King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 4 March 2017
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
It’s Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show at the King’s this week. Or maybe it’s the Big Big BIG Variety Show. It’s hard to keep these things straight…but it’s fair to say it’s big.
There’s the big star himself, Stewart, the teenage impressionist who bloomed into a legitimate stage star. Panto pal Grant Stott, aka Mr Edinburgh, the local lad who made good and keeps making better. Elaine C Smith, ‘one of the few Weegies who likes Edinburgh’ and in anyone’s book one of Scotland’s biggest stars.
They are just for starters as Stewart brings back the format that’s on its way to becoming a tradition. And a show this good ought to be back at the King’s as an annual complement to the pantos built around Stewart, Stott and previous BBVS co-star Andy Gray, who’s missing this time.
Gray’s absence meant feckless folkies the McRobert Brothers were missing a Boaby, but happily, Effin lads Wee Boaby (the beardy one) and Big Boaby (the toothy one) have an equally musical/weird cousin, Boabina from Acht in Aberdeenshire. Smith fitted right in with straight-faced Stewart and corpsing Stott, and they all went Very Panto Indeed when they split the audience down the middle for a spot of 500 Miles.
Smith also had a solo spot, delivering gags with her trademark warmth and surprising a few audience members with how brilliantly she can belt out a Billie Holiday number. Along the way she did some consciousness-raising, getting us to actually listen to the lyrics of Jack Jones Bacharach/David-penned hit Wives and Lovers… and they say Scottish men are chauvinist!
She also gave ‘the ladies’ a rundown of where she got her very sparkly outfit, which is maybe a wee bit sexist… I was DYING to know.
Smith was given a run for her money in the sequin stakes by Britain’s Got Talent star Edward Reid, resplendent in red sequinned jacket and glittering shoes. With an awful lot of octaves to his name, he carries off the Barbra Streisand AND Neil Diamond parts of You Don’t Bring Me Flowers before getting everyone grinning broadly with nursery rhymes transformed into diva ballads.
There were no divas among Seventies pop survivors Pilot, who came on for a quartet of songs, including a singalong version of the classic Magic and a rendition of January I guarantee will be on my Best of Year list. Edinburgh’s own Billy Paton led his likeable lads with charm and vigour.
Audience members who missed Grant Stott’s wonderful Tales From Behind the Mic Fringe Show were gifted a very slick extract ‘as Allan takes his make-up off’ and loved every minute. Having heard said tales in August didn’t take away from the fun one bit, as Stott – the Hug That Walks Like a Man – is such lovely company, though it was perhaps five minutes too long for the variety show format.
Andy Pickering’s excellent eight-piece house band is the backbone of the show, turning their hand to everything from Stewart’s returning ‘Michael Jackson sings George Formby’ routine to his Tina Turner spoof. A surprise was Stewart’s spookily convincing Theresa May, strutting across the stage to a tweaked Bohemian Rhapsody – a high spot of a show with no lows.
The show’s closing sequence sees Stewart belt out a medley of musical numbers, one tumbling into another, voice styles changing by the second – hugely impressive, even if Stewart’s pipes show a wee bit of strain towards the end.
Well, that’s where the show would have ended on opening night. It just so happened that one audience member got to come on stage and do a party piece, and when that audience member is Susan Boyle and the party piece is I Dreamed a Dream, well, that’s a moment to remember.
Don’t expect Boyle to be at future performances, but do expect a hugely entertaining old-school variety show in which everyone plays to their strengths and the result of really rather wonderful.