Friday, 12 June 2015

THEATRE REVIEW: THE ELEPHANT MAN (Haymarket Theatre, West End, London)


Silver Linings Playwrite.

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola & Patricia Clarkson.

November's in New York have a magic about them all in themselves. It's just that place and that time of year and oh how they compliment each other. Like the lights being switched on for that iconic Christmas tree at the Rockefeller, which at a child's imagination glance at the star up top almost seems as tall as the epic Top of The Rock itself. Christmas is hailing a yellow car on Fifth Avenue in the snow because you have one too many brown bags. And then after all those fond festivities, you have even more to look forward to as Times Square gives way to the next calendar in the greatest party under a glittering ball that the world can give you in New Year in New York. That's all to come. As of right now this writer had his own hand of magic last November in N.Y.C. Checking out some Broadway productions for the first time, he happened on a duel for his evenings ticket between Marvel heroes Wolverine and Rocket the Racoon. Opting for Hugh Jackman's 'The River' over Bradley Cooper's 'The Elephant Man' after meeting the ever-enthusiastically friendly Australian, who was very gracious in the face of a faulty camera held by this fan. Still after Jackman's intimate and inspired fishing love story by the boardwalk, this writer managed to get in line to meet another one of his acting heroes after his own respective show. As Bradley Cooper went round each fan signing Playbill's and reenacting his fine form as one of the best selfie takers for the worlds most famous photo of that nature, this writer had to thank the man for his anxiety beating 'Silver Linings Playbook' film and his outing in it for all that it helped so much. Switching the pen from his Hancock hand to shake mine in response with a heartfelt thank you and respective nod this fans moment was made. Made and retold here not to brag or boast in our modern-day selfie culture of showboating, but more to illustrate just how great this underrated actor and man is regardless of his Hollywood heartthrob stakes. Thanks to the real respect and due dignity he brings along with the pure passion and seemingly effortless energy to each one of his roles, characters and the issues they are facing that all of us may share or relate to from time to time. From 'Silver Lines' to 'American Sniper's' no role is more telling of this in its testament to it than the one of 'The Elephant Man'. Leaving New York that night I just knew I had to see that show, three months gone or not.

As luck would have it for this Englishman no longer in New York, this off-Broadway theater show now finds itself in the West End of London by way of the beautifully old Haymarket Theater. This time and week I just could not miss its latest run. Fittingly for Bradley Cooper too-the actor who has been intrigued and inspired by Joseph Merrick since seeing the David Lynch 'Elephant Man' film at 12 years old-this passion project helps Cooper bring Merrick back home to England. And the traditional Haymarket Theater helps bring this old English texture back to life as Bradley does Joseph. You couldn't get more traditionally great and British even if you went down Baker Street with a tweed cap and smokers pipe my dear Watson's. From stage-hands serving as servants and chamber maids and audience facing, old-style photography stance moments bringing stand-up direction and deliverance to the front-stage spotlight, this perfect play is honed and rehearsed to a punctuated power. The commas between acts and scripts are brought to more enlightening light by exclamations of performances by supporting players whose names may not be as bright-light, top-billing big as Cooper, but belong in Hollywood none the less. Just like veteran actress Patricia Clarkson who has been in everything from classics like 'The Untouchables' to 'The Green Mile'. The brilliant and beautiful Clarkson brings forward a soulful role of real heart and consideration. Playing a famous actress may not be a hard feat, but the subtle way of sincerely dealing with the subject matter here is as Patrica figuratively and literally bares all for moving and mesmerizing moments. The woman who played one of the Rachael Solando's in 'Shutter Island' is joined by the other Solando Emily Mortimer's husband Alessandro Nivola. You may just know Alessandro Nivola from his break-out, award nominated role in the Nic Cage/John Travolta actioneer 'Face/Off' as the nerdy and weedy Pollux Troy. Or the beefed up role he brought before Chris Pratt in 'Jurassic Park III'. Although with this weekends release of the already hugely popular and successful 'Jurassic World' feature, most would like to forget this previous film. Forget training Raptors, technically Alessandro literally voiced one. Isn't that right "Alan"!? Still recently the form of this 'American Hustle' Cooper co-star has been formidable to say the very least for a man deserving of more. See this years David Oyelow double 'Selma' and 'A Most Violent Year'. Here, however the Boston born American household name is almost unrecognizable from the cheap seats in mustache and voice. So much so that this main actor here-who almost serves as a narrator like storyteller as well as the doctor who looked after Merrick-could have had his British actress wife serve as a dialect account. All his own however this performance is accented.

Just like Cooper's who with an amazing accent with the Merrick hometown Leicester twang shows vocally and visually just how great an actor he really is. Three Oscar's have almost bore Brad's name and surely a Tony and so much more should do now for Cooper. An actor voted 'Sexiest Man Alive' shows he's more than just looks as he plays the disfigured Elephant Man with evoking expression over the modern special-effects of prosthetics and in-doing so brings us a portrayal that's as amazing accurate as it is respectfully dignified. Looking and listening to this man at work shows just how an amazing actor the big-name of big pictures like 'The Hangover' series and 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' franchise really is and how limitless the range of  a man who started off his career in bit-parts in 'Yes Man' and the 'Wedding Crashers' truly appears in scope too. Bringing more than just the nuances of the man he's playing, Cooper brings real, heartfelt emotion and comedy over tragedy duality, wit in the face of woe to a complex and complete characterization. From underrated greats like 'The Place Beyond The Pines' and controversial but courageous turns in things like 'American Sniper', the man who has even played a Racoon has shown great skill and sincere sentiment too. You can just see and hear it in his outspoken award acceptance speeches with all his heart, expressing the need to show care and help to more and more American soldiers who die because of mental-health and stress problems after war, over the numbers that die out on the battlefield. Still through all this DiCaprio and fellow namesake Pitt rising leading man and acclaimed actor's powerhouse performances nothing bests this greatness as he honors his hero who would be proud of this perfect portrayal. Those not in attendance of these 12 week runs may hopefully one day see for themselves just how great if this revival gets a rebirth in cinemas like most modern shows of significance do. If so, all the cast should be kept on place as the three-time Academy award nominated actor could finally get his Oscar after three straight years of applauding another winner. Here, though envelope or not, Cooper signs, seals and delivers his signature. This is more than an award or Hollywood movie, it's a real, live and breathing testament and tribute to someone who should be known in memory properly as Joesph Merrick. More than just a man. An incredible human being. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

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