After hearing multiple incredible things about Greg Wohead’s Ted Bundy Project, I was intrigued to see how recreating another American idol would be performed and created. In Comeback Special we participate in an insane world of fact, observation and opinion, living Wohead’s own experience of watching the one off TV show called Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special.
A bare, black stage sits in the centre of the audience; an in-the-round setting to mildly resemble the original stage. Wohead himself enters and, in monotone, dictates his intense recollection of the Comeback Special with quiet echoes of Elvis’ music blurred into the background. We envisage the male figure in front of us- dressed from head to toe in simple black clothing; a leather jacket with a quiff in his hair and an acoustic guitar strung around his neck. As we delve further into Wohead’s description we see chairs placed around the stage to resemble Elvis’ band members. A bare stage, through our imagination, becomes the lively, bustling, obsessive setting of Elvis’ live set. Shoreditch Town Hall’s Comeback Special is an imagination recreation. We paint our own picture of what the show was really like.
As the physical description of the people and atmosphere become increasingly detailed, the background clips and music soar up, creating a maddening but more realistic atmosphere, bringing in elements of the original Comeback Special. Soon, we are asked to participate in the action. Audience members are asked to do confusingly embarrassing tasks in time to the overhead sounds but progressively this becomes entertaining. The motions of each individual or group create a story, one that we are finally shown from the Comeback Special movie.
The script of this show speaks for itself. Although spoken simply, the language and detail makes it intriguing to hear. At moments it’s funny, at others we are merely hearing a physical description of everything that is happening around ‘Elvis’. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes it entertaining, but without a doubt it’s original and an innovative recreation.
With all this in mind and the fact that I did enjoy the show, I have one dilemma. What was its purpose? It is not essential for theatre to offer an opinion but it should have a purpose. It wasn’t entertaining enough and seems that it would succeed as a written piece rather than something performed. I sit in a precarious position here as this question forces me to consider whether this works as a piece of theatre. The answer is yes, but I’m still unable to express why as, as far as I can tell, there is no reason for the piece at all.
I can imagine that the opinions offered from each audience member will be polarized, causing some to be outraged and bored, and some who adore Greg Wheat’s work to want more. More than anything, I’m interested to see what other insights are offered about this intriguing piece of work. This is a show to see, to consider and to re-evaluate where you stand with your definition of what theatre is and should be.
Comeback Special is playing Shoreditch Town Hall until 26 March 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Shoreditch Town Hall website.
Photo: Manuel Vason