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Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis at Park Theatre | Review

Martha, Josie and the Chinese ElvisHow wonderful to be able to go and see a play where one can sit back, relax and really ENJOY it! This play does exactly what it promises: it entertains, firstly because it is beautifully written and constructed: no scene is a moment too long; secondly because we quickly empathise with all the characters, even if they are larger than life; and thirdly because it is not only extremely funny, it also has moments of real pathos, especially in the second act. Yet, in spite of winning a ‘best play’ award for its author, Charlotte Jones, who more recently penned Humble Boy, it has never been professionally staged in London: until now!

Josie (Kellie Batchelor) is tired. Tired of the Bolton winter of 1998, tired of being a Dominatrix. Too tired to celebrate her fortieth birthday. She has a daughter, Brenda-Marie who has slight learning difficulties, enthusiastically played by Charlie Bence, spending much of her time living in a wigwam in the garden.

Josie’s Irish cleaner, Martha, totally lacking in self-confidence, is hilariously portrayed by Sioned Jones, who has a very expressive face and is able to make the most of her dialogue.

Lionel (Andrew P Stephen) looks just like the owner of a dry-cleaning establishment, and makes the most of his bald head! Jessica Forrest has superb physical energy and demonstrates the art of comic timing in the role of Louise, about whom I will say no more as it would spoil the plot, and Matt Lim (Timothy) is suitably nervous in his role of the Chinese (in fact Vietnamese) Elvis. The fact that he only knows a few of Elvis’ songs, and bears little physical resemblance to him, until Act Two, matters not one jot: as with all the rest of the cast he is totally in role and appreciates the style of the play.

Much of the success of this production is due to the imaginative direction of Robert Wolstenholme, who speeds this two hour play on its merry way with a lightness of touch that is all too often not apparent in comedy these days.

The simple, yet highly attractive yellow and orange set (Amy Mitchell) not only looks good but also is easy to use, aided by imaginative lighting (Nat Green) that brings out the few more serious moments.

In short, a highly enjoyable evening and great seasonal entertainment, if mainly for an adult audience! It was a shame that the budget would not run to even a simple programme: this production deserves more than just a free cast list!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Josie’s tired. Tired of the Bolton winter. Tired of looking after daydreaming daughter Brenda-Marie. Tired of working as a dominatrix to make ends meet. Too tired to celebrate turning forty.

But her favourite client Lionel insists on a birthday party and, knowing Josie’s a huge Elvis fan, invites a very special guest. Just as hips start swinging, somebody no-one expected arrives and skeletons come tumbling out of the closet…

Writer of Humble Boy (National Theatre) Charlotte Jones’ hilarious and heartfelt comedy about finding a place to fit in won the 1998 Pearson Best Play Award and, on its twenty-first anniversary, receives its first ever London production, from comedy specialists Signal Theatre Company.

Quirky and kinky, and with a rocking Elvis soundtrack*, this sweet yet saucy celebration of life’s outsiders is the perfect ‘adults only’ alternative Christmas treat. (*NB: is NOT a musical!)

The production stars Sioned Jones, Charlie Bence, Kellie Batchelor, Andrew P Stephen, Matt Lim and Jessica Forrest.

Signal Theatre Company in association with Park Theatre present
Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis
By Charlotte Jones
Directed by Robert Wolstenholme

Plays: 13 Dec – 4 Jan 2020


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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