Arts & Books: Theatre: Elvis with a twist
People Show 107 Young Vic London
Saturday 08 May 1999
The scene is a diner in downtown Memphis at 6pm on 6 July 1954, as Elvis nervously awaits the first meeting with Sun Records, which will change his life. The mood of undischarged tension is communicated with a mesmeric meticulousness. The amplified anticipatory crackling sound at the start of an LP goes on and on, heralding only itself.
On three screens scattered over the set, the same ominous scenes from the classic western High Noon, are endlessly looped, making l'Annee Derniere a Marienbad look like the last word in forward-driving linearity. Scuttling like crabs round a cup of coffee, into which more and more sugar is poured and stirred, Elvis's hands are echoed in close-up in black-and-white movie footage. The noise of traffic blends into the blues; an edgy foot-tap segues into a drum pedal.
To what purpose? The publicity warns you that "the piece is driven by the rhythms that characterise the nervous condition, Tourette's syndrome" and certainly the show gives the electrically talented Ms Bushell-Mingo - here close-cropped and in a checked jacket and two-tone shoes - the chance to erupt in sudden uncontrolled spasms, as though jerked about by some wanton demon coiled in her pelvis. And, yes, you can see in these convulsions a parodic intimation of The King's stage act.
But while Elvis can scarcely be said to have had a clean bill of health, Tourette's syndrome did not feature among his handicaps, so you wonder what point is being made. And when you remember the scrupulousness with which Peter Brook examined neurological disorders in The Man Who, you start to feel there's something slightly tasteless about exploiting one as a performance-style here.
It's surely possible, without being philistine, to want a piece to be "about" more than this. Once in the recording studio, Elvis is seen in futile dispute with a producer who won't let him do another take. Implicit in the spectacle of a black actress playing a white singer who had the best of both worlds (palatable skin-colour and black musical influences), there may be a kind of cultural reclamation.
But nothing comes in sufficiently thought-provoking focus. What played in my head, as I left, was not a snatch from any of Elvis's numbers but a line from a song by another great American performer, Peggy Lee: "Is That All There Is?"
Booking: 0171-928 6363
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre