Dad's a quadriplegic now, since going head first through a windscreen. His current vegetable existence in a wheelchair contrasts horribly with his earlier life as a talented impersonator of the Vegas-era Elvis Presley.
Mam, a 38 year-old English teacher, grabs herself a 26 year-old bit of rough to compensate her sexually, but she readily admits it isn't the same. 14 year-old daughter Jill throws herself into cooking and getting fat, partly to comfort herself that she's doing something useful for Dad, and partly to kick against Mam whom she accuses of disloyalty (and anorexia).
It is clearly Dad, or more precisely his Elvis alter ego, who is the puppet master for the entire piece. When Jill (Natalie Blades reprising the same fat girl routine from Gordon Steel's A Pair of Beauties, but with a talent deserving a far bigger stretch) decides she wants to grab a bit of Mam's rough (Christopher Connel), she first has to dress him up in one of Dad's Elvis suits. This interloper, having serviced both the ladies of the household, is finally constrained to complete his duty to the family by giving hand relief to the priapic vegetable, an act which serves as the final exorcism, permitting the women to consign the outsider literally to a cupboard, while they make their peace, accept their situation and get on with life as it is.
The Hull Truck audience, it must be noted, is a strange beast. It has yet to get over the stage of whooping and giggling whenever a character uses a 'naughty' word. And there is now an alarming tendency to treat an essentially serious play, such as Cooking with Elvis, as pantomime, shouting back at actors who are trying to do their job, standing and bopping when there is music, and generally distracting attention.
Lee Hall is a writer of great subtlety with a strong line in difficult subjects. It is hard to imagine any other writer making an entertaining evening out of quadriplegia. Unfortunately, director Gareth Tudor Price goes at it with a bludgeon, so that its ironies, and gentler moments, get smothered in sheer vulgarity. Jim Kitson's performance as Dad is chilling in its immobility and his bursts of activity as the reincarnated Elvis are impressive, counterpointing the reality of the situation; but Jackie Lye's Mam is too strident and would have benefited from more sensitive direction.
- Ian Watson