MARTHA, JOSIE AND THE CHINESE ELVIS Park90 Theatre, London
Charlie Bence, Sioned Jones,Andrew P Stephen  photo Lidia Crisafulli

Billed as an alternative Christmas show with its message of hope and forgiveness, Charlotte Jones's Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis, recipient of the 1998 Pearson Best Play award, makes its first London appearance at Park90 having first appeared some 21 years ago outside of London. Today it has a somewhat dated feel and many of its references and awkward non-politically correct jokes belong more to yesteryear. But no matter. It retains a charm of its own and as a situational comedy succeeds as a play reflecting the complications of an endearing group of outwardly everyday folk.
 
Directed by Robert Wostenholme, we are plunged into a strange brew of ingredients. Each character has exaggerated traits and we might here accuse Jones of presenting these stereotypical profiles to enable her comic moments. Yet it works! Whilst we observe their strange quirks, we also engage with them and there are moments of pathos, empathy and sympathy alongside some well timed quips and repartee.
 
The setting is the Bolton home of disillusioned dominatrix Josie who lives with her daughter, Brenda-Marie, both played convincingly by Kellie Batchelor and Charlie Bence respectively. It is Josie's 40th birthday and she can no longer be 'chuffed' with her lifestyle. Midway through her treatment of client/friend Lionel (Andrew P Stephen) she retracts her whip from his scantily clad maid's outfit posterior and denounces her profession. Spurred on by him and with the support of her daughter, whose 'meaning' difficulties enable her to imagine and create positive illusions of snow and ice skating, they hold a party for her in the spotlessly clean retro lounge,much to the consternation of obsessively religious/superstitious cleaning lady Martha (Sioned Jones). Enter into the mix Vietnamese/Chinese Elvis (Matt Lim), hired to entertain the Elvis loving Josie, and the predictable bedlam ensues.

This well rehearsed cast with their impeccable precision, comic timing and repartee make for an enjoyable first Act, which moves along at high speed. It was easy to engage with their dynamics - the awkwardness of the hardly rehearsed but likeable Tim/Chinese Elvis, the annoying and relentless counting of Martha and the naturalness of Josie, Lionel and Brenda-Marie. But then, the unexpected appearance of an uninvited guest takes the audience into the 15 minute break following which Act 2, more serious in content, offers clarity and e
xposés of the individual back stories.

The atmosphere soon lifts and, with the help of Lionel's alcoholic concoction 'Catastrophe' the mood swiftly changes to one of fun, hope, friendship and optimism for the future. So I say to Lionel, pass me a glass and cheers to that.
 
Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis may appear somewhat dated and near to the knuckle on occasion, but it has much to commend it and as a gentle observation drama provides two hours of worthy entertainment.
 
 

Listings

Venue Park90, Finsbury Park Theatre,  Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park N4 3JP 
Dates playing until 4 January 2020, Mon-Sat 7.45 pm and Thurs/Sat matinees 3.15 pm
Age Guidance 16+ 
Prices £18 with concessions available.
Booking 
www.parktheatre.co.uk  
telephone 020 7870 6876
*with 10% telephone booking fee capped at £2.50 per ticket