Monday, January 22, 2018

Saturday Night in London with Rob Kemp's The Elvis Dead

When you grow up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, it breeds in you a taste for a certain kind of movie. The usual descriptor is "bad," as per the theme song lyrics:
I'll send him cheesy movies
the worst I can find
but I think a better concept might be "ambitious." Movies that tried really hard, but were limited by budget, poor casting choices, or real life setbacks and hardships. Sometimes ambitious movies turn out okay, or even great; sometimes they turn out, well, bad

Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead is one of those ambitious movies, and naturally I love it. I came to the series backwards, first by way of Army of Darkness at 13? 14? and then circling back to The Evil Dead a few years later. So when the weekly email digest of The Guardian had a headline about a comedy show called The Elvis Dead, a one-man mash-up of Elvis and Evil Dead II, my interest was piqued. When the tickets were only 17 GBP, I said, "Why not?" and booked a ticket and an overnight trip to London.


The stage before The Elvis Dead show opened: the logo projected on a screen next the stage, which is empty except for a small table with a few props.

First of all, I'm genuinely surprised to see something like this coming out of the UK—I won't deny Elvis Presley's universal appeal and and acclaim, but the gags in the Karo syrup drenched zombie quasi-comedy, with its gross-out, slapstick humor, seem very American: a little (or a lot) more lowbrow compared to British comedy standards. I don't think I'm entirely off-base with that assessment; if the polling-by-audience-decibel-levels method is anything to rely on, it seems that maybe about a third of the audience, at least, had never seen Evil Dead II before the show, including my two table mates.

Maybe they were Elvis fans?

It was the best Saturday night I've had in a dog's age (since I usually work straight until 7 PM on Saturdays). I don't know if I can articulate what I was expecting, except maybe a standard Evil Dead II  screening punctuated by more or less sedate, amateur renditions of reworked Elvis tunes at appropriate moments. What I got was so much more than that. The Elvis Dead was a one-man physical comedy act that didn't let up for the entire time, with ingenius low-budget real-time effects solutions. It doesn't hurt, either, that Kemp actually sings, and sings well (from what little an amateur such as me can judge)*, while throwing himself around the stage, smashing plates on his head and struggling with his own demon-possessed hand. A lesser man would have lip-synched during this extremely physical show.

Kemp is a warm and amiable guy when he's not fighting imaginary Deadites on stage, and was generous about getting photos with people after the show.

Yours truly posing for a photo with bloody and bedraggled Rob Kemp after a performance of The Elvis Dead.

He even patiently let possibly drunk, definitely very exhausted but also thrilled me gush at him about the show before some generous soul in the line snapped a few pictures of me with him. Thanks, random stranger! And apologies to everyone else in line for taking up your valuable time with my fangirl bullshit.

A candid of yours truly gushing at Rob Kemp about his show. Hopefully his enthusiasm for, and interest in, what I'm saying is more genuine than feigned.

It's a long shot, but hopefully he'll do a European tour before retiring the show? With a stop in Stockholm? I mean, if Jimmy Carr can deign to visit Göteberg...

*The one and only clip on YouTube of his performance, should you go a-Googlin', doesn't do justice to the performance I saw last Saturday. Not sure whether Kemp's voice was nearly blown out at the time of the recording, or if he's done some serious vocal training since August, or both. (Or maybe the sound quality of the recording just isn't that great.) But either way I don't think it's fair to use it here as anything indicative of what the show was actually like. Maybe SoHo Theatre will upload some footage of their own, soon?

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