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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Cooking with Elvis
by Lizzie Loveridge

It seems to be a trend to have comedians taking to the London stage. First we had Jack Dee in Art, then Eddie Izzard as Lennie Bruce in Lennie and now after a spell in Art, Frank Skinner takes a lead part in Lee Hall's new play Cooking with Elvis.

So does it work? Can they act? Yes and No. They are from that generation of comedians, the "new Rock and Roll" of the nineties, who besides being able to tell great jokes could improvise as well. Having captured a following as live performers in the comedy clubs, they moved to television where they became well known. The next career move was to tackle treading the boards. The big plus is that these comedians are bringing a new audience to London's theatreland, the "twenty and thirty somethings".

An Edinburgh Festival hit, Cooking with Elvis arrives in London's West End under the auspices the same production company which put on the very popular Argentinian acrobatic show, De La Guarda (reviewed by CurtainUp in New York ). It tells the story of a family shattered by a car accident which leaves the father (Joe Caffrey), a former Elvis impersonator, to spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair in a permanent vegetative state. Mother and daughter have different ways of adjusting. Mam (Charlie Hardwicke) seeks men for sexual fulfilment and also becomes both alcoholic and anorexic. The overweight, fourteen year old daughter Jill (Sharon Percy) works her way through cookery books and shows signs of a developing interest in sex.

Enter Stuart (Frank Skinner), who works in local baking factory, complete with his array of lemon tarts and Black Forest gateau. Brought home by Mam he soon figures in everyone's sex life, including the brain damaged "Elvis" who seems to have at least one part of his anatomy functioning. If you are of a delicate or tender disposition, this is not the play for you. Some of the sex scenes are blisteringly funny, but they are raunchy and explicit; including ,cunnilingus, fellatio, underage sex and masturbation.

Lee Hall developed Cooking with Elvis from a BBC Radio play, Blood Sugar which was a part of his award winning God's Country series. It progression was via a regional theatre in Newcastle, the Live Theatre Company which is a cabaret venue, and the Edinburgh Festival. Hall's dialogue is fast, to the point and very funny. Mam and Jill are "Geordies" from Newcastle in the north east of England, Stuart is from the Midlands but the language and accents are accessible. Charlie Hardwicke and Sharon Percy, both of whom were in the radio play, are inside the skin of their characters. Percy is a sincere, fresh faced foodie and Hardwicke has all the sleaze of a depressed woman's developing obsession with sex, booze and her body image. Frank Skinner has to play a slightly gormless character which is not too great an acting challenge and well within Skinner's capabilities. However, he shows incredible physical stamina in the sex scenes. Joe Caffrey sings well and shakes his hips and spouts sentiment which invites cynical ridicule.

Hall and director Max Roberts have worked a number of surreal scenes into the play. At one time Dad, already dressed in his Elvis costume, leaps from his wheelchair and launches into an Elvis ballad in a very creditable impersonation of "The King". At other times a wardrobe door will be opened for Elvis to leap out and into another song with Mam and Jill as backup singers, or launch into a hackneyed speech about his philosophy or drugs.

The Elvis costumes are fun and very intricate. For example, there are ornate belts with gold padlocks and, of course, lots of spangles. This metamorphosis helps us cope with the pathos of the shell of a man with no future.

Cooking with Elvis is a farce for the year 2000. It has no deep message, just lots of sex, laughter and the music of Elvis Presley. If you're not squeamish, you'll enjoy it, as I did. .

Written by Lee Hall
Directed by Max Roberts

With: Joe Caffrey, Charlie Hardwicke, Sharon Percy, Frank Skinner
Set Design: Liz Cooke
Lighting Design: Tony Simpson
Sound Design: Simon Whitehorn for Orbital
A production by LIVE Theatre, Newcastle
Running time: 2 hours with an interval
The Whitehall Theatre, 14 Whitehall, London SW1
Box Office: 0207 369 1735
Booking to 2nd September 2000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th March performance 3

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