Theatre Royal, Haymarket until August 8th
Bradley Cooper starred in the biggest film of 2014, American Sniper. Cooper was playing John Merrick, the Elephant Man on Broadway during Sniper’s run and couldn’t work on his Oscar campaign. He got a nod as best actor anyway. His portrayal of Merrick may well have contributed to his nomination. Not many Hollywood A listers take the risk of going on stage. It is to Cooper’s credit that he not only did so on Broadway but is treading the boards in London too.
He plays the eponymous elephant man in a revival of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 play which was later made into a film starring John Hurt.
Joseph Merrick was a grotesquely deformed man whose appearance hid a sharp mind and touching appreciation of beauty.
Unlike Hurt in the film, Cooper does not use make up or prosthetics. He relies, instead, on twisting his body and bending his mouth into a grimace which must make his jaw ache.
Alessandro Nivola plays the kindly surgeon, Frederick Treves, who takes Merrick under his wing. Patricia Clarkson plays the actress Miss Kendall who, while shocked initially by Merrick’s deformity, comes to enjoy his company and intelligence.
All 3 actors, especially Cooper, are better than the play which is curiously unmoving despite the material. Nevertheless, this is a production worth seeing for Cooper’s performance alone.