It may be an unwieldy title but the New Vic’s latest production is not an unwieldy play. It’s a humorous take on the foibles of character that all of us have and shows how they overcome these obstacles on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6th, 2000.
Josie (the excellent Jemma Churchill) is a suburban single mother with a daughter, Brenda- Marie, with learning difficulties (the equally excellent Zara Jayne). To make ends meet Josie works as a dominatrix at her home, putting the M and S into S and M, as she puts it. But it’s her fiftieth birthday and Josie feels she is getting too old for this life and wants to hang up her whip for good. Her cross dressing gentleman caller, Lionel (the very funny Eamonn Riley), decides that Josie needs a party to celebrate and invites along an Elvis impersonating singing telegram, Timothy Wong, ( Jun Hwang) to liven up the evening.
Lionel has also become smitten with Josie’s cleaner, Martha ( Shelley Atkinson) who has a number of issues of her own, including her obsessive compulsive disorder which only allows her to count in fives and never to mention the word…six.
As the evening unfolds we become aware that Josie’s other daughter, Louise (Rachael Henley) is not necessarily as dead as her sister, Brenda- Marie, thinks that she is. And that of all of the characters the one with the least number of issues is Timothy Wong who just needs the confidence to sing as himself, and not to hide behind the character of Elvis.
By the end of the play it appears that all of characters have managed to overcome most of their character flaws, as each helps the other with wise words.
The play does deal with some serious issues, especially when we find out why Louise has disappeared and why Josie has told her other daughter that Louise is dead. However the audience loved the witty one liners from Charlotte Jones and the Elvis music which permeates the whole play. In fact I have never seen quite so much interaction between an audience and a cast in one evening, culminating in the cheering which greeted the final dance between Lionel and the much changed Martha.
A word too for the director Gemma Fairlie and set designer Carla Goodman, who have created a tight, almost claustrophobic set depicting Josie’s living room and in which all the action takes place in one evening.
All in all, this is a feel good play which affirms that anyone can overcome an obstacle with some help. You which you will go home singing an Elvis song, and with a smile on your face.
“Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis” runs at the New Vic Theatre until Saturday May 18th and is a co-production with the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
Telephone the box office for tickets on 01782 717962 or email firstname.lastname@example.org