Monday, 9 November 2015

Theatre review: RoosevElvis

A couple of years ago American company the TEAM brought their show Mission Drift to The Artist Formerly Known As Shed, a Vegas-based piece of Americana that was generally well-liked but which I didn't warm to. I believe in giving second chances though, and this time they're at the Royal Court with a show that had many moments that entertained me, but as a whole struggled to remain memorable even as far as the journey home. Ann (Libby King) is a butch, shy lesbian who works in a meat processing plant in South Dakota; having started on reception she was moved to the factory floor as her bosses thought she was "more suited" to that environment, and she's been there for 15 years. She loves Elvis Presley and when she gets back home has imagined conversations with him to stave off her loneliness, until she finds Brenda (Kristen Sieh) on a dating site. After a couple of days together they decide it isn't going to work out, but their extended date includes a trip to Mount Rushmore, where Brenda tells her she comes from the same town as Theodore Roosevelt, whom it seems Elvis idolised in turn. Emboldened by her recent experiences, Ann decides to drive to Graceland in RoosevElvis.

Having previously only had Elvis in her head Ann now has Roosevelt in there as well; Sieh dresses up as Roosevelt and King, aptly enough, as Elvis, as the two have surreal conversations in her subconscious during her road trip.


Rachel Chavkin's production is strong on visuals, from the actors' drag costumes to Nick Vaughan's rustic set design and Andrew Schneider's video work (Thelma and Louise always seems to be playing somewhere on the stage.) There's also some very infectious energy from the cast of two (plus a pair of stagehands who get roped into the action a couple of times) and some good comic moments - there's a very silly sequence where Roosevelt starts punching a herd of bison on the projection screen that's really funny. But I didn't end up convinced that the play said as much about gender and identity as it was aiming to; nor that the choice of these particular two men to represent this woman's subconscious was anything other than a good portmanteau word turned into a show. Perhaps something about Roosevelt and Elvis really does say something to gay women who feel more masculine than feminine, but the play didn't communicate it to me, and though fun in parts it didn't make much of an impact.

RoosevElvis by Rachel Chavkin, Libby King, Jake Margolin, Kristen Sieh, Matt Hubbs, Andrew Schneider, and Nick Vaughan is booking until the 14th of November at the Royal Court's Jerwood theatre Downstairs, then continuing on tour to Minneapolis and Cambridge Massachusetts.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes straight through.

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