Elvis Presley. The King. Elvis the Pelvis(!). Whatever name he goes by, he is one of the 20th century’s most iconic cultural figures whose influence can still be felt to this day. He also makes anything more interesting; from a strange sequence in that one-of-a-kind movie The Boss Baby, to leading a Nirvana tribute band, the sudden appearance of an Elvis impersonator lifts expectations and anticipation. So is the case with Rob Kemp: The Elvis Dead, which Kemp himself says is not too complicated an affair – the story of the cult classic Evil Dead II retold to the soundtrack of Elvis.
It is niche for sure, and maximum satisfaction is certainly reserved for those who are already knowledgeable fans of Evil Dead II. Refreshingly though, you do not need to know a lot of Elvis to have a good time. His reverence is so keenly felt even today that even those with only a fleeting familiarity with his music will find themselves clapping and tapping their feet. It’s the references to the film that is more likely to go over your head if you have not done what Kemp calls “the required reading”. In any case, as Kemp comes onstage explaining what is about to happen, you wonder what on earth you have got yourself into. By about song three or four though, the show really gets into the swing of things.
Featuring Elvis tracks such as ‘Devil in Disguise’ and ‘Return to Sender’, Kemp rewrites portions of the songs to map onto clips of the film played on a big screen behind him. It is ridiculous, no question – don’t come to the show expecting a refined piece of musical theatre. This is best appreciated, not as theatre or even as comedy, but as a concert with aspects of theatre and comedy thrown in. Do that, and this is bloody good fun. Kemp joins the audience in revelling in everything that makes Sam Raimi’s 1987 horror sequel so awful that it’s good, all the while strutting around like the King and taking liberties with the songs to be as descriptive of what is onscreen as he can be.
It is much harder than people realise to impersonate Elvis credibly, much less maintain an hour-long performance in this guise. Kemp however does a brilliant job, genuinely shocking you with the quality of his voice at times. While in appearance he more closely resembles the movie’s protagonist, Ash Williams, his voice channels the king of rock and roll as well as any of the best tributes out there. Spraying his face with fake blood multiple times and donning a chainsaw hand, Kemp is clearly on the stage to have a lot of fun. That energy finds its way into the crowd, who, even if they aren’t familiar with the film, quickly get behind the star’s likeable persona.
This is one of those shows that need not be taken any further than face value. It is in its sheer obviousness, its unashamed parody, that the most fun is to be found from The Elvis Dead. Kemp will win you over very quickly and interacts with the audience in such an entertaining manner, celebrating both an icon of music history and a film that boasts a mass cult following. This is designed for those with a knowledge of the film no question, but Kemp is talented and charismatic enough to get anyone behind his hip-swinging, gut-spilling rock and roll horror fest. In a word, groovy.
Rob Kemp: The Elvis Dead
Pleasance Courtyard – Pleasance Above (Venue 33)
9-26 August (not 13, 14, 20 & 21)
Photo Credit: Geoff Rowe