Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Thursday, 10 August 2017
The Real & Imagined History of the Elephant Man, Aug 9, 2017 ***1/2
Written by Tom Wright Produced by Malthouse Theatre At Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until Aug
27, 2017 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts on Friday Aug 10, 2017, and later in print. KH
Daniel Monks & Julia Forsyth - photo Pia Johnson
During his short life in the late 19th century, Joseph Merrick
suffered an unnamed and profoundly disfiguring condition that led to him suffering the indignity of being dubbed the Elephant Man in a
London freak show.
This haunting production of The Real and
Imagined History of the Elephant Man, written by Tom Wright and directed by
Matthew Lutton, re-imagines Merrick’s life in a series of atmospheric snapshots.
Monks’ impressive depiction of Merrick
is key in this production and his sympathetic, feisty and, at times, deeply
moving portrayal is made more compelling because Monks, in addition to being a
fine actor, has a physical disability that affects the right side of his body.
poetic dialogue lends the play an other-worldliness that Lutton amplifies by
evoking the smoggy, mysterious and dangerous
streets of Leicester and London where Monks’ Merrick faces abuse, assault,
pursuit, ridicule and fear – both his own and that of others.
sparse stage design (Marg Horwell), jarring soundscape (Jethro Woodward), and forbidding
Jackson), the stage looks and sounds like
an industrial tornado until Merrick
reaches the safety of London Hospital where he spent his last days.
The first half of the production is the stronger, with poignant vignettes
of the child Merrick with his mother (Julie Forsyth), followed by alarming scenes of a world redolent with the stench of
London streets that are populated by a parade of eccentrics, scruffy thugs and
gentlefolk played by a versatile cast (Forsyth, Sophie Ross, Paula Arundell,
Emma J Hawkins).
When the relative peace of the hospital replaces the horrors of the
streets, the production loses some power, although the scene in which doctors catalogue
Merrick’s deformities isdisturbingly
and the scenes between Monks’ Merrick and
Forsyth’s cheeky nurse, Agnes, are witty and charming.
Despite the loss of momentum in the second half, Wright and Lutton’s
evocative interpretation and Monks’ distinctive performance focus the play on
Merrick’s desire to be treated as a man, not a monster, and highlight the
melancholy half-life that he lives, lurking on the murky boundary between
normal life and the world of the ‘other’.
Monks, Julie Forsyth, Sophie Ross, Paula Arundell, Emma J Hawkins
Lutton - director
Horwell - stage design
Woodward – sound /composition
Daniel Monks - photo Pia Johnson
Sophie Ross, Daniel Monks, Julia Forsyth, Paula Arundell & Emma j Hawkins - photo Pia Johnson