Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show

There’s one deliciously unique—sadly never repeatable—moment during the opening night of Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show, when Stewart introduces the singer Susan Boyle as a surprise guest. Given the cardboard cut-outs and impersonations featured earlier on in the show, we briefly assume that this is just another sketch—until, like the Queen during the Olympics Opening Ceremony, the rug is pulled from under us… and we see it’s the real deal.

Stewart—well loved as the Edinburgh King’s resident panto dame—opens the evening with a sparkly rendition of When You’re Smiling…

The surprise works not least because one of the last times co-star Elaine C Smith performed in Edinburgh was as Boyle in I Dream A Dream—The Susan Boyle Musical. Expecting a joke, the audience clearly appreciate having the real thing—even if the musical accompaniment to I Dream A Dream sounds like it was made on a children’s toy, and the choice of song itself plays absolutely safe with audience expectations. In that sense, however, Boyle’s one-off appearance perfectly fits the formulaic nostalgia-fest that is Allan Stewart’s latest go at keeping old-school Variety theatre alive.

Stewart—well loved as the Edinburgh King’s resident panto dame—opens the evening with a sparkly rendition of When You’re Smiling…, albeit with slightly altered lyrics suggesting that the best way to enjoy the show is to be ever-so-slightly tipsy. His opening Rat Pack skit, with added “Dean Martin” courtesy of long-standing panto-colleague Grant Stott, provides a lively (if hardly ground-breaking) start to a show that understands what its audience expects and competently delivers it. Although, to be honest, most of the “acts” do slightly outstay their welcome—a script editor wouldn’t have gone amiss.

This is most obvious regarding the show’s big sketches—such as Stewart and Stott’s skit on still doing the King’s panto in 2037 (a depressing parade of jokes at the expense of older people), or the low farce of the “Macrobert Brothers” folk singers which proved nothing but an excuse to say “Big Boaby” and “Effin” as often as possible. Elaine C Smith’s flabby standup was only saved by a genuinely thought-provoking take on the misogynistic lyrics in 1950s romantic songs; sadly, she compares poorly with former Radio Forth DJ Stott, and his well-practiced skills as a raconteur.

On the plus side, a lively four-song set by 1970s’ Edinburgh-born band Pilot kept this nostalgic audience happy, but Stewart’s drag act as Theresa May—singing a rewritten Bohemian Rhapsody—had little meat beyond the initial variation on his “Nicola Sturgeon as Wee Jimmy Krankie” panto routine. Stewart’s final musical medley proves where his real vocal talents lie; delivering entertainment that, if somewhat predictable, nevertheless proves to be a much needed winter warmer.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

Variety is alive and well at the King’s this Spring!

Don’t miss this truly unique show featuring the one and only Allan Stewart and friends in an evening chock full of comedy, music and entertainment.

Starring Scotland's own Elaine C.Smith, Forth 1 funnyman Grant Stott, Britain's Got Talent star Edward Reid and a rare reunion of legendary 1970s band Pilot, performing their hits “Magic” and “January”.

Bigger and better than before, comedy rules as far as Allan is concerned so be prepared for some great acts.

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