Devised script - For the Freaks

Thu 28 Feb 2019

Moat Community College students explored the life of Joseph Merrick, commonly known as ‘The Elephant Man’. Joseph was born in Leicester and Moat Community College is based on the site of his former workhouse.

As part of the project, students devised a script looking at the life of Joseph Merrick, relating his experiences of being treated differently to school-life and showing what we can learn from prejudices.




Teacher – Aminah
Student 1 – Kamal
Student 2 – Salaha
Student 3 – Umama
Student 4 – Safah
Student 5 – Sara
Student 6 – Amirah
Student 7 – Hafsa
Workhouse Manager – Salaha
Sam Torr – Hafsa
Joseph Merrick – Abdul


Scene 1 – The Classroom

(Lights down with just the projection screen on Slide 1)

Teacher is on stage facing with their back to the audience

Teacher: “Ok class, come on in.”

(Lights up – warm wash)

Students enter with their chairs and place them in two rows of pairs facing the teacher. Student 2 enters later than the rest.

Student 1: “Oh look who it is, spotty face. Were you too busy picking your face in the toilets?!” (Friends around him laugh)

Teacher: “Excuse me! That’s quite enough! Thank you, settle down please. So today we’re going to be learning about the Victorian Era.”

Students all groan

Teacher: “Oh it’s not that boring! Actually we’re going to be learning about Joseph Merrick, also known as ‘The Elephant Man’.

Student 3: “Ooh, ooh, Sir! Isn’t that building outside named after him or something?”

Teacher: “Yes that’s right, the Merrick Unit. So Joseph actually grew up right here in Leicester and lived around the Russell Square area where he used to sell things on the streets.”

(Projection screen changes to Slide 2)

Teacher: “This area now looks like this (turns to face projection screen).”

(Projection screen changes to Slide 3)

Student 4: “Sir, I know where that is! My house is near there!

(Lights dim into a pool around the classroom and turn colder. Projection screen changes to Slide 4)

Student 4: “Sir…?”

Teacher: (turns around to face the class) “Excuse me, you know the rules. Stand up if you would like to address an adult, child!”

Student 4: (stands up) “Sorry sir, yes sir.”

Teacher: “Next time, it will be the cane. Now sit down and keep quiet.”

(Projection screen changes to Slide 5)

“When Joseph was 11 years old, his mother died in a small house on this street called, Cranbourne Street. Now get out your chalk boards and write these facts down. Quickly!”

Student 3: “Chalkboards? Why is everyone writing with chalk?”

Student 1: “Yo this is dumb. Why is it so dusty in here all of a sudden?”

Teacher: “How many times do I have to tell you? Children should be seen, not heard! Now one more word out of you two and I’ll send you straight to the head teacher!”

Students all gasp

Student 5: “But Sir, that’s not fair!” (other students tell him to shush)

Teacher: “Life is not fair child. You’re lucky you’re here and not on the street or in the workhouse. Now where is that cane…?” (searches for cane)

Student 6: “Sir, what’s a workhouse?”

Teacher: “That’s it, I’ve had enough of you disobedient children. Go to the Headmaster’s office immediately!”

(Students get up and exit stage right. Teacher exits stage left.)

(Lights change to a yellowy, dim wash across the stage and projection screen shows Slide 6 image of a workhouse.)

(Everyone rearranges the chairs into two rows of chairs forming an aisle down centre stage. All students sit on the floor and repeat crushing bone action)


Scene 2 – The Workhouse

Student 1: “Ugh it stinks in here!”

Student 6: “What is going on?”

Manager: (enter stage right and exit stage left) “Come on, chop chop, these bones all need crushing by the end of the day!”

Student 3: “Eww what? Bones?!”

Teacher (voiceover off stage): “Workhouses were where poor people who had no job or home lived. They earned their keep by doing jobs in the workhouse. Also in the workhouses were orphaned and abandoned children, the physically and mentally sick, the elderly and the disabled.”

Student 5: “Look at that boy over there…” (points to Joseph Merrick)

Manager: (Enters stage left to Joseph Merrick) “Number 241, crush those bones quicker! What’s wrong with you lad?”

Joseph: “Sir, my hand, I can’t use my right hand.”

Manager: “Oh dear God have mercy on your soul. Get crushing quicker with the left one then!” (Manager leaves stage right)

Student 6: “Man, this place is weird.”

Student 3: (bends down to Joseph) “Are you okay? What’s your name?”

Joseph: “I’m fine. It’s just one side of my body has some problems… My name’s Joseph Merrick, nice to meet you.” (holds out right hand to shake but realises that it’s dirty/deformed and pulls it back)

Student 1: “Do you have to crush bones all day?”

Joseph: “People get different jobs. Some pick ropes, some work in the kitchen. At least we have a roof over our head and a place to sleep. But I might try to leave here soon.”

Student 5: “Where would you go?”

Joseph: “There’s a Music Hall on Wharf Street. I’ve heard they might exhibit freaks like me there.”

Student 6: “Freaks?”

(Sudden change with all chairs in a large circle and every one stands on the outside with the chairs facing in around the group, including Joseph Merrick who puts on a cloak.)

(Lights change to blue wash in a pool around the circle of 15 chairs and projection switches to Slide 7)

Scene 3 – The Freak Show

(Enter stage left) Sam Torr: “ROLL UP! ROLL UP! Welcome to the Gaiety Palace of Varieties! Leicester’s mesmerising show of weird and wonderful creatures. You won’t believe your eyes! Come in and experience the unimaginable! COME ON IN! (turns to them) You kids want to have a look?”

Student 3: (to the group) “What do you think is inside?”

Student 1: “As long as there’s no bones anymore, I’m fine. Let’s go!”

Student 5: (to Sam Torr) “How much is it?”

Sam Torr: “I’ll let you in for a sneak peek for free, but as long as you come back with your folks next time!”

Student 6: “Yeah, I’m not sure my Mum would like this place.”

Student 5: “Come on let’s just see what all the fuss is about.”

Sam Torr: “OK prepare to be amazed!”

(They enter the circle and Sam Torr exits stage right and everyone assumes a ‘freak’ pose.)

(Lights change to a red and yellow pool around the chairs and projection screen changes to Slide 8)

Teacher (off stage voiceover): “In 1884, Joseph decided to try to profit from his deformities and escape life in the workhouse. He contacted Sam Torr, the proprietor of a Leicester music hall called the Gaiety Palace of Varieties, and they devised a plan to secure him a spot in a human oddities show. Merrick was soon exhibited as “The Elephant Man, Half-Man, Half-Elephant” to great success in Leicester and Nottingham.

Student 3: “Wait, did he say Joseph Merrick?”

Student 6: “Yo check this guy out! He can bend over backwards!”

Student 1: “Ugh this lady’s got a beard!”

Bearded lady: “It takes a lot of maintenance, you know!”

Student 6: “This guy is pierced all over!”

Student 5: “I think I’ve found Joseph!”

(Projection screen changes to Slide 9)

Student 3:  (reading sign) The Elephant Man – “Half-a-Man and Half-an-Elephant”

Student 5: “Joseph, what are you doing here? People will just make fun of you!”

Joseph: “I’ve dealt with it my whole life. The taunts, the stares, the shock, the disgust, you name it. But at least this way, I’m making a living and not living in shame.”

Student 1: “But weirdos are always weirdos, you can’t change that. People don’t really care about people that look dodgy like you.”

(Others try to hush Student 1 for being insensitive)

Student 1: “What?! Sorry…”

Joseph: “You never know, at least we have a place to exist. Maybe eventually people will see us for who we really are.”

Student 6: “What do you mean?”

(Joseph enters the circle)

(Lights change to a golden spotlight on Joseph and Projection Screen changes to Slide 10)

Joseph: “Tis true my form is something odd.

But blaming me is blaming God;

Could I create myself anew,

I would not fail in pleasing you.

If I could reach from pole to pole,

Or grasp the ocean with a span,

I would be measured by the soul,

The mind’s the standard of the man.”

(Lights black out)

(All students exit stage right. Chairs rearranged to class room set up.)


Scene 4 – Back to Now

(Lights in a warm wash across the whole stage. Projection screen on Slide 11)  

Teacher: “And we can still see part of the gates of the original Work House at the far end of the school field facing Sparkenhoe Street to this day!”

(Group of students enter disorientated)

Teacher: “Well well, where have you four been?!”

Student 3: “Sir… we…”

Teacher: “Never mind, we only have a few more minutes left so catch up with what you can. Hurry up and sit down.”

Student 7: (puts hand up) Sir! So what happened to Joseph Merrick when he left Leicester?

(Projector changes to Slide 12)

Teacher: “Well, he went on to exhibit himself in London and became quite successful. Enough to live in a small apartment and eventually settled in the London Hospital where he was looked after until he died in 1890.”

Student 4: “Sir, how old was he when he died?”

Teacher: “27 years old.”

Student 2: (shyly) “Sir, was he always known as a ‘freak’ then?”

Student 8: “What you mean a freak like you?” (starts to laugh with friends)

Student 1: “Hey, relax. There’s no need to say stuff like that to people.”

Student 8: “What?”

Student 6: “Yeah, just because people look different or they have some problems, doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve respect.”

Teacher: “Ok let’s calm down, thank you. (turns to Student 2) Now to respond to your question, class, do you think Joseph was a ‘freak’?”

Student 3: “Sir, I think at that time people didn’t really know how to react to things out of the ordinary and it seems like there was a lot of struggle and strife in society. Plus, it’s not like they had iPhones and YouTube back then anyways so they had different forms of ‘entertainment’. I guess Joseph used what he had to make a living.”

Student 5: “Yeah Sir, if he was treated fairly and could make some money then maybe he was proud of the way he was… even if he suffered a lot.”

Teacher: “Excellent!

(Bell Sound Effect rings)

Right, don’t forget to do your homework and I’ll be testing your knowledge next time. Class dismissed.”

(Students pack up and exit stage right)

(Lights dim slowly and Joseph’s image is left on the screen)