Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show

Mar 12 2020 | By More

★★★★☆     Comfortable

King’sTheatre: Tue 10 – Sat 14 Mar 2020
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a reassuring feel to Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show at the King’s until Saturday.

Eternally fresh-faced Stewart is unbelievably celebrating 60 years in show-business with what he says is the last of the springtime variety shows that he has put together over the last six years.

While he thankfully intends to carry on in pantomime for the foreseeable future, this time next year he will be appearing as the Mother Superior in Sister Act.

Stewart, Stott and Gray

Not that this show has outstayed its welcome; the flexibility of the format means that there is endless scope for renewal, while – as happened with this year’s pantomime – the welcome return to health of Andy Gray adds a welcome shot of comic energy to the routines with Stewart and Grant Stott.

There is an unfinished air to some of the routines, despite their occasional familiarity (the boast that the whole thing is ‘put together in a day’ has never seemed more likely to be true). However, the rapport and comic chops the trio display are always welcome. Indeed, when the rehearsed ad-libs are replaced by what can only be real ones, any sense that there is any coasting going on evaporates.

tight yet supple

Which is not to say that there is a lack of professionalism. With Andy Pickering’s orchestra providing a tight yet supple backing, the musical numbers are pin-sharp, and Stewart’s impersonations reliable as ever. Gray’s shameless, and wonderfully funny, playing to the audience never quite undermines his fellow performers. Stott’s ability to remain calm (even when ‘perspiring’) is a testament to what an effective stage presence he has become.

Mick Miller

Stewart, meanwhile, belies his age with an ebullient and energetic performance, and if he slides a little into self-aggrandising reminiscence, he can be forgiven under the circumstances.

The constant use of the central trio, welcome as it may be, does give an odd balance to proceedings, with only two other performers taking part. Comedian Mick Miller is a man of similar vintage to Stewart, whose career stretches back to 1970s TV show The Comedians, but (a couple of references aside) his material is not as dated as that would suggest, with his dry, often absurd one-liners proving infectious.

supper-club cabaret

Mari Wilson, meanwhile, is best known for a couple of hits in the 1980s and a beehive hairstyle. The towering do is long gone, but both of her big numbers make an appearance, along with a couple of well-chosen 60s numbers.

Mari Wilson

Effective as both of these acts are, they do little to dispel a vibe that is more supper-club cabaret than old-fashioned variety; it is hardly surprising that both Stewart and Miller make reference to the amount of time they spend performing on cruise ships.

Definitely absent is anything with any real visual appeal or a proper change of pace. No-one expects a turn to defect from Cirque Berserk down the road, but (particularly considering that two speciality acts were shoehorned into the most recent King’s panto) there is little excuse for not providing something to make the audience gasp.

There is no doubt that what they are given proves highly satisfactory, however, and with good reason. There is a comforting feel to the comedy, which is enhanced by having performers that know exactly what they are doing.

And since it sometimes seems that Stewart, Gray and Stott are pretty much all that is keeping variety alive in these parts, another birl around from them is always more than welcome.

Running time 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 March 2020
Daily at 7.30pm; Matinees Wed and Sat: 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.


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