Waiting for Elvis

Anne Kent, Gillian McCarthy in 'Waiting for Elvis' at Axis: Ballymun.

Anne Kent, Gillian McCarthy in 'Waiting for Elvis' at Axis: Ballymun.

Anne Kent, Gillian McCarthy in 'Waiting for Elvis' at Axis: Ballymun.

Anne Kent, Gillian McCarthy in 'Waiting for Elvis' at Axis: Ballymun.

Elvis Presley died on the 16th of August 1977... didn’t he? Not according to countless tabloid tales, internet blogs and conspiracy theorists; and not according to true believer Lisa Marie (Anne Kent), who waits faithfully and doggedly for The King to show up and join her on a park bench in Dublin. That is until Elizabeth (Gillian McCarthy) shows up and asks if she can sit next to her. So begins writer Eileen Gibbons’ tale of a friendship that begins with tenuous fragility, yet develops into a bond that most of us would be envious of.

The sparsity of Marie Tierney’s set, comprising a park bench, a waste bin and a bare-branched tree, echoes that of the nondescript sets often used in productions of the play’s namesake, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot – but unlike in Beckett's tragicomedy, here is no messenger boy to tell the duo that their wait will be in vain. And so they wait. As the seasons change, marked by subtle shifts in lighting (Conleth White) and restrained sound effects, we bear witness to the evolution of camaraderie between a cantankerous woman who sits day in, day out on a park bench awaiting the arrival of Elvis Presley, and a jittery girl who is so innocent that she has been “named after Elizabeth Walton, the youngest of the Waltons”.

Clever costume design presets the audience’s initial perceptions of the two characters as ‘crazy Elvis lady’ and ‘simple-minded girl’ respectively by clothing Lisa Marie in ragged, patterned layers, with bedraggled hair and a skin tone so pallid she looks close to death, and Elizabeth in bright socks and ill-fitting jeans that, coupled with her novelty hats and pigtailed hair, give her all of the aesthetic qualities of child stuck in a woman’s body. As the nuances of each woman’s character are unravelled delicately under the direction of Axis' Acting Director Mark O'Brien, the fact that we have formed our first opinions based on their ostensibly stereotypical appearances becomes jarringly self-evident. But this is what Waiting for Elvis means to do; to challenge our perceptions of the people we encounter, judge and dismiss on a near-daily basis without a second thought.

Anne-Kent-and-Gillian-McCarthy-in-Waiting-for-Elvis-at-Axis-Ballymun-3-13-April-(1).jpgWhilst the development of the friendship and trust between Lisa Marie and Elizabeth cannot be understated, and gives the play its overarching tenderness, humour takes centre-stage in Waiting for Elvis and each actor is wonderfully adept at highlighting the hilarity of her respective character’s idiosyncrasies in a way that invites the audience to laugh heartily without any sense of derision. Anne Kent as Lisa Marie has an agitated drawl, as if someone is always ‘mithering’ her, and her use of colloquialisms, such as when she tells Elizabeth that Elvis faked his own death because “the poor man was plagued with every Tom, Dick and Harry hangin’ out of him”, is spot-on, conveying that perfect blend of observational wit and mockery that is so unique to an older generation of Dubliners.

Though set entirely on a park bench, under O'Brien's direction, physical comedy does not suffer either and there are a number of scenes that have the audience howling. The sight of this mismatched pair sitting on a park bench, one enthusiastically applying the other’s deodorant before the older woman tosses it back into her trolley, is both endearing and slightly bizarre; as is their regular sharing of marshmallows, which Lisa Marie saves in her skirt pocket to be fished out and eaten later. Tender moments of exchange like these physically represent the off-kilter friendship that the two women develop over time.

As their bond grows stronger over the seasons, their friendship is tested by external forces such as a difference of opinion about the merits of a wheelchair-bound, Miraculous Medal-peddling park regular and Lisa Marie’s thinly-veiled jealously of Elizabeth’s adulation for her mentor at work. When the play’s dramatic climax casts aspersions over whether or not The King really lives, the pair’s friendship is thrown into uncertainty and we are left wondering whether or not the bond between these two really was as genuine as we thought. A beautiful, kind-hearted gesture by Lisa Marie eventually restores faith that though these women may have initially forged compatibility simply because they were sharing a place on the margins of society, over time their friendship becomes about more than simply forming an alliance against the rest of the world.

Sheena Madden works with RTÉ Radio and writes on theatre and music for a number of publications. She holds a BA in Journalism.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Waiting for Elvis by Eileen Gibbons

02 - 13 April, 2013

Produced by Axis: Ballymun
In Axis: Ballymun

Directed by Mark O'Brien

Design: Marie Tierney

Lighting design: Conleth White

With: Anne Kent and Gillian McCarthy