Roosevelvis Review  

Royal Court Theatre 21st October – 14th November. Reviewed by Claire Roderick

The Team’s Roosevelvis is billed as a hallucinatory road trip from the Badlands to Graceland – and what a trip it is!

This two-hander tells the story of Ann, a shy, gay worker in a meat-processing plant, sleepwalking through her life, and only becoming truly animated when talking to her hero – Elvis Presley. After a disastrous blind date involving a RV trip to Mount Rushmore, Elvis and his hero, Teddy Roosevelt intervene and, together with Ann, they embark on a journey to Graceland.

Libby King plays Ann as a truly lost soul, full of despair and loneliness. When she morphs into Elvis, with just a wig and a vocal twist, she is a revelation. Kristen Sieh is Brenda, Ann’s taxidermist date – hugely disappointed in the real Ann after meeting her online – and Roosevelt. Sieh is tiny, so her posturing and aggression as Roosevelt makes a funny character even better. But although there are lots of laughs to be had from the two American icons, the play celebrates rather than mocks them. Even though they are being played by women, they do not come across as a drag act, simply androgynous versions of their personas. The Team’s script is slick and confident. There is an underlying warmth and respect for these flawed men, and the relationship that builds between them on the road trip is simply wonderful. They have very different ideas about what Ann should do, and their reasoning is slowly and sympathetically unpicked as they reveal more and more of their history. Roosevelt’s coping method whenever he gets a little emotional is hysterical, and his pronunciation of Elvis’ name keeps you giggling throughout – and that ending!

The staging is so well thought out – while props are being moved around, the action continues on various screens, and the use of rowing machines is a stroke of genius. There are some dark and quiet moments, expertly portrayed by the actors on stage and on the screens. The screens are used to continue the story on location, showing action in shops, motels and scenery on the road. The sequence showing Ann at work starkly portrays her mundane life, although I must admit that the diner waitress film was a step too far for me – the sound and colour effects brought to mind dodgy art installations I have suffered through and made me twitch a little.

The play’s publicity states that this is a work about gender, appetite and the multitudes we contain – which worried me a little. But these themes are not sledgehammered into the play, they are allowed to breathe and take form gradually and subtly – allowing the audience to think for themselves and take what they want from the performance, which is exactly what a great play should do