The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man Grand Theatre, Blackpool
This version, like the original 1970s staging, does without the prosthetic mask worn by John Hurt in the subsequent film version, and is all the stronger for it, giving Zak Ford-Williams full focus for his singular abilities. He has cerebral palsy and is well able to convey the anger and passion that derives when society so often proves unwelcoming.
It is a compelling and deeply committed performance, matched here by Simon Kenny’s set design. The first act uses a revolving central container and overhead girders to convey Merrick’s upbringing amid the dark, Satanic mills of his Leicester birthplace. The second act is no less uncompromising even if it is in the more brightly-illuminated, but sterile setting of the hospital where his short life ended.
Killian Thomas Lefevre stalks both acts as Narrator, initially slinging a rock guitar along as well. This Elephant Man is unafraid to mash up its period settings and underscore that prejudices can persist, no matter how much we may flatter ourselves.
Within the ensemble cast Annabelle Davis and Daneka Etchells become a fellow hospital patient or a society actress; Nadia Nadarajah is Merrick’s deaf nurse; and Tim Pritchett his father and several other roles.
It continues here until Saturday, October 21.