Avast there. What, pray, is this: Julee Cruise plays as we enter the room and take in the bare, tastefully-lit stage. Where is HE? TWONKEY should be fiddling with and setting an array of props, muttering comfortingly to himself (and us) as we take our seats. Where is he, what’s he found to do that could possibly be more important than the famed bumbling pre-show preparations?
Gently reeling from this initial shock it becomes clear there are (I trust you’re sitting down) other actors too (Miranda Shrapnell, Steven Vickers, Robert Atler) and, it transpires, they play real life people involved in the making of The Elephant Man in 1980. Mel Brooks, Anthony Hopkins, Sir John Gielgud, John Hurt, Dorothy Doughnut (Dunnett?) all feature and – lord preserve us – there is a visible structure to the show. So, no Chris Hutchison, Mr Pines or Lillian Gish, less tangents, less chaos but hey-ho, the best artists are always trying something different.
For what ‘broke’ David Lynch, read ‘made’. This is about the much-Oscar-nominated (though much-not-won) film that, in Lynch’s own words ‘put me on the map’. In Twonkey-lite fashion, we witness the struggle Lynch had to realise his ideas for the film under pressure from an increasingly impatient producer (Mel Brooks, who knew?). In a foggy, autumnal London Lynch becomes obsessed with the Elephant Man’s costume (that reportedly took seven hours to ‘apply’ to John Hurt each day) seeking to process his plans with the aid (or interference) of Dorothy Doughnut/Dunnett, seeking refuge in a basement… but only after a strange trip to Southend where they encountered the Roast Beef Spider, who tried to tell them something by writing backwards with legs that unfortunately – like your primary school HB – kept breaking. There were birds (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it High Anxiety reference), a trippy flying sequence, not to mention a couple of splendid comic turns between Hopkins and Gielgud.
One of Lynch’s speeches concerned how mistakes can yield unexpected artistic results. The Elephant Man was one of Lynch’s most conventional films, and this was one of Twonkey’s most conventional shows and was unexpected. One felt a little wrong-footed but you’d still pitch up next year to see what he comes up with. Following Eraserhead David Lynch was supposed to be making Ronnie Rocket in the late 70’s but made The Elephant Man instead. Would we have had Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart and Twin Peaks without? More importantly, would we have had ‘What Broke David Lynch?’ at this year’s Fringe?
Running until August 27th (9pm) at Greenside@Nicholson Square (Fern Studio)
Reviewer: Roger Jacobs
Reviewed: 17th August 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★