PRESIDENT OR POP KING? WHO HOLDS THE SECRET OFLIFE?
It’s a portmanteau of Theodore Roosevelt and Elvis Presley. And, one must sorrowfully surmise, was lit upon by The Team, a collaborative group, mainly for the sake of using that gamesome centaur of a title. Not too bad an idea, though, to have the spirits of two national heroes competing to hearten a shy, depressed citizen of today on a road trip. As if we were to portray a struggle between Churchill and John Lennon to offer life-coaching on the A 14 .
ThE heroine here is Ann (Libby King), a shy gay meat-packing factory worker in South Dakota, who holds imaginary conversations with her alternative persona as Elvis, longs for love, and welcomes to her apartment the more adventurous ourdoorsy Brenda (Kristen Sieh) who she has met online and who is a bit Roosevelt. There’s an introduction in which they run us through a few details of their alter egos’ lives , in full drag including Brenda in sidewhiskers and bucksins. Then we find them on a middling-unsuccessful romantic campervan weekend to Mount Rushmore.
Brenda finally reproves Ann for being “unbrave”. In this sequence, and others, they spend a lot of time passive, watching bits of pre-created location film of their own activities on screens around the stage: theatre for the selfie generation. It does at least give them time to hop in and out of the costumes of their personae: Elvis’ is simple enough given Ann’s macho outfits and “dude underwear”, but Sieh has some sharp quick-changes into buckskins and sidewhiskers.
For most of the 95 minutes Ann is alone, going crosscountry to Graceland to show she is not unbrave; we gradually work out that the sidewhiskered Brenda now exists only in Ann’s head, ever at her side leaping around punching video-screen buffalo or delivering inspiring Roosevelt quotes. Conveniently, the real Elvis did love the President’s line about “great and generous emotion, high pride, stern belief, lofty enthusiasm”. Finally they fall out, Roosevelt calling Elvis “degenerate” and lazy, Elvis snarling “Rich kid!” and whining that he couldn’t have done any better with his life after coming from a family of “dirt farmers”. The message, unsubtly and repeatedly hammered home, is that there are two kinds of America, and that each of us as Whitman says “contains multitudes”.
Oh, and part of Ann’s problem is that she’s ashamed of being gay. The real Brenda, reappearing on the phone at Ann’s lowest moment, turns out to be a chilly cow anyway, telling her she’s “depressed” and that no, she never gave her much of a thought after that camping weekend. One finale inevitably references them as Thelma and Louise going over the Grand Canyon, the other has Ann glumly reaching Graceland.
The laborious whimsy wears thin, and there’s a a skill deficit. Ann’s voice and body language simply do not change enough between being herself and being Elvis, though the script needs her to do it moment to moment. Sieh as Roosevelt has created an accent so bafflingly odd (an idea of late-19c American Toff) that it grates into irrelevance. . She is, though, at least physically adept, spurting with energy and a good comic mover in the imaginary Roosevelt’s odd dance sequences. King, though more real, offers only a sweet one-note melancholy with underpowered Elvis moments. In the end, she has a speech of proper strength. But only the one.
box office 020 7565 5000 to 14 Nov