Music by Danny Davies Lyrics by Judy Wolfson Book by Pete Gallagher
“Face to Face” was previously showcased under the title “Merrick”
Face to Face is the story of Mr. Frederick Treves, an eminent surgeon at the London Hospital in the late nineteenth century.
It is also the story of a Victorian society so corrupt, so hypocritical and duplicitous in its attitudes that it often seemed as though the lunatics had taken over the asylum. Attitudes towards ‘outsiders’ – foreigners (black or white), homosexuals, even women – were bad enough, but those labelled ‘different’ never stood a chance. In every town and city, someone would pay a penny to stand and laugh at a ‘freak’.
In 1862, in the midst of all this, a child by the name of Joseph Merrick was born. After only a few years, he began to show the formations on his physical being that would label him forever more ‘The Elephant Man.’ His parents endeavoured to bring him up as normally as possible in the circumstances but at 17, with his beloved mother dead and his father less patient, he left home to live in the Workhouse, where he was spotted by Harper, a rogue with an eye for a deal. Harper sells him to a travelling fair and it is while he is being exhibited in London that Treves sees him and is immediately taken by his plight.
Treves not only realises that this poor man is in need of a little kindness, but also that the medical profession should be studying rare diseases of all sorts, and so (after much negotiating and fighting) he convinces the hospital to take Merrick in, breaking their hitherto policy of not accepting incurables. Merrick flourishes under his newfound security and finds acceptance among the hospital’s upper-class benefactors. In discovering the theatre, the countryside and his own artistic tendencies, Merrick excels.
The bond between Treves and Merrick is remarkable, with Merrick agreeing to be studied and photographed for posterity while being introduced to stars of stage, screen and even royalty. Against all advice, Treves advertises in The Times, and they raise enough money to create permanent lodging and a nurse for Merrick, with enough left over for a trust fund.
However, a rogue is always a rogue, and Millie (Merrick’s nurse) is dating Harper, who has seen Merrick’s newfound celebrity and wants his share – after all, he ‘discovered’ him! Harper will stop at nothing in the pursuit of wealth, until eventually it becomes a straight choice between his financial plan and Millie - his only love, although he hasn’t even admitted that to himself yet.
The show is seen through the eyes of Frederick Treves, who is lecturing still, many years after the death of Merrick. Treves - a career man, a determined man and a family man, became the man who perhaps did not ‘discover’ Merrick, but saw through the hideous shell and identified the soul. In doing so, many believe he discovered his own.
In writing this show, we have purposefully avoided the many clichés and pitfalls that are open to us and the storyline. We have worked hard to avoid it being just another Elephant Man story, as the focus and driving force of the story is how Treves met him, how both their lives were changed for ever and how the message of tolerance continues.
Therefore, as examples, the song Welcome to the Freak Show is about Victorian double-standards and not a circus, and the song Face to Face is compassion taking on the establishment, not ‘acceptable’ versus ‘disfigured’.
In the show, the character of Merrick does not speak, he only sings, and so we only ever hear purity – the voice of the soul - not the impeded voice we are all familiar with. Also, he is not presented in all his disfigurement using prosthetics; rather the skill of the actor should be utilised along with a few separate points in the script when a shadow or silhouette can present us with a startlingly different image and remind us why people reacted so violently.