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Are You Lonesome Tonight?

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Faber & Faber, London, 1985
(price: 3.95, 96 pages)

dedication: To Bill Morrison, Timothy Bleasdale and Jo Beddoe. They all know why.

The blurb on the back:

This powerful new play counterpoints the last days of Elvis Presley - popping pills at Gracelands [sic], eating gargantuan breakfasts in the middle of the night - with his early career as 'the white boy who sang like a Negro' and who swiftly became an international twentieth-century cult hero. The Liverpool Playhouse production features an inspired and moving performance by Martin Shaw as the older Presley, and an electrifying impersonation of the younger by Simon Bowman.
Alan Bleasdale who, in the character of Yosser Hughes in
Boys From the Black Stuff, created a modern archetype, brings to bear in Are You Lonesome Tonight? an equally tender and unflinching gaze on the creation and destruction of a modern myth.

Alan Bleasdale is the Liverpudlian dramatist best known for his TV creations Boys From the Black Stuff (1982) and GBH (1991), which I seem to be alone in regarding as absurd, melodramatic excess blown out of all proportion to their inherent worth. This, however, is a much more attractive proposition: Elvis is a figure of such magnitude that no amount of over-writing can come close to expressing the scale of his myth.

Set predominantly in the last period of Elvis' life, the play juxtaposes the King's declining days with early images of the rocker, and with the gathering of a couple of ex-employees who're preparing a scandalous book. These latter are identified as Duke and Gerry, but are presumably based on Red and Sonny West, whose tabloid-trash Elvis - What Happened? has been cited by some (including Albert Goldman) as a possible motive for Elvis' suicide.

Simon BowmanAs with that other Faber & Faber play script Teeth 'n' Smiles, I'm working at the disadvantage of not having seen a production of this piece. But it reads well and it feels like it should be highly effective, given the right casting. In the original version Martin Shaw was the latter-day Elvis, with Simon Bowman (left) as the younger incarnation. Shaw, I have no doubts about - he's a good enough actor to get away with it - but Bowman, as someone who's appeared in Lloyd-Webber musicals, seems a much more dubious prospect: apologies to him, if I'm wrong.

One particularly annoying feature that can't escape censure is the insistence on referring to Elvis' home as Gracelands instead of Graceland - it ain't that complex a concept to get right. Luckily the script also offers such accurate tributes as this: 'he is the nearest thing to a Greek god that our generation - this century will ever see.' (p.39)


further reading: a brace of pointless Elvis books
click to engorge
The Life and Cuisine of
Elvis Presley
click to enlarge
I Am Elvis:
A Guide to Elvis Impersonators

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