Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis - Theatre ☆☆☆☆4
Showing from - Thursday, February 11, 2016 through till Saturday, March 5, 2016
Hull Truck Theatre - Kingston-upon-Hull
Jackie Foottit | Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Would Martha lick Lionel’s bald head or would she chicken out?
That was just one of many heart-stopping moments that kept the Hull Truck Theatre audience spellbound during the emotional rollercoaster that is Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis.
The super-talented cast of six - John Branwell as Lionel, Christopher Chung (Timothy Wong/Chinese Elvis), Isabel Ford (Martha), Natalie Grady (Louise), Lynda Rooke (Josie) and Anna Wheatley (Brenda-Marie) – played the audience like a trout, The superb actors drew us emotionally into their chaotic lives and then, their problems dealt with, coldly spat us outreeling us in by making us laugh out loud one minute, the next hitting us right between the eyes with something so poignant (e.g. Martha: “I made gowns for stillborn babies”) we wondered whether we’d heard correctly.
At first, the action centres around bored dominatrix Josie who, midway through a spanking session with regular client Lionel the dry cleaner - dressed in a French maid’s outfit – decides she is bored and worn out with her domineering lifestyle, especially as that day happens to be her 50th birthday.
To cheer her up, Lionel organises a party that night, inviting Josie’s daughter, Brenda-Marie (who has learning difficulties), Martha, the family cleaner and “a special guest”. Josie is not in a party mood, Martha (a strict Roman Catholic with OCD) is unsure if she will attend such a frivolous event and Brenda-Marie is childishly beside herself with excitement.
On the night, all four try to get into the swing of things – Dutch courage, tongue-loosening and inhibition-shedding aided by Lionel’s “Catastrophe” cocktail.
When the special guest, a Vietnamese-born Elvis Presley impersonator called Timothy Wong (Chinese Elvis), belts out the few Elvis songs he knows the words to, the party starts to liven up and I wasn’t the only one singing along at the top of my voice.
But when a ghost from the past gatecrashes the party, we were all – audience and actors – shocked into silence. The party was definitely over. Jollity would only be resumed after every character had faced their innermost fears, confessed their shameful secrets, shouted, screamed, argued, cried and more.
Thanks to an atmospheric stage setting and a brilliant script, the superb actors drew us emotionally into their chaotic lives and then, their problems dealt with, coldly spat us out - not needing our sympathy after all. From minute to exasperating minute, I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I consoled myself by singing along to the real Elvis every time his dulcet tones filled the theatre - as they did throughout the night.
During the “snowstorm” that heralded the play’s ending, my bottom lip definitely trembled and there was only one person to blame – the magnificent Anna Wheatley as Brenda-Marie. In the words of one Elvis Aaron Presley, her stunning performance definitely had me All Shook Up.
Dates: Thursday, February 11 to Saturday, March 5, 7.30pm.
Saturday matinees: February 20 and 27, and March 5, 2pm.
Wednesday matinee: March 2, 2pm.
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