Review: Elephant Man, French Institute, Randolph Crescent

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IN the original production of The Elephant Man in 1979, the actor playing Joseph Merrick was commended for not using prosthetics to portray physical deformity, instead relying on intense physical skill. Similarly, Compagnie du Fomenteur’s production is bare and minimalist, focussing strongly on the ability of the performers.

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It starts with Merrick institutionalised – we the audience are his visitors, welcomed inside by his nurse (Isabelle Bouvrain) and invited to share visiting hour with him . . . “but you must not react to his deformities, just keep smiling.”

Benoit Hattet delivers a harrowing performance as Joseph Merrick capturing his intelligence, wistfulness and apathy; his physicality is awkward and laboured, integral to the characterisation. The performance is interactive, and the audience are given questions to ask Merrick at designated points. This is contemporary gothic theatre at its most eloquent.

Until Friday