British theatre fans rejoiced when they heard that Bradley Cooper was coming to the West End for a limited UK run of 'The Elephant Man'; a seventies play which made its last revival more than 10 years ago. It's safe to say the UK audience were left just as satisfied as the Broadway spectators, and just as emotionally drained.

Bradley Cooper

I've never seen the play in the past, so my only point of reference was David Lynch's iconic black and white 1980 biopic, which explored the life of John Merrick in all its harrowing destitution. Having recently watched the spectacular revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Cats' and been shocked by how unfamiliar the characters felt, I was therefore left completely gobsmacked when Bradley Cooper opened his mouth and John Hurt's voice came out - totally spot on. All the familiarity you could ask for from a revival play. And his was the only British accent from an American actor during the entire play that never faltered; a remarkable feat given the acute discomfort he must've been feeling throughout.

The play is famous for its avoidance of a mask to imitate the extreme deformity of John Merrick, and so Cooper was forced to maintain an unpleasantly contorted face, stance, gait and hand throughout his time on stage; such dedication that becomes starkly astounding when you try it yourself for just five minutes. There was some initial disappointment when you realised there'd be no Hallowe'en mask, but that dissipated almost immediately - along with the initial chuckles over Cooper's funny face. By the end, you were convinced that the actor was indeed suffering with the same debilitating defects, so when his visage snapped back to the usual handsome features during the standing ovation, it was a startling switch back to reality.

Bradley Cooper may have been the star of the show, but there were some brilliant moments of comic relief between Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola, who played Mrs. Kendal and Frederick Treves respectively, when they engaged in an embarrassing discussion about Merrick's perfectly normal genitalia. It was childish humour (which it remained throughout), which only reflected the undeveloped life of Merrick and his own innocent and childlike muses; a naïve but intelligent man who emitted moments of genius more profound than those of any of his prestigious hospital visitors had ever managed.

While there was plenty of comedic moments, and though it lacked some of the more brutal moments that stood out for me when I watched the film, it still had half the theatre choking back tears; Merrick's anguished wails filled the auditorium to disturbing effect, his overwhelmed sobs when people finally started to treat him as a human being were heart-breaking, and his abrupt death by asphyxiation - though undramatic - reduced several people around me to floods of tears.

Director Scott Ellis' reimagining of Bernard Pomerance's play was an unforgettable one, that certainly shows how versatile Bradley Cooper is as an actor. Gently hilarious, painfully awkward and agonisingly sad, John Merrick's story has definitely been done justice.

Holly Williams

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