Note: This review dates from March 2000 and this production's West End run at the Whitehall Theatre. For current cast and touring details, please check performance listings.
Don't be put off by any rumours you may have heard about the non-stop raunchiness of Lee Hall's new musical comedy. It's true that, over the course of two acts, Frank Skinner's hapless Stuart spends almost as much time out of his clothes as in them.
And when I tell you that, during that time, he manages to perform cunnilingus on his girlfriend, hump her 14-year-old daughter, jack off her disabled husband and pour marinade down his own pants, all on centre stage, you may be inclined to agree that raunch is well and truly the order of the evening. But, I can assure you, that somehow - through the power of Hall's comic but compassionate writing, the careful construction of Max Roberts' direction and a clutch of heartfelt performances - absolutely none of this is done in poor taste.
The plot of Cooking with Elvis, like the sexual innuendo, sounds preposterous writ in black and white, but it too somehow works a charm. Dad (Joe Caffrey), formerly an Elvis impersonator, is a comatose paraplegic thanks to a road accident. Daughter Jill (Sharon Percy) tries to care for him and hold the fragile family together by cooking and eating up a storm, while still attractive Mam (Charlie Hardwick), a respectable English teacher by day, turns to anorexia, drink and miscellaneous sexual liaisons as her form of coping.
Enter Stuart, the clueless cakemaker who leads with his pecker. As Stuart moves further into the family fold, he, along with the pet tortoise Stanley, becomes a pawn in a power and love game in which it's increasingly difficult to separate victims from perpetrators. Even paraplegic Dad, it seems, is not all good.
But neither are any of the characters all bad. Hall's script allows each a scene or two of intimacy which underline their vulnerabilities - Jill with her thoughtful narration, Mam during a tearful late-night conversation with the mute husband she still loves and Stuart with his caught-in-the-middle perplexedness during mother-daughter confrontations. Dad too comes to grand life during the amusing interludes of music and Elvis-like commentary.
Caffrey, Hardwick and Percy are near letter-perfect in the roles which they've been involved with over many iterations during the play's development in Newcastle. Skinner, as the newcomer, doesn't falter either, though; nor does he overshadow his fellows as the West End production's one big-name star.
Cooking with Elvis is a real ensemble piece and, raunch or no raunch, a highly original piece of theatrical magic from one of the most talented young playwrights around.