Writer and director: Steve Green
Reviewer: Joanna Trainor
Imprisoned by a cage of wire casing and a material that looks like chain mail, Daniel Chrisostomou’s Elephant Man is at times unbearable to watch. Portraying Joseph Merrick’s deformities like this mean the audience can constantly see the man trapped inside, and at times you are desperate to pull him out of it. Throughout the piece characters pick up on how beautiful his brown eyes are, confined in his enclosure there are moments when you are almost entirely reliant on what Chrisostomou is able to convey using just them. The sadness or hope that pours out of them is heartbreaking. As well as the wire, his body curves in an impossible way, and his constant, animalistic breathing is extremely distressing.
In true Fourth Monkey fashion, the staging and design effects are fascinating. Ria Katrina Pryke’s animations are beautiful. As Joseph is walking through the grounds of Lady Knightley’s estate, the trees and hills are drawn on the screen are drawn in front of you. The set and costumes are almost exclusively black and white, so when the greens, browns and purples are projecting onto the screen and thrilled face of Joseph, the theatre seems to almost instantly warm up.
Steve Green’s writing and direction provides moments of grotesque physicality from the physicians as well the Elephant Man. Swinging from the bed posts and leaping across the set, Adam Trussell’s Dr Reginald Tuckett seems far more inhuman than the supposed freak show he is tormenting. The story of Merrick’s life is certainly dark, but Green is able to create an incredibly sinister atmosphere that leaves you shrinking into your seat. What is also interesting is the character of the surgeon Dr Treves. Bringing the Elephant Man to the London hospital and caring for Joseph on the surface seems admirable, and Treves certainly becomes his friend, but there are times when his curiosity appears to be for less than noble reasons.
Fourth Monkey continually presents shows that provide that little something extra and Elephant Man is no different. An unsettling, Victorian drama that will have you welling up when you leave.
Runs until 21st February| Photo StueyB