Andy Arnold directs Lee Hall's play Cooking With Elvis
The American comedienne Carol Burnett once observed that ‘comedy is tragedy plus time’. Never has this axiom been more aptly applied than in the case of Lee Hall’s Cooking With Elvis. The subject matter, which includes child abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders and attempted suicide, could have been assembled from cast-offs deemed too depressing for a Ken Loach film. And yet, packaged up as black farce, and with the King of Rock’n’Roll chucked in as a kind of star-spangled Greek chorus this claustrophobic domestic tragedy has ’em rolling in the aisles.
Most of the faults in Andy Arnold’s production can be blamed squarely on Hall’s play. Humour is derived from tired old stereotypes: brassy, sex-mad mother; inadequate drip of a boyfriend; teenage daughter who tries to keep the household together. Yet, while the self-avowedly ‘glib’ ending is unsatisfactory in the extreme, certain aspects of the production will simply leave you scratching your head: for instance, teenager Jill is constantly referred to as a ‘fat girl’, but actress Jayd Johnson is slim and attractive.
Light relief arrives in the form of increasingly elaborate fantasy sequences involving Gavin Mitchell’s paraplegic Dad in Elvis-mode, at one point rising from a trapdoor in the stage, later emerging platforms-first from an airing cupboard. But instead of passing comment on the action this Elvis merely makes rambling speeches about burgers, sodomites and drugs, which serves to make the action seem even more disjointed. Ultimately you’re left with the feeling that a strong cast and a great director have been wasted on a pretty ropey, ill-conceived play.
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 25 Jul