Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age

August 30, 2021 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆      Mixed bag

Old College Quad: Sat 28 – Sun 29 Aug 2021
Review by Hugh Simpson

Given the honour of closing the Edinburgh International Festival that so nearly never happened, Alan Cumming responds with his trademark gusto and skill. Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age at the Old College Quad is, however, an odd combination of the delightful and the infuriating.

Cumming is, of course, a multi-award winning actor, singer, writer and much else besides, but this is undoubtedly him in his cabaret-club persona. From the opening number – But Alive, most associated with Lauren Bacall – the music is a mix of the knowingly arch and the unexpectedly emotional.

Alan Cumming. Pic: Jess Shurte

There are plenty of clever segues and interpolations of one song into another, notably a medley of How Far I’ll Go from Moana and Part Of Your World from The Little Mermaid that even manages to throw in a phrase from Let It Go.

There is something very sweet about the way he apologises for singing something as ‘pop’ as songs for Disney princesses, as if the rest of a set that includes a Billy Joel song was the epitome of cool.

The Disney number is one of several that is notable for its emotional investment and acting through music. This is also true of a remarkably successful version of Adele’s When We Were Young, and of How Did We Come To This from The Wild Party, which slides into Maybe This Time from Cabaret – one of several unsurprising nods to Liza Minnelli.

A vast, draughty tent – while still admirably adhering to the distancing requirements under which the tickets were sold – is one of the last places you would think of as an ideal supper-club setting. The acoustics do the band few favours, with the instruments occasionally descending into an undifferentiated slush. This is unfair on MD Henry Koperski’s subtle piano, the plangent trumpet of Cameron Jay and the cello of Su-a Lee of the SCO and Mr McFall’s Chamber. The cello is particularly interestingly used, sometimes providing basslines and sometimes more classical lines, in a reflection of the eclectic mix of styles achieved here.

Sound issues aside, there is nothing wrong with the music. The same cannot be said of the between-songs patter that is a huge part of the night. Deprived of a cabaret-bar intimacy, a lot of it simply does not work. When he eventually gets on to the ruminations on ageing promised by the title, Cumming is on sure ground, with stories about his dog, his granny and his sexual misadventures being charmingly welcoming.

Alan Cumming with Stuart Semple (drums) and Cameron Jay (Trumpet). Pic: Jess Shurte

However – despite his contention, in a self-penned song attacking excessive plastic surgery, that you should just be yourself – he keeps abandoning the more personal stories for Olympic-level namedropping. Stories about Sean Connery are one thing in this context, but elongated tales about his friends and acquaintances of various degrees of fame (Florence Henderson of The Brady Bunch, anyone? No, me neither) outstay their welcome by some distance.

Anecdotes about how much thinner he is than a certain Hollywood figure, or the travails of nearly having to go without vodka on long-haul luxury flights or when hosting Carol Channing’s 95th birthday party, come across as a desire to prove what a big star he is.

He really has won and hosted the Tony Awards – and his ‘good friend’ Emma Stone just happened to bring Billie Jean King and Paul McCartney to his bar, just in case anyone back here still thinks of him as Barry Primrose McLeish, or the nasty woodcutter who tried to kill Teri Lally with a tree in Take The High Road.

Odd, then, that he should hark back to those days with a song he got from the estimable Terry Neason in 1987, and prefacing it with the not entirely convincing assertion that we don’t need to worry about him any more.

His seeming vulnerability is, of course, a huge part of his charm, along with a wicked self-mocking streak that means he is able to get away with so much shameless self-promotion that would be much more tiresome from anyone else. Here, it just about manages to deserve its place in a performance of energy, emotion and welcome inclusivity.

Running time 1 hour 30 minutes (no interval)
Part of the Edinburgh international Festival
Old College Quad, South Bridge, EH8 9YL
Sat 28 and Sunday 29 August 2021
7.00 pm and 9.30 pm
Run ended

Information at https://www.eif.co.uk

ENDS

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