Tonight I was in Derby for Rob Kemp’s The Elvis Dead. I was glad I bought tickets as there didn’t look to be an empty seat going spare. This was a show that was well supported by the comedy community with, Jon Pearson (recipient of a round of applause for sorting out the projector), Pat Draper, Peter Thomas, Stevie Gray and Thom Hodkinson present, plus my mum and dad, too, who were looking forwards to this. There was a bit of a delayed start as some codfangler had managed to reverse into Rob’s car on his way to the show, but this wasn’t the end of the world, as there was no show on afterwards to inconvenience. The mood in the room prior to show time was buoyant with a lot of good will present. It almost had an end of term feel to it, possibly because it was on a Thursday and still light outside.
This was a show that following the triumph in Leicester, was carrying a huge weight of expectation; Rob, with his infectious charm, admitted that at the top of the night and grounded the audience by confessing that this was only the third time that he had performed it. Personally I was there because I had heard so many people say so much that was good about it. I’m not an Elvis fan, I’ve never seen an Evil Dead film and I’m not even a fan of musical comedy, so with that in mind, it wasn’t an obvious choice for me. I was present and had persuaded my folks to come, simply due to word of mouth and so I was hoping that the bush telegraph was right and we’d be in for a great time.
I’m not sure what struck me first, Kemp’s commitment or his singing. It may have been Rob’s voice, which is surprisingly good. It’s one thing to have a fair resemblance to The King, but another to actually sound like him and this is a man who carries a rockabilly tune very well. If the bottom ever drops out of comedy, Kemp could quite conceivably work up a musical act as Rock n Roll Rob. The voice was one of the first things that I noticed, but I’m not sure if it was that or the sheer amount of life and energy that he injected into the show that made the greatest impression. Kemp is fully committed to the role and manages to live it for the duration of the show. There were the odd moments where he broke the 4th wall, such as when he missed a line of a song; but his knowing grin at that moment carried bags of charm and the laugh he received showed that he’d done more than get away with that slight error.
The plot of the show is the story of the Evil Dead 2 told through the medium of some very cleverly adapted Elvis songs. There is a lot of wit involved in the adaptations and it’s advisable to listen to every line, as I’d imagine that familiarity with the original wording can ensure that the odd laugh is missed. Whilst Rob is singing, the projector shows the relevant parts of the film on a screen, which adds a lot of comprehension to those who aren’t familiar with the film. There are moments when the screen is blank, which does seem a bit of a missed opportunity, but the mainspring of the show is Kemp himself. There are a lot of props involved and these are all used to glorious effect as Rob throws himself around the stage with such wild abandon that he would be advised to get some matting in time for Edinburgh, otherwise he is going to end up black and blue with bruises and will probably pop a few ribs. I admire his dedication to the physical comedy of the show, but I’d hate to see him come a cropper for it. Some of his actions are quite hard to see if not sat at the front, but even if you can’t see all of it, you get the drift quite well.
This show is inspired. It is very funny, it is refreshingly original and above all Kemp really sells it. By the time of the final song the audience were clapping along and I wasn’t surprised when he received a standing ovation. I will be very surprised if Rob doesn’t come back from Edinburgh with a cult hit on his hands. This is a must see show.
Merch can be found here: