King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 2 March 2019
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
Fake folkies and Armenia’s greatest boogie-woogie pianist stand out in the sixth instalment of Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show.
It feels like only five minutes since Allan Stewart and Grant Stott left the King’s stage after another massively successful panto, but here they are back with another panto of sorts.
There’s a comic, a singing group, a magician… exactly the type of acts once slotted into the Christmas entertainments, but Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show doesn’t need to find story space for them. It’s more a case of bringing them on in a logical order and mixing and matching as required.
The show opens with Stewart, accompanied by the terrific Andy Pickering Orchestra, singing his intention to ‘Get the Party Started’, and he’s soon joined by Stott for a round of gags reminding us how well they work together – Stewart the showbiz all-rounder with a lifetime’s experience, Stott the accidental entertainer whose comic charisma has grown exponentially with every theatrical opportunity grabbed.
The first guest act is Scotland’s Soul Nation Choir, who didn’t manage to transfer their energy to the opening night audience until their final song, ‘Oh Happy Day!’ It wasn’t that the King’s house didn’t like them, more that we were – whisper it – a bit too old to turn cartwheels.
British-Armenian comic Kev Orkian, though, benefited from the gang’s warm-up, generating guffaws with his quickfire bits about Brexit and immigration, and wowing with his piano prowess… his version of Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’ never fails to amuse.
Stewart and Stott – they even sound like a double act – return in their old guise of the McRobert Brothers from Effin, Boaby and Big Boaby, taking the mickey out of couthy folkies and, courtesy of popular TV show Long Lost Effin Families, gaining a slew of more exotic Boabies. Sure, the shtick is old, but it’s also really funny, especially when Kev Orkian surprises with some, supposedly, off-script off-colour humour.
The second half brings us Britain’s Got Talent star Mandy Muden, unperturbed by first night sound gremlins (after her initial sound pack fails, a handheld mic isn’t the best idea for a magic act). Close-up magic isn’t always a great fit for a theatre stage but Muden’s banter, warmth and genuine skill carried the day… if Tommy Cooper was watching from above, Muden would likely merit a sly ‘Just like that’.
Stott returned with some of his trademark Tales from Behind the Mic, his musings about Scottish words and dance floor desperation connecting with the packed house – and he gifted us a very catchy Eighties dance anthem we won’t be singing to small children.
This is indeed adults-only fare, being a fair bit smuttier than your average ‘works on two levels’ panto and Stewart knows his audience is of a certain age; hence a clever routine about the Three Pees which bedevil older gentlemen – peeing, pills and, er, pharting – culminating in a clever Queen pastiche.
Having showed us snaps from his early days, a sentimental Stewart concludes the evening with a version of Sweet Charity’s If They Could See Me Now dedicated to his late father, his first manager. The song seemed strangely rushed, the usually smooth Stewart sounding as if he was taking off the cliched pub singer. And then, a rushed goodnight, with co-stars thanked, but not seen… the hardworking gang, and loyal audience, deserved better.
So, not a vintage year for the Big Big Variety Show, but still a more than decent night out, with enough shining moments to justify another outing next year.
Running time: Two hours and five minutes (including interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Tue 26 February to Sat 2 March 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees Wed & Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
Soul Nation Choir