Cooking with Elvis is an obvious choice for a company as attuned to popular culture as Hull Truck, but there’s far more than Elvis impersonation and Graceland jokes in Lee Hall’s bawdily bizarre comedy, nimbly directed by Gareth Tudor Price.
Dad is an Elvis impersonator crippled in a road accident; immobile, speechless, and possibly unaware of the world around him. Mam, a fairly unlikely schoolteacher, picks up young men and drags them back to the house for sex. Overweight teenage daughter Jill compensates for sex with obsessive cooking and eating. Into this strange household comes Stuart, a gormless supervisor at a bakery (the food-as-sex motif again) who, forced to strip by Mam, is humiliated by the arrival of Jill and her spectacularly incontinent father. In time Stuart, a sort of unaware Mr. Sloane, comes to fill the sexual needs of the entire family (even Dad) before being banished in a severe attack of happy endings, presented, as it were, in quotation marks – both text and production have a way with parody.
Lee Hall wrongfoots the audience in his refusal to sentimentalise his characters: for the most part any hidden goodness remains that way. Any hint of a moral stance is blurred in Jill’s po-faced scene introductions (alienation, anyone?) delivered in odd situations and unseemly positions.
Perhaps the production’s assurance has something to do with the fact that all involved are Cooking with Elvis veterans: Jim Kitson has even filled the key role of Musical Director at every production from Newcastle to the West End. Gareth Tudor Price directed the piece at Hull Truck in 2003, with an almost identical cast. The only newcomer, Sean Oliver (Dad), who played the part on tour with Live Theatre, alternates between inertness and a splendid re-creation of Elvis in performance, spiked with earnest moral homilies full of references to hamburgers (good) and sodomites (bad). If Natalie Blades is not really convincing as a 14-year-old, both she and Jackie Lye as her mother manage to find realistic roots for their monstrous characters and are key to maintaining the pace and clarity of the performance. Chris Connel is an engaging Stuart, with a good ear for bathos, even if his too frequent near-hysteria seems a bit strained.
Shocking enough to provoke howls of delight and the occasional empty seat after the interval, yet witty and light-footed enough to take the edge off the coarseness, Cooking with Elvis should entertain on its extended tour when audiences promised “decadence, taboo and hilarity” will find it scores on the last one, at least.