JOYCE MCMILLAN on ALLAN STEWART’S BIG BIG VARIETY SHOW
at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 8.3.14.
3 stars ***
IF YOU WANT TO SEE the gorgeous auditorium of the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, acting up a storm in the role it was born to play, then you should try to catch one of today’s final performances of Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show. Put together by the popular Dame-playing star of Edinburgh’s annual panto – with the help of his two regular panto sidekicks, local hero Grant Stott and comedy genius Andy Gray – the show opened on Wednesday night in a giant party of a performance that had the King’s famously warm and riotous Edinburgh audience singing, cheering and joining in the fun, from first to last.
The show – rehearsed in just two days – is undeniably rough in parts, and occasionally retro in an unattractive way; I don’t know why Stewart feels the need to kick off with a nasty xenophobic joke about foreign doctors, or to imply that Scotland’s massively cool traditional music scene is full of gormless island idiots with Arran sweaters and bad teeth.
There are glittering turns, through, from Andrews Sisters lookalikes the Tootsie Rollers, and from the sensationally skilful ventriloquist Paul Zerdin. Add a rousing Stewart spoof on Bohemian Rhapsody based on the tragedy of the Edinburgh trams, a pair of irresistible comic performances from Stott and the inspired Andy Gray, and some terrific work from a six-piece onstage band, and you have a piece of old-fashioned fun that’s mostly to be relished; although if the art of variety is to have the revival it perhaps deserves, it needs to root out the last of its old 1970’s attitudes, and bring all of its humour and glamour to bear on the century we live in, and on the laughs it desperately needs.