New production of The Elephant Man starring Jamie Beddard reclaims the play for our time1 Jun 2018
Disabled actor Jamie Beddard is to play Joseph Merrick in a bold, new production of Bernard Pomerance’s moving play, highlighting views of disability and difference, in past times and in the present day.
Joseph Merrick is ‘The Elephant Man’ – the wretched spectacle of a traveling freak show who is mercilessly put on display to the horrified delight of Victorian audiences. A London surgeon also takes a keen interest, but is faced with a moral dilemma – to help Merrick or to use him to advance his scientific career?
This year, as the theatre industry begins to reflect the diversity of the world we live in, the Bristol Old Vic/Bristol Old Vic Theatre School annual production has become a three-way collaboration with Bristol Old Vic’s new Associate Company, Diverse City. Together they are creating a new, professionally integrated production with actor and Diverse City’s co-artistic director Jamie Beddard and the Theatre School’s graduating class of 2018.
Speaking today, Jamie said: “This is a really exciting opportunity to be working with drama school graduates and hopefully, by working with someone like me, it will normalise inclusion and exciting approaches to casting. Merrick is also a really iconic part for a disabled performer. In the past, the role of Joseph Merrick has been performed by non-disabled actors, which is really bizarre. It’s time to reclaim The Elephant Man.”
Jamie Beddard was most recently seen on Bristol Old Vic’s stage (and consequently across 300 cinemas worldwide) playing The Beloved in Handel’sMessiah. Jamie’s acting career began with the BBC film Skallagrigg and since then he has taken the arts world by storm. He has previously performed in the National Theatre’s The Threepenny Opera, directed by Rufus Norris, and he has also appeared in the West End production Carrie’s War and the BBC series All The King’s Men.
Director Lee Lyford says: “This is a play I have wanted to do for some time. In many ways the world has become less tolerant and accepting, and The Elephant Man is about how we dehumanise people that are not like ‘us’ (whatever that means). It also felt essential in this day and age that this disabled character should be played by a disabled actor - it's about seeing opportunities for representation and taking them.We’re not equating Jamie with Merrick but we are exploring what is at the heart of the play and the character, and Jamie has both the skills and life experience to do this. We're extremely lucky to have him leading the company.”
Bristol Old Vic, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and Diverse City collaboration The Elephant Man has confirmed that it will increase audience access during the two-week run. The show will include integrated captioning at every performance, audio description and touch tours, integrated BSL interpretation, and, in a first for Bristol Old Vic, relaxed performances for all (14+ yrs), not just for families. Bristol Old Vic is also trialling more user-friendly wheelchair positions in the Georgian auditorium with a view to including them permanently in the future.
Jamie Beddard as Joseph Merrick is joined by a cast of theatre school graduatesStephanie Booth (Countess), Micky Dartford (Ross), Max Dinnen (Bishop Walsham How), Gerald Gyimah (Carr Gomm), Grainne O’ Mahony (Mrs Kendal),Madeleine Schofield (Duchess), Charlie Suff (Snork), Liyah Summers (Princess Alexandra) and Alex Wilson (Frederick Treves).
Director Lee Lyford is joined by a creative team comprising professionals and graduating students including set designer Caitlin Abbott, costume designer Stavri Papa, lighting designer and AV consultant Ziggy Jacobs-Wyburn, AV/captioning designer Emily Leonard and composer/sound designer/musical director Adrienne Quartly.
The Elephant Man is part of Bristol Old Vic’s Year of Change, examining change through a series of ground-breaking theatre productions and provocative city-wide events.