Flanders and Swann’s songs occupy a strange position in British consciousness: some are well renowned and regularly emerge on adverts, whilst others are forgotten gems only known and loved by a select few. Tim FitzHigham and Duncan Walsh Atkins homage show plays both with a dedication that makes this performance a delectable hour for fans old and new.
Now in its eighth year in Edinburgh, it is becoming something of an institution. Last year, the show was themed around what would have been Michael Flanders 90th birthday. This year, it Donald Swann’s 90th and thus, more songs led by his proficient piano, or his piping vocals are selected. The audience may have been most accurately described as 'mature', but they behaved with a barely concealed glee. Flanders and Swann, through their longevity and their skewed comic logic, have a cult status that means their fans tend to be rather fanatical and much of this set is pre-empted and sung-along to with a fierce passion.
The set is based on the original material to the extent it resembles almost a cover version: FitzHigham embodies Michael Flanders’ deliciously decadent voice and utters many of the same lines and mock-embittered jokes as on the aged recordings, whilst Walsh Atkins is a superb pianist who chips in with a few choice quips. In the most part, the original jokes are left untouched, but a few of the references are updated: a nod toward Boris Johnson drew titters of recognition, perhaps as BoJo belongs more to the era from which Flanders and Swann themselves dwelt.
All the old favourites are brought out: a rousing 'Gasman Cometh' opens the show with a joyfully if strangely politely shouted along to by the audience. 'House and Garden' is just as playful in its description of London’s 'hip' home designers now as sixty years ago. A surprise highlight in amongst all the jollity was the anti-war anthem 'Twenty Tonnes of TNT', a soft and delicate anthem about the amount of destructive material available for everyone on earth. As with the comic references, they are not updated (even a line about 'three thousand million people living on this earth') but lose none of the original pathos.
The classic 'Hippopotamus Song' closes the show, again being sung through. With eight years in a row at the Fringe and their continual touring of the duo’s song, Tim and Duncan are clearly audience favourites. They are evidently approved of and will be back for many years to come.