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Review: Cooking with Elvis at Live Theatre, Newcastle

As the nights cut in and winter approaches, Barbara Hodgson found the perfect antidote - Lee Hall's Cooking with Elvis

*****
Keith Pattison Joe Caffrey and Victoria Bewick in Cooking with Elvis by Lee Hall at Live Theatre
Joe Caffrey and Victoria Bewick in Cooking with Elvis by Lee Hall at Live Theatre

As you’d probably guess, food and The King are the main ingredients of this one-off comedy where we venture over the threshold into the home of Jill, a “fat” young teen who loves cooking up exotic creations, and her vamped-up Mam who prefers boozing to eating and has new lover Stuart to take her mind off being stuck at home with “vegetable” Dad, who used to be a keen Elvis impersonator until he was paralysed in a car crash.

If you don’t think this hotch-potch mix sounds a barrel of laughs then wait until you see it brought to the boil in this quite mad, sex-and-rock-‘n’-roll tale from Lee Hall, brought so rudely to life here in sparkling performances from all four cast.

Saying too much about the plot - and a tortoise and Elvis songs feature heavily in it - would spoil it for those who did not see Hall’s play first time around.

The many who did will notice a few up-to-date references have been added, including to Denise Welch, and to The Great British Bake-Off (in a context it’s probably never been mentioned before).

It’s now 15 years since its hugely successful debut at Live where this new production forms part of the theatre’s 40th birthday year celebrations.

Returning as Dad is original cast member Joe Caffrey who’s been on a roll of late following up his recent appearance at Live - a brilliant performance as likeable alcoholic Dinger in Wet House - with his hilarious Elvis impersonator here.

Fellow Wet House actor Riley Jones plays love interest Stuart, caught up in all sorts of embarrassing situations, while Victoria Bewick makes her professional stage debut as Jill, the awkward girl with bad hair who’s endearing as she cooks up Elvis-style mounds of uneaten burgers for her dad and imagines a better future then gets quite starey-eye mad when she learns about life the hard way.

Equally poignant is Tracy Whitwell’s lonely Mam in her one-sided heart to heart with Dad, before the difficult mother and daughter relationship takes a satisfying turn.

Some lines sound cliched but then people do fall back on cliches when their lives career out of control and while you can spot some jokes coming, no-one could second-guess the direction the story takes.

And that’s what’s so great about it. Just when the true sadness in their lives hits home, Jill introduces the next scene and it’s either laugh-out-loud funny, and often crude, or the disco lights come on and it’s Elvis time.

I loved The King’s steam of consciousness at the end when he talks about his visit to see the President and felt quite buoyed up by his rallying speech. Just what we need to brighten these gloomy nights.

For tickets, call 0191 232 1232 or visit www.live.org.uk

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