Entertainment & Arts

Elephant Man earns Bradley Cooper rave reviews

Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man Image copyright Joan Marcus
Image caption Bradley Cooper contorts his face and body in order to evoke Merrick's multiple physical deformities

Critics have praised Bradley Cooper's portrayal of Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man on the London stage.

The three-time Oscar nominee has brought the play to the West End after winning critical acclaim for the role on Broadway in New York.

Cooper plays the deformed Merrick by contorting his body rather than using prosthetics.

The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts said Cooper's physical transformation was a "singularly theatrical experience".

"There is no mask, no plastic fakery, no false hunchback," he said in his five-star review.

"Simply by dint of his art, good-looking Mr Cooper persuades us that he is this pitiable, and soon engagingly likeable grotesque."

Billy Crudup and singer David Bowie are among others to have played Merrick in Bernard Pomerance's play, which was first staged in London in 1977.

Merrick's true-life story also inspired David Lynch's Bafta-winning 1980 film, which starred John Hurt.

The Independent's Paul Taylor was also impressed by Cooper's ability to change "from Hollywood hunk to misshapen outcast".

"Cooper effects this metamorphosis with terrific tact," he said.

"This is a wonderfully humane yet wholly unsanctimonious performance where each aspect, such as the painstakingly correct speech that issues in laboured breaths and gulps, is designed to draw attention not to the actor's technical skill (which is considerable) but to Merrick's unembittered openness to life, his gentleness, questioning humour, and romantic spirit."

But while Cooper showed theatrical prowess, he was let down by a sluggish production, observed Ben Lawrence in The Telegraph.

"Dialogues are often stretched to a point where the dramatic pace is killed stone dead.

Image copyright Joan Marcus
Image caption The production has also been staged in Massachusetts and on Broadway

"Essentially, Pomerance's play is a chamber piece, and with more taut direction this should have been 90 minutes straight through. Instead, we get two 50-minute acts that are peppered with uncomfortable pauses."

In The Guardian, Michael Billington described Cooper as "very good indeed" but also had issues with the play - directed by Scott Ellis - which he found "thin and tendentious".

Even less impressed was The Stage's Natasha Tripney who said in her two-star review that this was an "underpowered account" of the life of Merrick.

"While there is one powerful moment of tenderness and emotional exposure between Cooper and [Patricia] Clarkson, which they both handle with delicacy, the rest of Ellis' production is fitful and underpowered," she wrote.

"Much of this is down to the play itself, which is bitty in structure and quite dry in tone. It might work better as a chamber piece but feels rather marooned on the West End stage."

The Elephant Man is at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 8 August.

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