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Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis (Oldham)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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This charming comedy set in Bolton at the turn of the millennium written by Charlotte Jones is quirky and boarding on farcical at times but is also very endearing and touching.

Josie (Sarah Parks) is an Elvis loving dominatrix, turning 50, who lives with her daughter, Brenda Marie (Catherine Kinsella) who has learning difficulties and is obsessed with Ice Dancing. The young lass spends a significant amount of time in her tent in the garden thinking about her dead twin sister, Shelly Louise (Clara Darcy).

Matha, aka Holy Jo (Becky Hindley) is a very traditional Irish Catholic cleaner with OCD, who has led a very sheltered life and is under the impression that Josie is a Counsellor. Lionel (Michael Strobel) is a client of Josie’s who takes it upon himself to organise a 50th birthday party for her, and hires Timothy Wong (Nicholas Goh) as an Elvis impersonator for the evening.

The interaction between Martha and Brenda Marie provides some classic comedy moments and Lionel’s pursuit of Martha is heart-warming and very amusing, as Martha has little or no experience of courtship or flirting and is very resistant to his advances and needs to take advice from Josie on what to do and how to behave with a man. 

Wong plays the novice Elvis impersonator who hasn’t quite got to grips with the full back catalogue of songs but surprisingly is very good and wins everyone over with his soulful crooning. As the evening unfolds, the Chinese Elvis gets caught up in a surprising chains of events which produce some great comedy moments laced with pathos which take the audience on a roller-coaster ride, touching on serious topics as well as providing some classic comedy moments. 

The return of the dead daughter, Shelly Louise, now known as Louise forces Josie to deal with an event in the past that lead Louise to leave home without a word and disappear for 7 years and the effect it had on her and particularly Brenda Marie. 

Each character takes the Chinese Elvis in to their confidence and he helps everyone face their demons and deal with their issues to allow them to make the most out of their lives and reconcile with the past and to move on and build better, stronger relationships with each other and find happiness.

Although the second half feels a tad drawn at the start, this play is a delightful comedy which although is now 10 years old, feels very relevant and in parts is very poignant.

It is difficult to single out a particular cast member who excels as everyone produces a stellar performance however the interaction between Hindley and Stobel is wonderful and between them, they produce some clever and inspiring moments.

In short, this sparky and sprightly comedy has a good mix of laughter and pathos to leave all, except those with a wooden heart, smiling and teary-eyed.

-Ruth Lovett


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