★★★★ THE ELVIS DEAD, SOHO THEATRE Schlock horror told through Elvis songs
A fair few Edinburgh Fringe shows are just that – things that work perfectly in the “let's do the show right here” spirit that permeates the festival, in a tiny (and often grotty) venue that adds hugely to the vibe. That's all well and good during August, of course, but come later in the year when a show moves beyond the festival confines it can lose much of its spark.
So it's a delight that Rob Kemp's The Elvis Dead, which was a word-of-mouth hit before it deservedly gained a best newcomer nomination in the lastminute.com Edinburgh Comedy Awards, has made the journey south for a late-night weekend residence at Soho Theatre and retained its brio.
Kemp, by day an examinations officer in a Walsall school, still looks as if he can't quite believe the popularity of the show. Essentially it's a spoof of the shlock zombie horror move Evil Dead 2, told through the medium of Elvis Presley songs (with some adjustments to the lyrics). He has fashioned it – complete with homemade props – with an obvious love for both the film and the singer.
Kemp explains the wonderfully daft concept – something he wrote “for my mates to enjoy” – before the start of the show, and his modest bafflement that it has turned into a huge hit makes him instantly likeable. That amiability carries the audience along, as they hand him some of the props – which include a full-size cardboard chainsaw and a child's toy rifle – and join in choruses.
Kemp can carry a tune and wiggles his hips Elvis-style as – against the backdrop of scenes from the film shown on a screen behind him – he acts out what happens to Ash Williams in that cabin in the woods. It's an energetic performance as Kemp throws himself around the stage, covers himself with pretend blood and chainsaw oil, smashes plates against his head and ends the evening with his rhinestone-decorated shirt ripped to shreds.
Sam Raimi's 1987 gory bloodfest was, of course, itself tongue in cheek, and Kemp manages to spoof it while adding another level of dark humour with his reworked lyrics for Elvis hits: “Are You Lonesome Tonight” becomes "are you losing your mind?" as Williams starts losing his; “Always on My Mind” becomes "you were always on my arm" as our hero mourns his lopped-off hand; while “Burning Love” becomes “a hunk of burning skull” as we see more gothic horrors played out on screen.
A high-concept show delivered with a lo-fi sensibility, The Elvis Dead is a hoot from start to finish.
- Rob Kemp at Soho Theatre every weekend until 20 January
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