This review first appeared on The Public Reviews on May 1st 2013
Cooking With Elvis is a dark comedy by Lee Hall, the writer of Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters. This excellent production is the Derby Theatre’s first in house professionally produced show and what a zinger it is!
Lee Hall’s brilliant writing in Cooking with Elvis has everything you would expect from an alternative comedy; ribald humour, stark reality, moments of deep discomfort, pathos and instants where the audience keel over with laughter. He writes about the complexities of human behaviour with inordinate skill and in a way that challenges the audience to think or re-think familiar situations and sometimes to shock.
The highly functional and impressive set designed by Hayley Grindle is a cross section of the family home so the audience can see what is happening in different rooms at the same time with uproarious results. The play starts on a dramatic note as the powerful music of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' sets the scene and Jill the daughter (Laura Elsworthy) bursts in declaring it is scene one.
Laura Elsworthy’s character Jill is the most sympathetic of the show. A talented young actress, Elsworthy brings out all the angst that is hormonal teenage life and a surprisingly caring nature as she is left to look after her wheelchair bound Dad’s daily needs. In her own frantic needs to please she seduces her mother’s lover – the gullible Stuart – into having under age sex with her. Jill often appears vulnerable but her character turns out to be much more gutsy than she first appears.
Full figured Polly Lister sparkles as sexually frustrated Mam and the actress copes admirably with the bawdy action and lusty humour but quickly turns the comedy to pathos in a tear jerking scene where she expresses her love for her paraplegic husband. One minute she comes across as a dominatrix and next a lonely sobbing mess.
Stuart, wonderfully played by Adam Barlow is the next in a string of younger lovers Mam brings home to drink and have her way with. Barlow’s portrayal is that of a charming geek who is taken up with his job at the bakery and scared of Mam’s full on nature. As he settles into living with Mam he tries to take every advantage of his new position in the family unit even though his personality is often weak and confused, with a scant regard for the outcome of his actions. Another strong performance in a very strong cast of really developed and very human performances. A credit to the fine actors and Mark Babych’s directorial style.
Finally, it seems that Elvis has not really left the building at all and as this play at Derby Theatre proves, the audience would welcome back Jack Lord as Dad any time. Lord is just fantastic as the crippled patriarch. He is terrifically moving as the unfortunate paraplegic but he becomes energised and “All Shook Up” as the story turns fantastical and the former Elvis impersonator becomes the King again. Thus the audience are provided with a glimpse into Dad’s mind with hilarious results. Clearly an Elvis fan, Lord performs the half dozen Elvis songs with real spirit and authenticity. His powerful number at the finale has the audience going wild and the cast got a standing ovation from a capacity audience.
If the barometer of a show is people grinning from ear to ear and saying they would definitely come back for another helping of Cooking With Elvis then this show at Derby Theatre is a winner.