Bradley Cooper’s Elephant Man: The Best Ever?

Bradley Cooper has proven to disbelievers that he is more than just a Hollywood hunk, in his West End debut.

Nominated for two Oscars and now a Tony for this performance, Cooper wowed critics in his evocation of the Elephant Man at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Bernard Pomerance’s play, also starring Oscar nominee Patrick Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola, tells the story of John Merrick, in late Victorian England, who was born with such extreme physical disfigurement that his own mother abandoned him. He went on to be exhibited as a fairground freak, suffering at the hands of bullies and angry mobs.

Merrick later meets young surgeon, Sir Frederick Treves, who takes Merrick under his wing and cares for him at the London Hospital.

The play begins at this point, with Cooper standing in just a pair of boxers whilst the doctor points to various body-parts, describing their deformity. As each ailment is mentioned, Cooper contorts his body, bending and twisting, dropping a hip and scrunching-up his fingers to become the Elephant Man. There are no prosthetics, there is no mask or make-up, there is just Cooper. It is quite different from the performance by John Hurt in David Lynch’s 1980 film of the same name.

Merrick is revealed as an intelligent, sensitive and witty character and soon becomes the subject of Victorian high-society obsession.

Although the play itself has received less than glowing reviews, critics have hailed Cooper as its saving Grace – the actor single-handedly redeeming it and making it a play worth seeing. Cooper is said to play the outcast with such sensitivity and empathy, revealing Merrick’s inner beauty, and exposing the viciousness of a society that vilifies people for their imperfections.

The actor, ironically, was once crowned the “Sexiest man Alive” by People magazine, has now been dubbed the ‘best Elephant man yet’. Cooper himself has said of his performance: “I would love to have seen his (Merrick’s) reaction.” Get in line.

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