Comeback Special review at Shoreditch Town Hall, London – ‘uncanny’
There are, according to estimates, over 75,000 Elvis impersonators worldwide. That’s 75,000 bequiffed, uh-huh-huhing pretenders, but not one of them has ever inhabited the King in the way that Greg Wohead does in his retelling, reimagining, rehashing, renovation, and restoration – all these descriptions fit to some extent – of Elvis: the 1968 TV concert now commonly referred to as the Comeback Special.
47 years, three months and 21 days since it aired, Wohead attempts to re-enact the recording of the live concert segments filmed in Burbank, California. He starts small, describing in a pleasingly deadpan manner what “he” looks like: high cheekbones, quiff, sneer, leathers. Except what we’re looking at is an American theatre-maker in a black t-shirt. Wohead shows us his famous hip thrusts, except he doesn’t move a muscle, and when he sings for the first time, he blandly speaks a few lyrics from Lawdy Miss Clawdy.
The layers of Elvis begin to build. Wohead sings the next number but not in an Elvis drawl. For the song after that, however, it’s a full-on impersonation. All the while, he’s carefully and meticulously detailing everything that’s happening, from the clothes the audience are wearing to the position of the television cameras. Because what he’s describing is so familiar, the effect is uncanny – it feels like someone is minutely detailing what your parents look like.
Wohead captures well the weirdness of being Elvis, particularly in an elegant scene where he enlists members of the audience to, slowly but surely, act out a single moment from the concert – a member of Elvis’s band picks a piece of lint from his face. What it all lacks, despite the excellent and tremendously unsettling sound design from Timothy X Atack, is a sense of the thrill of Elvis, the sheer chutzpah of him. While Wohead describes him beautifully, we’re always aware that Elvis is not in the building.