The Elephant Man | Meet Alex

4 Jul 2018

The Elephant Man has officially opened and to celebrate we've been getting to know the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School students. Here, Alex Wilson talks us through his experience of working on Bernard Pomerance's award-winning play

Where are you from and how did you get into acting?

I’m from Chessington in south west London. It has a theme-park and precious little else. I did a few musicals at school including an extremely formative trip to the Ed Fringe with a production of Sweeney Todd but, while I really enjoyed myself, it was never my dream to become an actor. Three years at University in York changed all that much to my parents’ despair. The uni had such a vibrant theatre scene that I just kind of got sucked in and by the time I left there wasn’t really anything else I wanted to do. I spent a couple of years kicking around the London fringe scene before moving into training.

Who are you playing in The Elephant Man and what challenges have you faced in that role?

I’m playing Frederick Treves, the surgeon who chances upon Joseph Merrick at a shop-front freak show and alters the course of his life. I think it’s most challenging to hold the dichotomy of ‘A Good Person’ and ‘Part of the Problem’ in my head at all times. Our 2018 sensitivities sometimes ask that an edge be softened or a problematic view subverted when we re-approach plays of this kind, but I’m discovering more and more that to be at its most effective, you have to present a character with all that stripped away. I’m very fond of Freddie, but to soften him into a hero would, ultimately, destroy the soul of the play. It’s a fine line which I’m absolutely loving treading. One thing that just hasn’t been a challenge is working with the amazing director and cast and, particularly, the wonderful Jamie Beddard. The man is so funny we spend most of our time laughing. We’ll rehearse the play eventually.

What research did you do whilst preparing for your role?

There’s a terrific book which quite a few of us read in preparation, ‘The True History of The Elephant Man’ by Michael Howell and Peter Ford which is a fun dash through most of the ‘truth’, myths and misconceptions surrounding Joseph Merrick. Really though, Treves’ own papers were the most useful. He only really wrote about Merrick as a ‘person’ as opposed to a medical specimen towards the end of his life when he had gone on to huge success attending to kings and nobility. It’s been rewarding to chart the humanity that seeped out of him a bit more towards the end of his life; the loss of certainty. It’s that which Pomerance picked up on and built into the fabric of the play. Obviously, you eventually have to chuck all the research away but the historian in me really enjoyed the ride.

What’s your favourite thing about training at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School? 

It’s one of the best schools in the world to train as an actor, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. You feel that everyone who comes out of Downside Road is just a better, more skilful, tenfold more confident version of the person who walked in. No one is interested in ‘breaking’ you or transforming you into the ‘BOVTS Actor’. The school trains you as an ensemble, the ego that is sometimes present in other schools doesn’t really seem to exist. Coupled with that is a hunger for change and renewal in an industry which has huge steps to take in order to be considered properly diverse. It has been the greatest pleasure of my training to see ideas about diversity turn into more tangible results at the school and I’m certain it will continue with the same vigour.

Are you excited to perform on the Bristol Old Vic stage?

I mean, it is one of the iconic British stages, isn’t it? The auditorium is like something out of a dream. I sampled it in the 24 hour Plays last year but now I’ve had a taste, I can’t wait for the full bite.

The Elephant Man continues until 7 Jul. Book your tickets here