I took along with me my sister to see the play. She is not a seasoned theatre goer, preferring musicals to plays and RoosevElvis would mark her first visit to the Royal Court. To say that she was apprehensive would be an understatement.
The Team, a New York Collective of performers and theatre makers, are currently at the Royal Court with their show RoosevElvis, which first had its premier in the States in 2013.
The show opens with Elvis Presley and Theodore Roosevelt trying to out do each other with facts about themselves and their lives. Roosevelt is keen, quick and precocious where as Presley is laid back, laconic and cagey.
The main thread of the story follows Ann, a worker in a meat processing plant, a job that she fell into after leaving school and is still there fifteen years later. With limited social life she turns to online dating and has a weekend with a lady called X, which makes her face up to certain questions about herself. She has always wanted to visit the home of her idol, Elvis Presley, in Graceland but is unable to explain why she has never made it there. What is it that’s holding her back?
She talks to her idol, there are a series of imagined conversations where Ann becomes Elvis and he questions her. Elvis has conversations with his idol; Roosevelt and thus we have a series of complex dialogues, played out by two actors. This device highlights one of the plays central themes, that of identity. Ann struggles to live the fact that she is a lesbian in a dead end job with little ambition or prospect. Elvis is a superstar who struggled with stage fright and his position as a global entertainer and we hear some of his wishes and desires through the play. This is contracted with Roosevelt who, while being a sickly child, had everything handed to him on a plate and is what he set out to be. Elvis and Ann are not.
It was within the first two minutes of the play that my sister had the, ‘what on earth am I watching,’ expression on her face, and there it remained for the rest of the performance. We discussed it at length on the way back after she had gotten through the speechless phase, not able to put into words what she had just witnessed. Her initial reaction was confusion, but as time went on she discovered that she understood more of the performance and more of it made sense than she first imagined. While it was different to anything else she had seen before, she was able to take something away from it at the end and, if The Team has achieved nothing else, they have created a memorable performance, which has altered someone’s perception of what theatre is and can be.
As for what I thought, RoosevElvis was at times bonkers, brilliant, bizarre, touching, tender and thought provoking. I would recommend not only the play, but look out for any future work heading this way from The Team. A thank you to the Royal Court for bringing such varied theatre to London.
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