Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show is back at The King’s Theatre in Edinburgh with a new production for Spring 2017 and he’s brought a few friends along with him - Elaine C. Smith, Grant Stott, Britain's Got Talent star Edward Reid and a rare reunion of legendary 70s band Pilot, performing their hits "Magic" and "January!". Also, on some nights (but not this one) some surprise guest appearances. Missing from the “terrible panto trio” though is Andy Gray, and you can see that both Allan and Grant are missing that third side of the triangle a bit, especially in the panto sketch scene.
Allan Stewart has decades of stage variety work behind him. He has done it all, the long haul around the old club circuits, the television shows, stage shows, and of course the hugely successful and always selling out institution that is the King’s Theatre Pantomime (Cinderella for 2017 in case you have not booked yet). This show is the old time variety format that Scottish theatres were once famous for – a little of everything here…comedy sketches, impressions, music, stand-up comedy and more novelty style acts, and everything is done for the most part with good taste. When you come out to see an Allan Stewart variety show, you know that there will be some mild innuendo, maybe a bit of a risque joke here and there, but the line will never be crossed into coarse humour and bad language, and although the latter may be popular with many new comedians and performers, I thank Allan for just not going down that road. This is a show that you can bring pretty much the whole family to…it is very safe ground that we are on here.
I have to admit here that that very safety of the show’s make up, and that feeling of somehow walking through the theatre doors back into some alternative reality where the television variety shows of the past are still performing is maybe just not something hitting the high notes of my personal taste, but I do recognise a master of his performance art at work. Allan Stewart knows his audience and exactly what they want from him…they are a bit like an archery target and he hits the bull’s eye every time as the audience pretty much never stopped laughing all the way through this show. Nothing that Allan (and friends) did on stage seemed to put a foot out of place.
Elaine C. Smith held much of the last part of the first half of the show together with some interesting comedy that as you would expect was delivered flawlessly. Some interesting observations into how women have so easily accepted the role of victims in the lyrics of some very well known songs too, and of course some astute observations on our current political situations.
Making a rare appearance too, 70s band Pilot, and from the accompaniment of the audience pretty much everyone remembered their two biggest hits “January” (about a girl called January and not the month I found out here), and “Magic”.
It is I think fair to say that Allan Stewart and his audience go together, they are for the large part in the same age range, and as you would expect, a lot of the jokes are about those annoying things that you inevitably experience as you reach that certain age.
For myself, I would love to see this format expanded to take in some new bands and some of the more cutting edge performers that are out there (there are enough to choose from at any Fringe), but I accept that Allan knows his audience very well and this just may not be what fits his show format. It still would be great to see someone like Allan at least compering such a show, and along the way passing onto new performers some of his vast experience in the variety show format.
Review by Tom King