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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Elephant Man, Dundee Rep theatre review

Published in The Guardian

The Elephant Man

Dundee Rep
4 out of 5

The first time we see John Merrick he is caught beneath a spotlight that cuts through the Victorian gloom and grandeur of Alex Lowde's superb set to cast an unforgiving shadow beneath his chin. But that's the only time Kevin Lennon relies on trick lighting to become the Elephant Man in Bernard Pomerance's sad and wise drama about disability, exploitation and power.

For the most part, Lennon conveys Merrick's disfigurement through the effort of his movement. With his voice a staccato treble, he shows the sideshow-freak-turned-medical-wonder as a proud man who refuses to be inconvenienced by the awkwardness of walking and the fatal risk of lying down. Once he's got past the uncertainty of the underwritten early scenes and engaged in the meaty encounters with Irene Macdougall as a well-connected star of the stage, Lennon flourishes, creating a character who, for all his graciousness, lets no one – least of all the audience – patronise him.

On the surface, the play is a critique of a social order that depends on putting others in their place. Even a benign character such as Robin Laing's doctor, Frederick Treeves, has a patrician sense of superiority over Merrick, an attitude we connect to the flawed values underpinning the British empire. But the play's emotional heart lies in its tragic variation of the Ugly Duckling story. Merrick represents the unfulfilled potential of all those who feel repressed by society's norms.

On her debut as Dundee Rep's associate director, Jemima Levick takes authoritative control of the space, allowing actors to make lengthy entrances along the high-level gantry and metal staircase, to create a fluid staging as atmospheric as it is poignant. Until Saturday. Box office: 01382 223530.

© Mark Fisher 2009

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