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The Theatreguide.London Review

Roosevelvis
Royal Court Theatre  Autumn 2015

The TEAM is a New York City company that produces group-created works exploring the Myth and myths of America through ambitious and imaginative theatricality. 

Their productions sometimes get carried away with more enthusiasm than structure, and their symbolic vocabulary is not always clear. But every TEAM show, including this one, will have scenes, characters or images that stick in your memory, even if you're not completely sure what they meant. 

Ann is a semi-closeted lesbian working in a South Dakota meat plant and living alone except for the imaginary Elvis Presley with whom she carries on conversations (Libby King playing both parts). 

An unsuccessful date with the more out and adventurous Brenda (Kristin Sieh) inspires Ann to break out of her comfort zone and drive across America to the Presley museum at Graceland, though she has to do it largely in the persona of Elvis to have the courage. 

Elvis in turn conjures up one of his heroes, Teddy Roosevelt (Sieh) to keep him company. Will Ann make it to Graceland? And what will become of Elvis and Teddy in the process? 

Clearly, something is being said about the need for heroes and the different forms they can take (Teddy in turn has a moment evoking one of his heroes, naturalist John Muir), and about the difference between dreaming and doing (one of Teddy's dicta, much admired by Elvis), and even, almost in passing, about confused sexuality (Sieh plays the famously masculine Teddy as very feminine, given to ballerina poses and moves). 

To tell this story and juggle its several levels of reality, director Rachel Chavkin and the company employ a lot of technology and open theatricality. 

Much in the style of Britain's Filter company, the stage machinery, including microphones, several TV monitors and a big projection screen, is visible throughout, and stagehands and techies operate them and move sets around openly. 

Several scenes are played out in videos, while props from Ann's home double as car seats and other things needed along the way. The sharp-eyed might even notice that the play opens with the film Thelma And Louise playing on Ann's home TV, and it is no real spoiler to say that the film will become relevant later. 

Both actresses navigate their switches in identity smoothly, effectively pointing up and drawing significance from the difference between the assertive Brenda and the surprisingly childlike Teddy, and the withdrawn Ann and supremely confident Elvis. 

A simple plot summary – unadventurous woman sets out to do something, however minimal – doesn't do justice to the many different mythic overtones in the play. 

There may be more than a small amount of self-congratulatory self-indulgence to Roosevelvis (a bit of a TEAM tradition there), and it may be more a collection of evocative and thought-provoking images than a coherent whole. But those evocative moments will catch you up and stay with you afterwards.


Gerald Berkowitz

Review - Roosevelvis  - Royal Court Theatre 2015  
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