The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man: A Review

The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man: A Review

The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man: A Review

PUBLISHED 20 October 2023

On the 17th October 2023, AKS Drama students went to watch ‘The Elephant Man’ at the Blackpool Grand Theatre. We both deeply enjoyed the show and how the actors portrayed such a dark and sensitive topic. 

A technical aspect we found interesting is how the company sells the story with the use of lighting. When the atmosphere of the scene became more intense, the lights started to flicker and the music became louder, heightening the tension in the theatre. Within the performance, we are transported to a mental asylum. The lights remain dim for the remainder of the performance, giving the feel of a run-down, eerie atmosphere, which highlighted how horrible the circumstances would’ve been for Joseph Merrick. A set piece we were fascinated by was the block, that mimicked a shipping container, that they used throughout Act 1, in many ways. In one scene, the ‘Young Man’ stood on it, whilst playing an electric guitar as it turned a full circle. After it moved positions, it became a faux wall, which when light was shone directly at it became a translucent window. In this particular scene, it was the first time we had seen this technique in the performance, so we were shocked to see another dynamic in technical aspects. The yellow light that was shone on it added a worn old sense to the room. One prop in particular made us feel incredibly alarmed as woman started a saw that spit fire; the pyrotechnic feature was unexpected and showed us the amount of danger Joseph was put in when he was in this asylum.  

The Elephant Man (commonly known as Joseph Merrick) was played by Zak Ford-Williams; he had a dark side to him but also acted very innocent, in our opinion, to prove to the audience that even though you may have a disability, you are still a person. The name ‘The Elephant Man’ developed from the way that Joseph Merrick was shown in the circus like an animal, dehumanising him.  

Joseph Merrick was a Victorian man, who was known for having several deformities, at the time this was considered unnatural, and Merrick was treated like an animal, tested on as if he were a science experiment. Williams brings this to the stage by expressing emotions such as anger, confusion, and deep sadness. He does this by using his facial expressions which really connected with the audience and made us extremely empathic to his story.  

The company, Nottingham Playhouse, made this play very accessible, which is important given what the play is about, by using subtitles for those with hearing impairments and even making one of the doctors who operate it talk in sign language, creating a welcoming environment to those with accessibility issues. This really highlighted to us how theatre should be, and can be, enjoyed by everyone, by making slight alterations to a traditional theatre, like a subtitles board.  

We deeply enjoyed 'The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man’ and thought it was connecting and powerful. It kept me leaning at the edge of my seat, especially when we saw the ‘Young Man’ taking the young girl apart. One of my favourite moments was at the end when John Merrick escapes the mental asylum and is left in the snow. It was immensely powerful when he swapped his emotions from being happy to finally being free to the distraught and anger when he realised, he had nowhere to go and is left to die. I thought that this was a smart ending because it proved that there isn’t going to be a happy ending, especially for Joseph Merrick during these times, and if they ended on a happy ending it would have degraded the powerful and depressing story of Joseph Merrick and his life. 

CATEGORIES: News, Creative Arts
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