theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh – until 27 August 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Prestwick Elvis, by Swiftkick and New Celts at theSpace on the Mile, is a gently funny and unexpectedly sweet play that has a wide appeal.
Ian Dunn’s new play is set on that legendary day in March 1960 when The King changed planes at the USAF air base at Prestwick Airport – the only time he ever set foot on British soil. It takes its inspiration from real events as Elvis mingled briefly with local fans, but goes on to detail a longer, fictional encounter.
When a play is specifically promoted as ‘heartwarming’ many hearts will sink instead. But there is a definite feelgood air to this unashamedly sentimental piece. Well constructed and accessible, it can easily be imagined as having a future among audiences throughout Scotland and abroad – although an expurgated edition might be necessary for family audiences.
The first question about a play concerning Elvis is whether he appears on stage himself or not. It is not much of a spoiler to say he features heavily here, with Alex McNeill acquitting himself well as the polite, God-fearing but strangely hair-obsessed superstar.
Marie, the Presley-loving teenager who is desperate to meet her hero but finds the day changing her life in other ways, is the real centre of the piece, with it being framed as her reminiscences. In the role, Debi Pirie is a natural storyteller who provides an ebullient, likeable stage presence.
a cut above the usual
There is a slightly moralistic tone to the play’s insistence that no-one – even Elvis – can be taken at face value. Most of the other characters are mechanics at the airport; Sean O’Brien, as the joker Eric, and Andy Robertson, as gruff Aberdonian George, provide good support. Malachi Reid, as would-be reporter Lewis, takes a while to warm up but provides a well-rounded character.
Andrew Sim, as the apparently cynical Angus, is another affable performer, who deals with some potentially tricky exposition with ease.
Dunn’s direction is a cut above the usual student production, with none of the ‘no-one’s moved this chair for five minutes’ fussiness that can sometimes occur.
Considering how long ago Elvis’s death must seem to the performers, let alone 1960, they deal with the nostalgic, gently humorous tone effortlessly. Ten minutes shaved off the running time might make a tighter production, but the humour and humanity on display here will please many.
Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes (no interval)
theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39), 80 High Street, EH1 1TH
Sunday 7 – Saturday 27 August 2016
Odd dates only: 4.45 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/prestwick-elvis