Promo: The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man



Writer – Tom Wright

Director – Stephen Bailey

Set & Costume Designer – Simon Kenny

Lighting Designer – Jai Morjaria

Composer & Sound Designer – Nicola T. Chang

Movement Director – Cathy Waller

Casting Director – Christopher Worrall

A bold re-telling of the Elephant Man story – the man, not the specimen …

Nottingham Playhouse today announces the cast and creative team for their exciting autumn season headline production, The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man.

This European premiere of Australian playwright Tom Wright’s acclaimed play is a fresh new telling of the story of Joseph Merrick. Told from Merrick’s perspective, it portrays a man set apart from others, trying to find his place and voice in a society that values conformity. Arriving from his East Midlands beginnings and thrust into a London thick with the grime of industrialisation, he is an anomaly in a harsh and unforgiving world.

Powerful, angry and surprising, The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man examines capitalism, industrialisation, disability and difference. Finally putting Joseph at the centre of his own story, it rejects the myth of his powerlessness, often portrayed in previous interpretations and transforms him into an agent of his own worth.

Stephen Bailey, Director, said: “With pulsating live music and stunning visuals, we’re staging this epic fable centering Joseph in his own story for the first time.”

This radical re-imagining, described as a ‘theatre-poem’, will be directed by Stephen Bailey, winner of the Royal Theatrical Support Trust (RTST) Sir Peter Hall Directing Award 2022, in his first mainstage production and is supported with a grant from the Royal Theatrical Support Trust. With stylish and graphic set and costume design by Simon Kenny (Assassins – Nottingham Playhouse, Noughts & Crosses – Pilot Theatre, UK Tour), powerful lighting design by Jai Morjaria (Othello – National Theatre, Wuthering Heights – National Theatre/UK Tour) and striking music and sound by Composer and Sound Designer Nicola T. Chang (My Neighbour Totoro – RSC/Barbican, Top Girls – Liverpool Everyman).

The cast is composed of all disabled, deaf and/or neurodivergent actors, and leading them as Joseph Merrick is Zak Ford-Williams (A Christmas Carol; A Ghost Story – Nottingham Playhouse, Better – BBC1), with Annabelle Davis (Hollyoaks – Channel 4, The Dumping Ground – CBBC), Daneka Etchells (Titus Andronicus – Shakespeare’s Globe, Much Ado About Nothing – Sheffield Crucible/Ramps on the Moon UK tour), Killian Thomas Lefevre (Bat Out of Hell – UK & International Tour, Thomas and the Magic Railway 20th Anniversary), Nadia Nadarajah (Maryland – Royal Court Theatre, Hamlet & As You Like It – Shakespeare’s Globe), and Tim Pritchett (Missing Julie – Theatre Clwyd, Our Country’s Good – Nottingham Playhouse/Ramps on the Moon, UK Tour).

Stephen Bailey commented: “Tom Wright has written a bold, inspired restyling of Joseph’s unique life that sees him not as a medical specimen but a man. The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man uses beautiful, poetic text to ask probing questions about work, industrialisation and the value of life.

“It’s not about inspiration or pity: it’s about the reality of how we look at those who are the other. In the current cost of living crisis, it asks if seeing humans solely as workers is compatible with transformed bodies and long-term health conditions. I’m thrilled to be given the platform to tell this story, and to have Nottingham Playhouse backing an ambitious production featuring some of the UK’s finest disabled talent.”

Zak Ford-Williams said: “I cannot wait to return to Nottingham Playhouse and allow audiences into the incredible, haunting world of the play. I was transfixed by The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man from the moment I read it. Then as soon as I experienced Stephen’s vision, precision and warmth for the play I was desperate to be on board. It’s a challenge and a gift of a role.”

Following the opening of the play at Nottingham Playhouse in September, it will tour to Blackpool Grand Theatre, and Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.


Nottingham Playhouse

The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man

Writer – Tom Wright

Director – Stephen Bailey

Set & Costume Designer – Simon Kenny

Lighting Designer – Jai Morjaria

Composer & Sound Designer – Nicola T. Chang

Movement Director – Cathy Waller

Casting Director – Christopher Worrall

Voice and Dialect Coach – Key Welch

Audio Description Consultant – Samuel Brewer

BSL Consultant – Adam Bassett

Captioning Consultant – Cara Lawless

Nottingham Playhouse

Wellington Circus

Nottingham NG1 5AF

Sat 16 Sept to Sat 7 Oct

All performances are presented in a relaxed environment and all performances are captioned and audio described.

BSL Performance: Fri 6 Oct 7.30pm

Reduced capacity performance: Tue 3 Oct 7.30pm

Press night: Weds 20 Sept 7pm

Blackpool Grand Theatre

33 Church Street

Blackpool FY1 1HT

Tues 17 Oct to Sat 21 Oct

Belgrade Theatre

Belgrade Square

Coventry CV1 1GS

Tues 24 to Sat 28 Oct

Nottingham Playhouse is dedicated to making bold and thrilling theatre in the heart of Nottingham and was named Regional Theatre of the Year in The Stage Awards 2019. In 2021, both Chief Executive Stephanie Sirr and Artistic Director Adam Penford featured in The Stage’s 100 and Stephanie Sirr was awarded the MBE for Services to Theatre in 2022. 

In 2022, the theatre continued to build back from the pandemic with a series of critically acclaimed productions. So far this year, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, adapted by Nesrin Alrefaai and Matthew Spangler from the acclaimed novel by Christy Lefteri, played to packed houses and is now on an extended UK tour, and Village Idiot, a new play by Samson Hawkins co-produced with Theatre Royal Stratford East, and in conjunction with Ramps on the Moon, opened in March and toured to New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Future Nottingham Playhouse productions include a new, open-air version of Twelfth Night in July and the European premiere of Australian playwright Tom Wright’s The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man directed by winner of The RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award 2022, Stephen Bailey, in early Autumn. 2023 ends with the return of Mark Gatiss’ 2021 sell-out adaptation of A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story, which was screened in 500 cinemas across 12 territories and broadcast on BBC4, and the legendary Nottingham Playhouse panto which, this year, is Cinderella.

Nottingham Playhouse believes that theatre is for everyone. Its wide-ranging participation work takes place in every corner of the building and throughout Nottingham. Each year it creates over 58,000 engagements with people of all ages, abilities and interests, including many cost-free classes, and targeted work with those at risk of being isolated or marginalised. Its artist development programme, Amplify, supports and develops local theatre-makers. Now in its fifth year and boasting over 500 members, it offers a year-round programme of professional development opportunities to a network of artists, alongside employment opportunities.

For more information about Nottingham Playhouse visit 

Box Office Information:

Nottingham Playhouse

Box Office:  0115 941 9419

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