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Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis, Park Theatre London N4

An alternative treat to the usual Christmas collection

THE theatre at this time of year is inevitably awash with so many children’s pantos and Christmas shows, so it’s a relief to sit back and enjoy an “alternative” play which has nothing in common with either.

Surprisingly, in its 21-year history, this is the first time that Charlotte Jones’s amusing and poignant play about a gathering of quirky and kooky characters for Josie’s landmark 40th birthday is on stage in London. And Finsbury Park’s Park Theatre is an ideal location for its belated London debut.

Written and set in a cramped living room in Bolton in the 1990s, dominatrix Josie (a perfectly casted Kellie Batchelor) is in no mood to celebrate her birthday, but, persuaded by her client and dry-cleaning-business owner Lionel — likeable if dim — along with her ice-skating-obsessed daughter Brenda-Marie and her OCD cleaner Martha, she gives in. And so, with much entertainment from an Elvis impersonator — characterised brilliantly by Matt Lim who really is the star of the show — a night of fun, laughter and tears takes off.     

There are some genuinely funny moments — Chinese, or actually Vietnamese, Elvis’s nervous attempts to impersonate the King of Rock’n’Roll really do have the audience in fits of laughter, while day-dreamer Brenda-Marie, touchingly played by Charlie Bence, and her sincere need for attention and affection help articulate the play’s fun but also sentimental narrative.

The first half certainly has the audience in stitches and the chemistry between the actors on stage really sets the mood of the play. However, in the second half, and with the arrival of a mystery guest, the play takes a darker turn and descends into something much more serious.

This shouldn’t necessarily be a problem, however, the script, in dealing with the complex relationships between the characters, becomes a tad cliched at points (possibly not so when it was first performed), feeling a bit more mediocre TV drama. And, while there were plenty of funny moments undercutting the serious drama bit, the constant berating of Martha over her OCD for gags gets a bit tiresome, even becoming uncomfortable at times.

But, after all is said and done, it’s a decent and well-cast production — and there isn’t a snowman in sight. It’s worth catching if you can.

Runs until January 4.

www.parktheatre.co.uk

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