London’s Blink Dance Theatre has brought something quite extraordinary to the stage in its show Elvis Died of Burgers.
The performers sing, dance and narrate their way through the story of Elvis Presley, a gigantic American rock and roll star in every sense of the word, who sadly died in 1977 on the toilet, aged just 42, morbidly obese and addicted to painkillers and junk food.
They do not focus solely on Elvis, although much of the performance is narrated in sparkling Elvis costumes, sometimes delivered from a line of golden toilets on which the performers are seated.
They engage with their own love of junk food, and their reasons for loving it – burgers, chips, doughnuts, the lot.
Blink operates as a cooperative, the four main performers are company directors and each has a specific role in addition to performance work. All are neurodiverse, including performers who have learning disabilities.
I confess I had some trepidation about this production. Seeing the title, I wondered if I was going to be sitting through a worthy disposition on the wisdom of healthy eating, the perils of junk food and the value of a risk-free life.
But then I didn’t know Blink Dance Theatre.
What we got was a glorious, riotous hour in praise of burgers (preferably without the lettuce), the sheer sensuous delight of sinking your teeth into what we all know is the wrong sort of food and the joy of unrestrained pleasure. There was neither a lecture nor a homily in sight and it was scintillating stuff.
At one point, the brilliant Francis Majekodunmi was wheeled out swaying on a golden hostess trolley, wearing around his waist a gigantic burger in a bun with all the trimmings. He dismounted and gyrated around the stage to pulsing music, inviting the audience to love the burger as much as he does.
Later, during the re-enactment of Elvis’s funeral, he was the preacher, eliciting fervent alleluias from the audience as the great burger-eater was put to rest.
Vicki Hawkins gave a beautiful and poignant account of the role junk food played when she was struck by family tragedy. Rachel Gildea’s expressive performance holds the whole show together. Last but by no means least, Delson Weekes is an unforgettable, full-on Elvis. Rachel Jones signs the whole performance while participating in scenes and dance sequences.
Sensory not censorious
An audience member put it well: “I’m so pleased to see something that celebrates food and taste and enjoyment and comfort of food, and isn’t saying what’s bad about this and what might be wrong with it, but really lets us into this very sensory experience.”
This is the most challenging, courageous, brilliant, stand-out, moving and sophisticated show I have seen in a long time – and I go to a lot of dance and theatre.
It is what performance should be, and it knocks the spots off anything now on in London’s West End – I stand by every word of that.
Risk managers, nutrition advisers, and safeguarding leads should probably stay at home for their own wellbeing – but I implore anyone else to buy, beg, steal or borrow a ticket to see these wonderful performers in action.