Gaslight Theatre, Cambridge

25/09/2014 - 28/09/2014

Playhouse, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton

03/09/2014 - 06/09/2014

Production Details

Greetings theatre lovers! During the cold winter evenings Carving in Ice Theatre has been quietly working away on our latest project… This Spring we’re bringing you an enthralling and luminous play – The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance, directed by Gaye Poole, is coming to the Playhouse, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton 3-6 September, then a few weeks later we’ll be at Gaslight Theatre in Cambridge 25-28 September.

This award-winning play offers an intense look at John Merrick (Richard Homan), a physically deformed Londoner of the late 1880s. It is now believed he suffered from Proteus Syndrome. Intense and sensitive, Merrick strives to be normal, even as he is viewed as a carnival freak and later a scientific celebrity by London’s socialites. This deeply poignant story raises questions about charity, science, faith and with particular resonance to our own time, asks us to consider societal responsibility – what does it mean for citizens to be responsible for one another?

The Elephant Man won the Drama Desk Award, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Play in 1979. This play pre-dates David Lynch’s film of the same name.

“The Elephant Man is a moving drama…it nests in the human heart.” – Time Magazine

“There’s a quality about freaks. Most people going through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.” – Diane Arbus.

Where & When: 

Playhouse Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton
Wed 3rd, Thur 4th, Fri 5th, Sat 6th September at 7:30pm 

Gaslight Theatre Alpha Street, Cambridge
Thur 25th, Fri 26th, Sat 27th at 7:30pm and Sun 28th September at 2pm

Playhouse tickets available through
Gaslight tickets available through

Tickets: Adult $25 | Concession/Groups $22 | Student $15
Booking fees apply

Brutality and beauty revealed

Review by Viv Posselt 26th Sep 2014

Carving in Ice’s production of this award-winning play about the tortured life of John Merrick is poignant yet confrontational in its depiction of the complexity that is the human condition. 

The story is based on the tragic life of John Merrick, an extraordinarily deformed man who shifts from the cruel clutches of the world of freak shows to become an object of scientific fascination for the medical fraternity and social hierarchy. 

Events unfold in Victorian London, an environment centred on questionable moral judgements in which the response to almost every question asked is ‘‘that’s just the way things are’’. Merrick’s unexpected intelligence and rare insight result in his carers questioning their own views on life, each finding a way to claim some of his characteristics for themselves.

In this production, director Gaye Poole works with a stripped-back set to reveal the story’s brutality and beauty – all to the sometimes jarring, sometimes exquisite accompaniment of a live solo cellist.

Richard Homan delivers a wonderful performance as the twisted, sensitive John Merrick. Brendan West is the perfect foil as Frederick Treves, the London surgeon who cares for him, and who – at Merrick’s hand – discovers that his perfect life is not so perfect after all.

Performances by those playing the Victorian authoritarian figures and socialites speak volumes about the era and go some way to demonstrating how not all of Merrick’s challenges were linked to his appearance. 

Despite some punters declaring the play to be a tad too long, you could have heard a pin drop through most of it.


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A caring and careful production

Review by Gail Pittaway 04th Sep 2014

The true and extraordinary story of John Merrick, ‘the Elephant Man’, has had several treatments, most famously as a film by David Lynch in 1980. But this play by Bernard Pomerance precedes the film and is a less sensationalist, more reflective but equally salutatory examination of what it means to be human. 

According to the programme note in this Carving in Ice production, directed by Gaye Poole, Pomerance’s script specifies that Merrick’s actor should not employ prosthetics or makeup to enact the role of a man who from infancy developed cauliflower-like growths over his head and torso. However the audience is left in no doubt about the severity of the condition early in Act 1 when Merrick is examined by a young surgeon, Frederick Treves, who comes upon him in a fairground as a freak side show and goes on to deliver a lecture to fellow surgeons, with magic lantern slide show illustrations of the afflicted man.

Rescued by Treves from Ross, his fairground ‘partner’ who had in turn rescued him from the Workhouse where he’d lived since childhood, Merrick is supported by public donations and offered a lifetime billet at the London Hospital where Treves practices, and gradually rehabilitated. But after his fame has spread and he acquires new friends in high places – even royalty and celebrities – he is challenged by the now impoverished showman, Ross, as to how much his position has changed when, despite the physical improvements, he is still, effectively, a freak.

Merrick is brought utterly to life by Richard Homan in a sustained physical challenge of contortion of back, limbs and face, but with the intelligence, curiosity and sweetness of the man shining through. It’s a magnificent performance.

Brendan West is equally credible as Frederick Treves and although a little low-key at first, the character grows convincingly with a real understanding of the dilemma Treves finds himself in, bound by a too rigid world view for the imagination of the creature he has helped to set free. It’s a brilliant partnership.

Another splendid performance is by Mandy Faulkner as the actress Mrs Kendal, who offers compassion, companionship and a frankness to match Merrick’s genuine curiosity.

The rest of the cast take on several roles – Tendai Sithole and Alice Kennedy give a splash of colour and weird animation as pinhead Belgian princesses then don the garb of real aristocracy in a nice directorial cross over; Simon Howie’s solemn Bishop tends to pop up a little too much in the character of his other part, the showman Ross; and Clive Lamdin seems a little too cautious for the leadership roles of conductor and Carr Gomm of the London Hospital. But Will Collin and Philip Garrity take on several cameos with crisp energy.

The whole production, with simple set and split stage, is subdued and well lit, and a solo cello played beautifully on opening night by Josh Helm adds a lyrical, sometimes driving commentary to this caring and careful production.


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