Cooking with Elvis
As the Tron serves up a new production of Cooking With Elvis, artistic director Andy Arnold tells Yasmin Sulaiman why Lee Hall’s hit play is ripe for revival
Lee Hall might be best known for his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Billy Elliot, but long before Jamie Bell’s dancing feet captured the public imagination, Hall scored a hit with the acclaimed comedy Cooking with Elvis. First performed in Newcastle’s Live Theatre in 1988, it was brought to Edinburgh in 1999 and is perhaps best known for the 2000 West End incarnation starring Frank Skinner. Cut to summer 2009, however, and a new version is hitting the Scottish stage in an Andy Arnold-directed piece for the Tron.
Arnold’s production of Cooking with Elvis transposes the action from Hall’s native north east England to Glasgow and marks another milestone in the former Arches director’s mission to transform the Tron into one of Scotland’s best producing theatres. ‘When I came to the Tron last year,’ he says, ‘there was no summer production. I think there’s a strong audience for theatre in Glasgow in the summer and I thought a play like Cooking with Elvis – which is a very strong piece dramatically but is also very funny – was a good summer show.’
The four-hander centres on a family struggling with the hindrances of their everyday life: the wheelchair-bound, Elvis-impersonating Dad; the alcoholic Mam who looks beyond her husband to local baker Stuart in order satisfy her sexual cravings; and their 14-year-old daughter Jill, who turns to food for solace. According to Arnold, it’s the play’s fine balance between realism and fantasy – Dad is regularly unbound from his wheelchair to perform Elvis numbers – that makes it such a popular piece. ‘It’s a very well constructed play,’ he explains. ‘It’s funny but it’s very dark as well and it’s one of those pieces that has the ability to switch from farcical to tragic in a few moments.’
While some audience members are sure to be attracted to the theatrical pedigree of Hall’s script, others will be drawn by Cooking with Elvis’ cast of BBC Scotland stars (bar the live tortoise that will appear on stage). Gavin Mitchell of Still Game fame brings his comedic capabilities to the part of Dad, while River City stars Deirdre Davis and Jayd Johnson take on Mam and Jill, and Dear Green Place’s Martin Docherty as Stuart completes the ensemble. However, Arnold doesn’t buy the idea that theatres may be using well-known names to attract punters during the recession.
He says: ‘If you’ve got actors who fit the part but are also well known and that helps sell tickets, then that’s great because it would be false to not want to reap the benefits of that. But what you mustn’t do is cast on the basis of a name rather than the right actor for the part.’
While its 1988 debut might not seem like a world away to many people, Cooking with Elvis is actually one of the oldest works the Tron has produced under Arnold’s helm. ‘I made a conscious decision to try and stage work which is contemporary and new,’ he explains, ‘a lot of which has never been seen in Scotland before. But there’s nothing to stop us from occasionally going back into the archives for a great piece of writing that is worth reviving.’
Cooking with Elvis, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 10–Sat 25 July.