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Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis review at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough – ‘hilarious and heartwarming’

Rachael Henley and Jun Hwang in Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis. Photo: Tony Bartholomew
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It’s the night of the epiphany and dominatrix Josie is beginning to lose heart with her life, but at the age of 50, is there any point trying to change who she is? Enter Lionel, the cross-dressing dry cleaner, setting in motion a chain of events in which a Chinese Elvis impersonator ends up being a catalyst for change.

Jones’ 1999 play is part dark comedy, part poignant examination of parental choices. Carla Goodman’s effective set consists of a living room in which images of the real Elvis feature heavily, beneath a structure that is half birdcage, half snow dome.

Although the characters are hilariously over the top, Jones’ writing gives them depth. Catholic cleaning lady Martha (Shelley Atkinson) has OCD tendencies and needs to count to five almost continuously. Although her condition is never fully addressed, Atkinson’s performance ensures that Martha is whole as a person, not just a collection of tics and symptoms.

Jemma Churchill plays the rough-hewn but kind-hearted Josie opposite the hugely entertaining Eamonn Riley as Lionel. Both characters are aware of their faults but not crushed by them. Josie’s daughter Brenda-Marie is played with touching vulnerability by Zara Jayne. Rachael Henley is also on strong form as the sophisticated, but ultimately fragile Louise while Jun Hwang, as Timothy Wong, captures the character’s nice-lad persona.

Gemma Fairlie’s production creates a feeling of epiphany, as the characters slowly find that their own personal cages can also become snow domes.

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Uplifting revival of Charlotte Jones’ heart-warming and hilarious play