Five Bob Equity Co-op

The Elephant Man
by Bernard Pomerance

Dates 21 October - 12 November  2005 Venue The Pacific Theatre Reviewer Jane Penistan

Director Sarah Rodgers Sets Tara Arnett Lighting Adrian Muir Costume Sheila White Sound and music Karin Konoval Stage manager Krista Sung

William Samples in The Elephant Man; photo by Charles Pressler
The Elephant Man

Very little is known about the author of The Elephant Man, save that he writes or wrote in England, after moving from the United States. The Elephant Man is his only well-known play. Five Bob Equity Co-op stages this in the round, opening with a side show parade of freaks, musicians, and performers, complete with a barker. This is free. To see the Elephant Man you must pay to go through a low doorway and be prepared to be horrified.

Frederick Treves, Senior Surgeon at The London Hospital braves the challenge, rescues the Elephant Man from the squalour of his wretched prison and leering, obscene viewers and takes John or Joseph Merrick to the hospital. Here after gentle care and much medical examination, Merrick is given a room of his own as a safe lodging in the hospital. Still shy of public gaze, he walks at night in the safe confines of the hospital garden. Gradually Merrick begins to talk and converse with those he trusts, and is discovered to be a sensitive, intelligent and artistic man. Gradually Treves introduces him to his friends and rehabilitates the Elephant Man into the world of people again. This time they are educated, well-bred people who come to see this phenomenal man.

Are these people any less sensation seekers than the ragged crowds of the circus sideshows? They have paid their dues by philanthropic donations to the charitable hospital who gives this astonishing man his life and safety. That, among others, is the question this play asks.

As the Elephant Man, Damon Calderwood gives a stellar performance, evolving from a quivering terrified monstrosity to a disciplined, questioning, intelligent young man, with all a disfigured young man's problems and desires. Anthony F. Ingram lacks some of the poise and bearing of a Victorian senior surgeon, though his humanitarian scenes with Merrick are well done.

Others in the cast play multiple roles. Outstanding among these is William Samples, as the rowdy circus conductor and the polished authoritative secretary superintendant of the hospital. Annabel Kershaw gives a charming and seductive performance as Mrs. Kendall. Also in the cast are policemen, hospital porters, and a circus troupe, complete with a bearded lady who plays the accordion, percussion players, miniature pinheads, a buxom nurse (Sarah May Redmond) and a fraudulent English aristocratic swindler (Brahm Taylor).

The use of screens, movable furniture, and circus properties enable the play's venues to change seamlessly by the well designed choreography performed by the impeccably drilled cast.

This is a thought provoking and entertaining drama, beautifully directed and well acted. It will be a memorable event in the Pacific's repertoire. It deserves accolades and full houses every night.

© 2005 Jane Penistan