Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show

March 31, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Welcome

King’s Theatre: Tues 29 Mar – Sat 2 Apr 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show, revived for one more time at the King’s, is reliably funny and tuneful; on this occasion, it is also oddly affecting.

The version two years ago was threatened to be the last, but with the King’s going dark later this year – and as there has been so little chance for any performers to appear on stage recently – there can be no quibbles about Stewart having another go.

Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show

There is also added poignancy, as 2020’s show saw the last appearance at the King’s of the much-missed Andy Gray. His obvious absence is paid proper attention to, by his long-term associates Stewart and Grant Stott.

Their routines are backed up by the usual mix of comedy and music. Nicola Meehan, recently seen in Sleeping Beauty, puts her strong voice to good use in a well chosen set of songs, while Big Men In Town’s slick Four Seasons tribute is tuneful and has considerable charm.

Their slots seem to be the ideal length, which is perhaps not the case with Max Fulham. The fresh-faced ventriloquist outstays his welcome just a little, but he is undoubtedly talented. While he is certainly from the old school tradition of speciality acts, his youth and apparent lack of cynicism do mean that he adds a tinge of freshness.

changing comedic times

Indeed, there is a comparatively modern feel to much of what is on display. The whiff of the cabaret supper club (which did not always translate to the larger stage) has all but vanished.

There are fewer of the toe-curling dated jokes that have featured in previous years, with Stewart and Stott even acknowledging the changing comedic times with a routine about how these days you can’t do material that could be regarded as racist, sexist, or tobacconist.

Big Men in Town

Which is not to say that the material is groundbreaking. Indeed, much of it could best be described as comforting – even down to the reappearance of Stewart’s Aunty May character.

There is at least one joke that must have been old enough to draw its pension when it was featured regularly in The Broons more than thirty years ago. Meanwhile, The McRoberts Brothers, which started out as a spoof of 1950s-style folk acts, are still unaccountably hanging around.

skill and good humour

Their musical number epitomises the odd line that is walked here, with the joke being that it avoids using the swear word that the rhyme would demand. Such language is routinely heard on stage now, and the comedy here is fairly adult, with none of the innuendo that the duo’s panto outings demand. As a result, it all seems a shade redundant.

However, it is all done with skill and good humour, with their delight at being back on stage together readily apparent. There is a well judged sequence paying tribute to Gray, which is both tear-jerking and funny.

Max Fulham

Stewart, of course, is very good at mixing the schmaltzy with the more hard-edged, and his final sequence shows this very well. A speedy run-through of some of his favourite impersonations is followed by a re-run of his tribute to his father in a reworked If My Friends Could See Me Now.

The closing number, a version of Bobby Darin’s The Curtain Falls once again dedicated to Gray, could easily lead to an excess of sentimentality, but after all of the losses of the last two years, it instead becomes quite magical.

This is surely as heartfelt as Stewart has ever been, and provokes a considerable emotional reaction – something the reappearance of a familiar panto closing number only magnifies.

Such emotional honesty is unexpected, but together with the more predictable laughs and musicality – considerably enhanced by MD Andy Pickering and his excellent band – it makes for thoroughly welcome entertainment.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 29 March – Saturday 2 April 2022
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets:Book here.

Nicola Meehan

ENDS

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