21 October 2015
Bad Elvis, written by Katie Hims was originally conceived as a drama for BBC Radio 4. The rambunctious Signdance Collective International have since adapted it for stage with their own unique style. They recently performed it for Iris Theatre in London, Sophie Partridge was in attendance.
Signdance International Collective's production of Bad Elvis has a superb cast of four, including Cuban (and disabled) dancer Isolte Avila as Mother, Brazilian performer Pedro de Senna, New York actor Irina Kaplan and their Artistic Director, David Bower (yes, that Deaf David from that film)...plus Elvis (more on him later).
The Actors Church, Covent Garden proved to be a suitably surreal and somehow glamorous venue for my first experience of this company’s work. With performers welcoming us into their heightened world, the church’s altar formed a hotel lobby and function room; a sparkly-clad woman smoked an e-cigarette as a hostess desperately tried to air the place of smoke by opening invisible windows!
Pedro, the Wedding Officiate, gathered his congregation through Sign. No props were present, but the cast utilised what was there, so benches became a vantage point for Mother. The church’s atmospheric lighting added to the glitz of the costumes. Protagonist Aiden (played by Bower) gleamed in his bright blue suit and the injury to his head, played out through consistent, fluid body movement which brought him low then swept him up in beats like a pulse, flowing between the performers...watch and learn Strictly dancers!
All of the characters signed although only one was Deaf and it almost seemed an unconscious act, not an obvious 'interpretation'. This combination of movement, music and surreality, particularly in the driving scene, reminded me of the David Glass Ensemble, with its comical yet slightly sinister edge.
Then suddenly Elvis was in the building and he really wasn't bad! As a puppet partly worn by Pedro de Senna, he strutted his stuff yet never stole the show; always a point of danger when puppets are brought in alongside weaker performers.
A puppet has its own unique physical language engendered by its puppeteer, and this blended with those of the others. For me, there was also something pleasing about Elvis & Mother being of comparable height, especially when Isolte sang his classic hits tremendously, with interloping numbers by Roy Orbison etc.
I have to admit, I did get slightly lost in the plot at times and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the quasi-assisted suicide storyline introduced near the end but all was well – in a disembodied way – for the finale. Bad Elvis is anything but that. It does not create a song and dance about being Inclusive and/or Disability Art/or not, it just does it whilst creating song and dance!
Bad Elvis will be back in the Spring at Matthews Yard, Croydon from 7-11 March 2016.
Signdance Collective will also be performing 'Carthage' as part of this year’s Together Festival. I strongly recommend a trip to Newham to see it! Watch this space for further details.