Friday, 17 July 2015

The Elephant in the Room.

I tell a friend I'm going to see Bradley Wiggins in The Elephant Man tonight at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, before realising that isn't quite right. Cooper! Bradley Cooper. Two of our usual theatre-going crowd declined the opportunity some weeks back. "Seen it already in the 80s," said one. "Terrible play," said another. Terrible play it maybe but - BRADLEY COOPER! Are they mad?

The auditorium is full, the audience noticeably more appreciative than we've grown used to of late at London West End theatre. They laugh a lot, even when it isn't funny. As Bradley expertly transforms his body into a series of excruciating contortions there are gasps. "He's good, isn't he!" Says a woman behind me, loudly.

Meh, I think to myself. Good, yes. A circus act? Maybe. Does contorting your body and executing a near perfect facsimile of John Hurt as The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980) constitute great acting? Not sure.

At half time (as a friend calls it), I run for a gin and tonic, dragging one of our number with me. "Full measure, please," I say, to the girl at the bar. When we return we're surprised to find the rest of our group has also left their seats: they went to buy a second bottle of Cava.

"I thought you like to stay in your seats in the interval? And not drink anything more?" I say, when they return.

"Oh," says one, "we do, usually, but she suggested it." They point at friend K, who wasn't with us for Death of a Salesman, or View From The Bridge.

It is, as that friend had forewarned, a pretty terrible play. Not much happens dramatically speaking, not once John Merrick makes it to the London Hospital. Except a lady takes her top off; I woke up for that bit. Where's the narrative arc? I think to myself. (I'm currently obsessed with narrative arcs). Unlike in the book, which I've read, and the film, which I've seen several times, there isn't much of one.

The audience in the Theatre Royal Haymarket, however, beg to differ. At the end of the play, as Bradley and cast take their bow, some of them stand up, and then a few more... 

It really wasn't THAT good, I think. I mean, not better than The Vote, or View From The Bridge, or Death of a Salesman or Wolf Hall, all of which I've seen, and none of which were rewarded with a full house standing ovation. Are these people standing for the play? For Bradley Cooper's performance? Or because it's a Hollywood superstar up there?

Then those around me begin to stand as well, even my Cava-swilling mates, until, finally, I'm the lone sitter in the stalls. Should I stand because everyone around me is standing? Or should I remain seated because, although I thought it was good, it wasn't THAT good?

I remain seated, and down the last of my gin and tonic. A full measure.

Love E x

P.S. I reckon Bradley Wiggins could have made a good fist of it, he's athletic enough.

The book - The True History of The Elephant Man, by Michael Howard and Peter Ford

The film - The Elephant Man, David Lynch 1980

Review of current play -


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