Cooking with Elvis ****

Lee Hall’s Cooking with Elvis should have been a recipe for disaster.  The script is structured like a flimsy sitcom, the characters are mostly common stock and the humour is on par with adolescent shenanigans.

And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Sitting comfortably between farce and absurdity, Elvis follows a highly dysfunctional family.  Dad was a surveyor before becoming an Elvis impersonator but is now a quadriplegic at the mercy of his oversexed yet neglected drunk wife and over-protective and food-obsessed daughter.  One drunken night, Mum brings home Stuart, a manager at a bakery, for meaningless sex but soon invites him to move in, causing a sexual rift.  All of this is narrated by the daughter, with sprinkles of Elvis numbers and impersonations courtesy of Dad.

Sound mad?  That’s because it is.  And that’s its very charm: it will do almost anything for a laugh, and it finds ways of constantly topping a previous moment of bad taste, all peppered with clever word play and dialogue.

Andy Arnold does an excellent job in his direction, keeping the pace brisk and finding ways of punctuating much of the blue humour.  The multi-layered set allows for the action to flow, and the lighting highlights the constant shifts between ‘reality’ (if one can call it such), imagination and the down-right bizarre.

And it is well performed.  Gavin Mitchell has the hardest job of playing the Dad, being helpless in a wheelchair one minute and giving a show-stopping Elvis number the next.  His performance quickly won the approval of the audience, and he clearly revelled in it.  Equally effective are Martin Docherty, who shines in the highly-physical role of Stuart, and Deirdre Davis, who is a pure delight playing a character you should hate but actually love.  Jayd Johnson isn’t quite as successful as she has some vocal problems (between rushing and swallowing lines) but is still highly likeable and comes across well as daughter Jill.

It might be easy to pick something like this apart, cawing at its gross-out humour and lack of humanity.  But sometimes, effective humour has to have the courage to be base; and this production has no problem in doing whatever is necessary to get a laugh.  My mind may be able to pick it apart, but my heart was won over: Cooking with Elvis is a very funny production that should only be missed by the easily-offended.

Playing at the Tron until July 25.


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