To say the family in Lee Hall’s 1999 play Cooking With Elvis is dysfunctional would be quite an understatement. Dad is a 40 something surveyor turned full-time Elvis impersonator who two years earlier had been involved in a serious car crash which turned him into a quadriplegic unable to function without constant care and consigned to a wheelchair – the rest of the family describe him as a “cabbage”. Mam is a bulimic 41-year-old teacher who whilst still loving Dad, craves sex like an alcoholic craves their next drink and to achieve those ends, is out every night on the pull. Daughter Jill is a sensitive 15-year-old studying cooking at school and who Mam continually goads about her weight making her poor downtrodden daughter body dysmorphic. Then into this febrile atmosphere enters Stu, the 25-year-old, not very bright, bakery worker who Mam has picked-up in a bar and has brought home for a night of passion.
Stu eventually moves in permanently and becomes the catalyst the drives the plot along, fulfilling the sexual needs of both Mam and Jill as the two women trade insults regarding their respective weights and body shapes which leads to Mam and Jill being pitted against one another in a battle over their shared lover, whilst Dad sits silently in his wheelchair in another part of the house unable to intervene.
However, that’s not to say James Laing who plays Dad is silent for the whole evening as every so often he rises from his rickety old wheelchair dressed in full late Elvis costume including a dreadful wig, and in some surreal fantasy moments, sings a song to illuminate the plot and tells a story about Elvis and his love of food which is the thread that runs throughout the the play.
In the end, Stu who having sexually satisfied Mam and Gill, turns his attention to Dad in an out of context masturbation scene! There are shades of Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane that permeate the plot but unfortunately Lee Hall’s dialogue doesn’t have anything like the pithy lines and sense of menace that Orton’s masterpiece has. In the end Stu gets his comeuppance for the havoc he’s caused – remember this is a play about cooking and eating – he’s not called Stu for nothing!
This is an AmDram production from the highly renowned Tower Theatre Company and the four actors are all excellent with Sue Brodie as sex-crazed Mam and Brad Johnson as the manipulative Stu. However special praise must go to Olivia Baker as Jill who brings an edgy stillness to her part and also gets most of the laughs as she introduces each of the 20 plus scenes with a snappy one-liner. The set is fairly basic with most of the action taking place in the kitchen although we move to the bedroom when Jill seduces Stu. The fact that Stu is dressed as Elvis gives the funniest scene in the play, Oedipal overtones.
Lee Hall wrote Billy Elliot just a short time after writing Cooking With Elvis but unfortunately the latter has very little of the wit and pathos of the former. He seems to be trying to make a point about the human condition and that most of our lives are fairly tragic – if that is the case, then it disappoints.
Review by Alan Fitter
The Tower Theatre Company Presents
Cooking with Elvis
By Lee Hall
Directed by Emilia Teglia
Evenings at 7.30pm
Tuesday 23rd Feb – Saturday 27th Feb
Matinée at 3.00pm Saturday 27th Feb
The Tower Theatre Company performing at Theatro Technis, Camden
Two years after an Elvis Presley impersonator is left quadriplegic by a car accident, his wife and daughter learn to cope with the aftermath of the situation. The food-fixated teenager uses her culinary ‘skills’ to find meaning in the new family dynamics. Constant squabbles with her anorexic mother reach new heights as they fight over mum’s promiscuous lifestyle. Meanwhile, a new lover enters the picture, threatening to pull the family even further apart.