May 17, 2015


'Who knew the Elephant Man was so good for a laugh? As is traditional for stage actors playing Joseph Merrick, the circus freak briefly feted by Victorian high society before his death, at age 27, in 1890, the movie actor Bradley Cooper uses no prostheses to play the part, instead using his body’s putty-like powers — gait, posture, diction — to suggest Merrick’s monstrous deformity. Stood on stage of the Booth theatre on Manhattan’s 45th street in no more than a loin cloth, the star most famous for his roles in Silver Linings Playbook and American Sniper twists his body like a gnarled old branch, one arm going entirely dead, one hip dropping and leaving most of his weight on a cane, his mouth crunched up on one side of his face, so that his words slurp out of one corner, like water around a plughole. And what emerges? Unlikely as it may sound, but: Jokes. Not funny har-har jokes. Not thigh-slappers. Not rib ticklers. But oblique, waspish observations on the hypocrisies of the Victorian society that has so embraced him.     “If your mercy is so cruel,” wonders Merrick of an orderly’s firing, “what do you have for justice?”   There are many actors in attendance on the night I see the show — including Michael Sheen, Sara Paulson and Billy Crudup, who last played the role on Broadway, here presumably to see how the new boy fares. Crudup, Mark Hamill and David Bowie and have all taken on the role. In the 1980 David Lynch movie John Hurt played Merrick as a naïf, almost childlike in his eagerness to be patronized, grateful for the human contact it brought him, but Cooper locates an element of irony in his rasping diction, and offers mild, glancing rebuke to the bishops, aristocrats and assorted dignitaries gathered around him. He makes Merrick a wit.' — from my interview with Bradley Cooper for the Sunday Times

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