Adelaide Fringe Review: The Marvellous Elephant Man: The Musical is an absolute riot

As the crowd filled the smokey Wonderland Spiegeltent in the Wonderland Festival Hub, the excitement in the air was palpable. And it was no surprise, considering that The Marvellous Elephant Man: The Musical had been described as The Book Of Mormon meets Beauty and the Beast. Just how on Earth were they going to pull that one off?

Loosely based on the story of John Merrick, a deformed outcast who was found by a doctor in the late 1800s, The Marvellous Elephant Man: The Musical takes as many liberties with the story as is possible. The opening song introduces audiences to Dr. Frederick Treves (Kanen Breen), who is engaged to Annelise Hall‘s Nurse Hope. Interested only in himself and his own glory – even his upcoming nuptials feel more like a marriage of convenience – Treves sees his discovery of John/The Elephant Man (played by the classically trained Ben Clark) as little more than a meal ticket and a way to make money from sideshow tours.

But when Nurse Hope first meets John, her repulsion at his physical being gives way to something deeper, as they realise they have a shared love of philosophy. A love triangle begins, carrying along for the remainder of the performance, as jealousy and doubt battle against love and hope.

Directors Chris Mitchell and Guy Masterdon have put together a fast paced show that deliberately doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are plenty of anachronisms – one minute we are immersed in Victorian England and suddenly we’re presented with modern day responses – all adding to the delightful madness and confusion of the entire thing. It really is like The Wizard of Oz has been mixed with Oliver Twist and Monty Python.

Shorter than a traditional musical, at an hour forty-five, things were kept to a generally fast and funny pace throughout. A few sad songs, such as John bemoaning that he was a man, not an animal, gave the cast a chance to shine in other ways, but the show takes care to never get too maudlin. The characters are all larger than life; the villains are bad, the love story conveniently happily ending and the people along the way mostly well meaning.

The rest of the cast are clearly enjoying themselves, particularly Marc Lucchesi who has several roles including Ring Master, Mama Mamushka and the Merchant. In fact the rest of the ensemble have alternate roles to fill and all actors were talented singers and dancers. All actors sing to a backing band that is visible at the rear of the stage.

The costumes and set design by Robert Surace are first rate, and evoke the feeling of the period perfectly. Sound Designer Wayne Pashley and Lighting Designer Jason Bovaird have also made it feel larger than life.

Attending on opening night, an appreciative audience gave an almost full standing ovation, and it was a very happy crowd that streamed out from the tent. A feel good story that is just so crazy it works, this is sure to be one of the shows that is talked about long after Adelaide Fringe is over – you’ll kick yourself if you miss it.


The Marvellous Elephant Man: The Musical plays at the Wonderland Festival Hub – Hindmarsh Square until March 13

Tickets and more info can be found at the Adelaide Fringe website here.