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The Elephant Man review at Bristol Old Vic – ‘strong central performance, underwhelming production’

Jamie Beddard and the company of The Elephant Man at Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Mark Douet

The latest collaboration between Bristol Old Vic and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School is a revival of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 play about the life of Joseph Merrick.

Merrick’s physical disfigurement led him to be displayed in freak shows before taking up residence in a London hospital where he became a curiosity for the rich and poor.

Inclusion and accessibility have been thoughtfully considered in Lee Lyford’s production. Jamie Beddard, one of the UK’s leading disabled theatre practitioners, plays the role of Merrick and captions have been fully incorporated into Caitlin Abbot’s set design for D/deaf audience members.

Beddard gives a stirring performance as Merrick, infusing him with a dignified intelligence, yearning heart and artistic spirit. Grainne O’Mahony stands out among the young cast as high society actress Mrs Kendal, imparting genuine sincerity to her friendship with Merrick. Credit should also go to cellist Keith Tempest who provides a beautiful accompaniment throughout the performance.

Elsewhere Lyford’s production is hampered by flat performances and by the problematic nature of the play itself. Despite strong work by Beddard, the production doesn’t provide much in the way of reflection on the politics of disability and identity.

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A strong performance from Jamie Beddard can’t salvage an underwhelming production