the bad wolf who has eaten the duck, with their friends the bird and the cat. Each of the characters is played by a different instrument or section of the orchestra, and at the very end the audience is told: “If you listen very carefully, you’ll hear the duck quacking inside the wolf’s belly, because the wolf in his hurry has swallowed her alive.”

The early evening concert will feature Waltz: The Orient Express by Bennett and De Falla’s Dances From The Three Cornered Hat as well as Sleigh Ride by Delius and Christmas Festival by Leroy Anderson among other seasonal favourites. Mince pies and mulled wine will be served in the adjoining Pither Hall.

Tickets for the afternoon concert are £4 adults/£2 children, and for the evening concert £12 adults/£6 students/£2 U10s. Call 01235 859210 or visit www.henley

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