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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cooking with Elvis, theatre review

Published in the Guardian.

Cooking with Elvis

When Newcastle's Live Theatre presented Lee Hall's black comedy a decade ago, it did so with such a surfeit of charm that you almost didn't notice its taboo-busting excess. Here was a play whose pivotal character was a quadriplegic with head trauma and yet, despite scenes of under-age sex, man-on-man hand-jobs and cannibalism – not to mention a great bestiality joke – it remained giddily funny and surprisingly innocent.

Ten years on, Andy Arnold's production is a welcome addition to an otherwise quiet theatrical summer, but not until its exuberant curtain call – all fluttering bank notes, flickering lights and dazzling fireworks – does it get the measure of Hall's audacious comedy. Grounded by Neil Haynes's boringly literal domestic set, the show is slow to build a comic momentum, preferring domestic realism to cartoon overkill, and manages to be only sporadically funny.

What comes across most forcibly is Hall's bold discussion of bodily desire in a way that is both serious and vulgar. Grunting in his wheelchair, Gavin Mitchell as the paralysed father has been reduced to a machine for eating, pissing and ejaculating. There are strong parallels with his alter ego, a perfectly realised Elvis Presley, with a soft southern drawl and flamboyant wardrobe, who suffers erectile dysfunction and a fatal addiction to hamburgers. But whether as father or Elvis, Mitchell is trapped inside his body.

Meanwhile, hungry for affection, his wife (Deirdre Davis) and daughter (Jayd Johnson) develop a neurotic relationship with food and an unhealthy lust for a man from the cake factory.

That subjects of such sensitivity can be made even vaguely funny is a considerable achievement, but behind Hall's heavily ironic happy ending is an anarchic energy that this production is too tame to release.


© Mark Fisher, 2009



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