Review: The Elephant Man, Sheringham Little Theatre

The Elephant Man - Sheringham Little Theatre. Matt Scantlebury as John Merrick. Picture: ERIC BRICKL

The Elephant Man - Sheringham Little Theatre. Matt Scantlebury as John Merrick. Picture: ERIC BRICKLES - Credit: Archant

The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man - Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: ERIC BRICKLES

The Elephant Man - Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: ERIC BRICKLES - Credit: Archant

Sheringham Little Theatre

The Elephant Man - Sheringham Little Theatre. Peter Howell as Frederick Treves and Annie Culley as M

The Elephant Man - Sheringham Little Theatre. Peter Howell as Frederick Treves and Annie Culley as Mrs Kendall. Picture: ERIC BRICKLES - Credit: Archant

Think of this classic tale of a disfigured man's freak show to fame journey and you see local acting legend John Hurt enhanced by hours of prosthetic movie set make up .

But this 'am dram' stage production rips the mask off that - but also reveals the soul of the man inside the deformed body of Victorian John Merrick.

'Dram' it certainly is - with moments of power and poignancy. 'Am' it certainly is not - with some stunning individual performances, spearheaded by Matt Scantlebury in the lead role for the Cromer and Sheringham Operatic and Dramatic Society's first offering in its centenary year.

Once the sack comes off his head, he relies on a twisted face, curled arm, bent leg and gurgled speech to remind us of his condition - helped by projected slides from the era.

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But the accomplished young actor himself projects the intelligence, sensitivity, and wit of the free-thinking romantic trapped inside a tortured body.

Keeping up such a high intensity physical and mental role throughout the play is worthy of an awards nomination.

But he was ably supported by the cast that spark off him, particularly Peter Howell as the suave surgeon Frederick Treves who 'saved' Merrick from his circus freak show existence.

The play, directed by Martin Rodwell, uses simple, clever staging to tell the poignant tale of a man who suffered beatings as a child in a workhouse, and made a 'I am not an animal, I am a human being' cry for help during his freak show years.

His new life in a hospital home saw his confidence and personality blossom to attract VIP visitors from the world of showbusiness and royalty, while be became the catalyst for many to re-evaluate their lives and beliefs.

There were moments of foggy dialogue, stodgy plot and the odd dodgy accent, but overall this was a compelling and thought-provoking telling of a moving story, whose mammoth lead role alone deserved a bigger audience than the first night delivered.

The show runs until Saturday.

Richard Batson

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