Oscar Week Film Review: The Greatest Showman

Defying the critics and showcasing the marvellous Keala Settle, there’s more to like about The Greatest Showman than you might think. Or not.

“The noblest art is that of making others happy”

There’s always something amusing about a piece of art that manages so successfully to flick two fingers at the critics and right now, none more so than The Greatest Showman. In the UK alone, it has achieved a box office consistency near the top of the list unseen since Avatar, the cast recording has been at the top of the album charts for the past two months, and such is its hold on the zeitgeist that it is now holding singalong performances across a range of cinemas.

None of which you would have predicted on its critical reception ahead of its Boxing Day release. It’s not an accurate portrayal of PT Barnum’s life, some said; it doesn’t have enough of a dramatic narrative, others sniffed; still more have derided its complete lack of any post-modern ironic edge, de rigueur for a contemporary musical so they’d have you believe. And there’s merits to all of these points though they do seem to spectacularly miss the point of the film, which is pure entertainment. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: The Greatest Showman”

Review: The Elephant Man, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Things just come out of my mouth which are true”

Truth be told, I wasn’t intending to go back to The Elephant Man. It was probably my least favourite of the plays I saw on Broadway at New Year (so of course it would be the one to transfer lock, stock and barrel to London) but I won a pair of tickets through my efforts on the Seatplan website and able to take a friend, I decided it was worth the revisit at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The irony of Americans bringing us a version of Victorian London from the Great White Way aside, little has changed about my opinion in that it really isn’t that grand at all.

That’s not to detract from the now Tony-nominated efforts of Bradley Cooper, who plays the physical condition of Joseph Merrick without make-up or prosthetics but purely through the contortions of his face and body. An early scene where Merrick’s physical attributes are described and Cooper layers them onto his body one by one is expertly done but as the play progresses, it remains an effortful performance that never achieves, or allows for, emotional truth, so focused is the actor on the physicality. Continue reading “Review: The Elephant Man, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: The Elephant Man, Booth Theatre

“I did not think of all these things, because there was no one to bother to think them for”

Of all the shows that I saw on Broadway, I really wouldn’t have picked this one to be the one that transfers to the West End. But to the Theatre Royal Haymarket it doth come after a commercially successful run. And oh the irony, casting someone named Sexiest Man Alive as the noted Victorian ‘freak’ Joseph Merrick, aka The Elephant Man. The selling point of Scott Ellis’ production of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 is most definitely three time Academy Award acting nominee (seriously, how did that happen?!) Bradley Cooper and in the grand tradition of things that Oscar likes, he’s feigning a disability in what I found to be a somewhat disturbing performance.

The script determines that no make-up or prosthetic should be used, that Merrick’s deformity should be portrayed only through physicality, and whilst that offers up a veritable challenge to any actor wishing to take on the role, it also throws up big questions that this production comes frustratingly close to interrogating in an interesting way. Putting so fêted and objectified an actor on stage and having society’s reactions in the play range from outright horror to morbid fascination feels like the beginnings of an interesting commentary on today’s obsession with celebrity – indeed, were I directing it I’d’ve had Cooper play no disability at all, to really highlight how we respond to those who are ‘different’. Continue reading “Review: The Elephant Man, Booth Theatre”