Million Dollar Quartet (UK Tour), Edinburgh Playhouse | Review

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Million Dollar Quartet (UK Tour)
Edinburgh Playhouse
Reviewed on Tuesday 24th October 2017 by Liv Ancell

Memorialising the famous jam session of 1956, where fate brought together legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis, Million Dollar Quartet is an energetic show which rattles through instantly recognisable hits from the golden age of rock n’roll at a lightning-fast rate.

Martin Kemp plays the ‘ringmaster’ of the show, Southern music mogul Sam Phillips. The man who brought them all together under his grass-roots label Sun Records, he also provides commentary as to the back stories of the four stars, frequently breaking the fourth wall and treating the audience like an old friend. 

This is a fast-paced show with little time for dialogue; the first half is a mere 40 minutes of back-to-back tunes, with little time for talking. During this time, the characters share a little camaraderie, but the focus is on the hits. The spectacular array of voices as well as world class musicians in the tiny recording studio set turns the theatre show into a veritable live rock concert.

The leg-shaking, foot-tapping firecracker, Jerry Lee Lewis, is portrayed with limitless vitality by Martin Kaye - a role he has been playing since 2013, but astonishingly, not a single iota of his energetic and charismatic presence has waned in this time. He really stole the show and was an audience favourite - his cheeky and youthful, unpolished and unfiltered personality was both refreshing and infectious.

The other actors had clearly studied the iconic voices of their roles in great depth, with Robbie Durham (Cash), Matthew Wycliffe (Perkins) and Rhys Whitfield (Presley) all achieving near-perfect matches of their famous characters, even mimicking their stage presence and movements. Katie Ray played a supporting role of Dyanne, but when she did take to the microphone, the versatility and depth of her voice shone through. My only criticism of Katie Ray would be that her accent strayed from American to English at times, which was a little confusing.

The pace slows in the second half, as the session slowly winds down and reality sets in. It becomes clear that the session that we have witnessed was a remarkable and fleeting moment in history, where these four stars came together under one roof, united by the music they loved.

The ending was extremely ambiguous; for the last half an hour, it wasn’t clear quite when the show was going to end. The story ended, and the characters bowed. This was immediately followed by an impromptu seeming concert, allowing each of the 4 a solo to really showcase their talents, which whipped the audience into a frenzy. During this time, the lighting effects were amped up with extra rigging lowered, as we were no longer witnessing a performance in the confines of the recording studio.

In terms of staging and lighting throughout, it was relatively low key, with no transitions in staging. The singular static setting meant that a small recording studio was recreated on stage, which was a small place for such a big sound. This reinforced however how small-town Phillips’ recording studio really was though, making this encounter all the more unbelievable. 

Overall, the talents in this show were incredible - particularly Martin Kaye’s performance in which playing complex scores on the piano while jumping around animatedly somehow seemed effortless. More dialogue and more of a back story would have perhaps given the show a little more depth and narrative however, but if you simply want to see a performance which showcases these artists or this style of music, Million Dollar Quartet is guaranteed to rock your socks off!