Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show

April 10, 2015 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✩✩    Not enough Variety

King’s Theatre:  Wed 8 – Sat 11 April 2015

There is much to enjoy in Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show at the King’s this week, but overall this mixed bag will do little to bring the genre back to life.

The main draw, of course, is the trio of Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott, familiar from so many pantomimes at the venue. The obvious rapport between them, and the palpable affection felt for them by the audience, means that there is a great deal of laughter to be had from apparently simple ideas like Gray miming to Let It Go.

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It helps that Gray is genuinely funny, Stewart is a consummate performer who is particularly adept at audience interaction, and Stott has grown in stature immensely as a performer who is well worthy of his solo slot.

Their usual apparent and genuine ad-libbing is very much in evidence, particularly in a sketch featuring Gray’s daughter Clare, who seems to share her father’s willingness to unnerve Stott. While some of the comedy has a ramshackle feel, the three stars are certainly enjoying themselves immensely, and this cannot fail to be reflected in the audience’s enjoyment.

It might have been better, however, had they appeared to be stretching themselves. Stewart’s rendition in his closing act of Barcelona, providing both the voices of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe, impresses precisely because he seems to be pushing himself a little out of his comfort zone.

Stewart’s headline act is a welcome chance for him to be the all-round entertainer he cannot quite be in panto, and features quality singing, much of it in the form of highly impressive impersonations. These are better than his spoken ones, some of which fall a little flat.

acid observations

Edinburgh-based Jo Caulfield’s comedy is more reflective of modern-day comic orthodoxy than old-school variety, but her acid observations on men, ageing and Scotland fit in well. What is noticeable is that she does not seem immediately as at home on the huge King’s stage as in smaller venues.

Similarly, all-female saxophone quartet Saxation’s choreography, obviously designed for more intimate cabaret performances, does not entirely work here. This, of course, is not surprising, with opportunities for such acts to perform in this context almost unknown now.

Their musical medleys are well thought out and designed to appeal to the widest possible audience. This, however, could not really be said of the show as a whole.

The McRoberts Brothers

The McRoberts Brothers

There is a concentration on music and comedy to the exclusion of other strands. While the speciality acts that would have been the staples of variety bills have disappeared, there are surely enough dance, circus or magic acts out there who could have provided some real visual impact – Kev Orkian’s dance routine, high on energy but low on finesse, does not really qualify.

It is Orkian’s performance that points up the biggest problem with the show. He has obvious talent as a musical comedian, so a routine that relies so heavily on lowest-common-denominator material about refugees or ugly, hairy women is depressingly unnecessary. While pantomime, with its attempts to involve the whole family, must by nature be inclusive, attempts here to be more ‘adult’ simply end up excluding a huge section of the potential audience, while confirming the fears of those who would be wary of the return of variety.

There are still plenty of television programmes that demonstrate the appeal of variety-style or light entertainment acts. There are also many performers who are much better over twenty minutes than at greater length.

drive and swing

The audience here – remarkably and depressingly homogenous in terms of age and apparent background – may be enough to support such an endeavour once a year, but a wider appeal is required.

One segment that seems determined to play to the oldest possible audience is the baffling return of the central trio’s least impressive offering, the ‘McRoberts Brothers.’ This plays on notions of Scottish folk acts that, if they were ever true, were out of date before the White Heather Club stopped airing.

No such criticism can be levelled at Richard Anderson’s onstage eight-piece band, who provide musical backing throughout with drive and swing. Indeed, the show throughout has high production values. It is a shame, then, that while some of it is very funny, other parts are so disappointing. Which, presumably, is not the kind of variety that was intended.

Running time 2 hours 20 mins including interval

King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Wednesday 8 – Saturday 11 April 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinees Thurs and Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets and information from http://www.edtheatres.com/allanstewart

 

ENDS

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