Elvis Hates Me
McArts @ Producers Warehouse
9:45pm, Wed 11 Feb 2015
So – it’s the last show of four-in-a-row at the same venue, and I’m a little bit tired. And when Elvis Hates Me kicks off with a plain staging, with a young female nurse slowly – and somewhat wistfully – flipping through a magazine, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep my eyes open for the duration of the performance.
But then, almost as if I had dropped off to sleep, two wheelchair-bound Elvis impersonators wheel themselves onto the stage and start doing laps around the woman… they appear to be afflicted with some sort of disorder, and they leer unstably at the audience as they seem to drool in their chairs, and I feel like I’m some sort of a fever dream.
And I start thinking: hang on. Is this show using genuinely disabled people here? Are they being taken advantage of? (Or, put another way, being abused?)
But then one of the afflicted Elvises darts from a twitching, drooling mess into a perfectly weighted impersonation of the charismatic King… and I realise that this is going to be a strange trip. And as the opening setting morphs from a hospital, to a nursing home, to who-knows-what-else, the characters likewise change form: the Elvises become orderlies, the nurse becomes an inmate. And while the plot (as loose as it seems) appears to twist and turn upon itself, one thread remains constant: the (almost obscene) affordances offered by pop culture in pursuing our obsession with celebrity, as the nurse/inmate becomes Elvis’ belle and is hounded by paparazzi.
Philip Stokes’ script is a convulsing mess – but it’s also a compelling mess, which is to be expected coming from the same pen that brought us My Filthy Hunt and Heroin(e) for Breakfast. Indeed, the impressive Craig McArdle features in all three shows, playing the lead Elvis in this production (as well as directing): his range of characters, and his ability to convince you of each form with a moments’ notice is amazing. Aaron Broomhall lacks the same range, but still offers a regal charm with his Elvis (and associated celebrity cameos); Susan Cilento’s character(s?) swerves from loveably naïve to gleefully hateful, and she totally sells it.
Elvis Hates Me became my early must-see theatrical even during the Fringe: I loved its (potentially polarising) completely off-the-wall take on celebrity obsession. Tight direction, challenging dialogue (riddled with uncomfortable racial and sexual barbs), and a sparse-but-effective set created an utterly compelling production that made me happy that the Fringe exists.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 11, 2015