Lee Hall whose other work includes "Spoonface Steinberg", which had a run at the New Ambassadors in January, writes this comic drama. He has also adapted the RSC's production of Carlo Goldoni's "The Servant of Two Masters" which has just finished a run at the Young Vic theatre, and his adaptation of "Mother Courage", produced by Shared Experience, will be at the New Ambassadors theatre next month. Lee Hall is very popular at the moment, so what is this play like? Well, quite good actually although it can leave a bad taste in the mouth of some people as the play has bad language, bad taste, nudity, masturbation, under age sex, and a tortoise!!
The play, directed by Max Roberts, the artistic Director of Live Theatre Company in Newcastle Upon Tyne, concerns a dysfunctional family who have difficulties after their father/husband, who is a part time Elvis Impersonator, is turned into a vegetative state following a car accident. His 14-year-old daughter becomes obsessed by food, and his wife turns to pulling toy boys. However, when his wife's latest toy boy, Stuart, comes to live with them all does not go well and Stuart finds himself caught in the middle of a family crises, which leads to a nasty ending!
This black comedy is one of those plays you will either like or loathe. It uses tragedies in life for laughs. If not handled carefully this may offend, particularly in reference to the father's vegetable state. Lee Hall's writing skills highlight the kind of problems dysfunctional families may have if one of their loved one's becomes disabled in this way.
Frank Skinner, who made his West End debut in "Art" at the Wyndham's Theatre last year, puts in a competent performance as 'Stuart', a simple mother's boy. Charlie Hardwick is impressive as 'Mam', the wife who picks up toy boys, not necessarily to forget about her husband, but in order to be able to use them as sex objects which allows her to fantasise that she is having sex with her husband! Sharon Percy as the daughter 'Jill', produces a fine performance as a 14-year-old, who is comfort eating in order to cope with her miserable life. Joe Caffrey is convincing as the disabled dad, and he also has a fine voice when doing his Elvis impersonations.
The play has received mixed reviews from the popular press……. THE INDEPENDENT says, "As an aficionado of bad taste, I have to say its attempts at taboo violation are graphic but feeble..." THE EXPRESS says, "…breathtakingly bad taste, but deliciously enjoyable, comedy..." THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Lee Hall's Cooking With Elvis is a juvenile comedy of sexual manners in bad taste. It ought to leave anyone over 14, who has sense and sensibility, in need of a mild mouth-wash. I left the theatre with my palate jaded, although I succumbed to the odd smile and laughter from time to time. " THE STAGE says the play is "hilariously funny, but also sweet and moving." TIME OUT says, " Hall may be brave to try, but the wisdom of putting his half-cooked efforts in such a prominent position is doubtful." SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says, "This is not, let us rapidly establish, a play for the faint-hearted. There are some good, funny and touching moments here, but parts of the script are always better than the whole."
I found "Cooking With Elvis" a good play that dared to be risky and, I think gets away with it. Although, I'm sure there are many others who will disagree and leave the theatre disgusted.