Talk about being late to the party. By the time many of us caught on to the surprise word-of-mouth hit of 2017, The Elvis Dead, the Monkey Barrel was groaning at capacity and tickets were rarer than a good day for Theresa May. Happily, Rob Kemp has brought his mental mash-up of legendary splatter-fest Evil Dead II and the music of Elvis Presley back to the Fringe, at the much more capacious Pleasance Above. Familiarity has dulled none of its lustre.
Despite having performed the show innumerable times over the last year, Kemp still seems genuinely bemused and delighted at the phenomenal response his niche little idea has had, and after a low-key intro which he explains the concept and thanks us for coming, he hurls himself into his performance with maximum commitment. Before long he’s covered in fake blood and rolling around a stage littered with debris as he apes the gory goings-on onscreen.
That would be entertaining on its own but it’s the songs, belted out in a creditable facsimile of the King’s unmistakable tones, that make the The Elvis Dead something to truly behold. Not everyone has seen the film from which Kemp derives his inspiration, but there’s nary a soul alive who hasn’t an almost osmotic knowledge of Presley’s back catalogue, and there’s a fresh rush of recognition at each song. ‘Suspicious Minds’ becomes ‘Tangled in Vines’, ‘Viva Las Vegas’ transmutes into ‘Read from the Pages’, and there’s no doubt of the root of ‘You Were Always on My Arm’.
Some of of the more game members of the crowd happily get involved and clap and cheer, some even singing backing vocals. Kemp says he would rather the show be treated like a concert than a comedy gig and you get the impression that on a Friday and Saturday the atmosphere will be incredible. The concept becomes a little strained by the end, yet Kemp’s energy level never wavers and there’s something genuinely rousing at the climax as he holds his prop shotgun and chainsaw arm aloft in weary triumph, looking every inch a ringer for Bruce Campbell himself. As several happy punters queue up to have their photo taken with the chainsaw prop, one word immediately comes to mind to sum up the whole joyful endeavour: “Groovy!”