The Marvellous Elephant Man is a comedic re-imagining of the real-life story of Joseph Merrick, a man who suffered the indignity of being exhibited as a ‘freak’ in the 1800’s, a time when society felt it acceptable to make the misfortune of others a spectacle for privileged amusement… oh wait.
Current social commentary aside, the Marvellous Elephant Man is first and foremost a musical. I mean musical in every sense of the word – musical, musical… musical. We are introduced to the ensemble and the main characters, Nurse Hope, reminiscent of GiGi, a young virginal woman being pushed by her family into marrying “up”, Dr Frederick Treves the shallow narcissistic surgeon who is the “catch” and of course Joseph Merrick the sweet, intellectual and misunderstood Elephant Man.
The cast is incredibly strong, and while this show is perfectly suited to the famous Speiegeltent, these performers would easily be at home on a much more prestigious stage. Clark is a remarkable tenor, he embodies the sweet and sorrowful Merrick in his quest to free himself from his unfortunate position. Anneliese Hall portrays Nurse Hope and is every bit the downtrodden Disney princess type, but the indisputable standout of the show is Kanen Breen as he personifies the villain Treaves. He is perfect as the baddy that you love to hate however, he does not completely steal the show, owing to the strength of the other performers.
While I see this has received rave reviews elsewhere, I couldn’t help but to feel like the central storyline was just Emma/Beauty and the Beast/any teen movie where the cool character realises that they like the person who they actually have things in common with rather than the vapid idiot they had romanticised in the first place. This however wasn’t really the problem, after all, Clueless was still great. The main problem was, for me, the gags all seemed to be a bit single tone, mostly dick jokes.
The production was excellent in pretty much every other way, and the writing wasn’t poor, but it had the opportunity to be so much more with the source material and the vantage point of 2023.