Flanders and Swann
  • By Ben Dali
  • |
  • 6th Aug 2019
  • |
  • ★★★★

In the queue for Flanders and Swann, I was struck (but not entirely surprised) that the audience were of a higher age demographic than any of the other 250 or so Edinburgh Fringe shows I’ve seen. Yet, hidden among the crowds there was a small number of families with young children, which simultaneously delighted me that they could experience this tribute to classic music hall, yet saddened me at the thought of how many other children throughout the city would not get to share in this.

FitzHigham is an actor and singer of the highest degree who understands the intricacies of the character

Flanders and Swann, as the majority of people choosing to read this review will be aware, were a quintessentially British comedy singer-songwriter duo of the 1950s-60s whose deservedly legendary status during their heyday is sadly starting to diminish 50+ years on. In fact, they even performed a run at the 11th incarnation of the Edinburgh Festival.

The duo are lovingly brought to stage by seasoned professionals Tim FitzHigham as singer and lyricist Michael Flanders, and Duncan Walsh Atkins as pianist and musical composer Donald Swann. In this dream of a tribute, Atkins is a talented accompanist and sidekick who fills his role perfectly. But FitzHigham is the true star – an actor and singer of the highest degree who understands the intricacies of the character he plays, perhaps as well as he knows himself. With his wide grin and wildly expressive eyes, each facial movement, inflection and pause is executed meticulously, treating every syllable with the respect it deserves. It is a tribute to him that after performing the same role for 12 years, he still injects undeniable passion into every moment he spends on stage.

For those of you familiar with the music, you can expect to hear most of your favourites, including The Gnu, Omnibus, and of course, The Hippopotamus Song. There are some lesser known numbers in there too, and a healthy mix of paraphrased and original links, to modernise the material and establish a strong rapport with the audience.

During the glorious show, I couldn’t help but be filled with a sense of foreboding, that at 34, I may be among the last generations to discover the wonders of Flanders and Swann. Some references in the material may be dated but it’s all witty, charming and enjoyable to listen to, and if it were forgotten over the next few decades that would be, in the words of FitzHigham’s Flanders, a travesty. So – parents and young adults of Edinburgh Fringe, and indeed the world, I urge you to do your bit to stop this. Take your children and friends to the show. They will love it, and they don’t need to be familiar with the material, it’s all brilliant and performed impeccably. Then play the live albums on Spotify and Youtube. And with that, I’m off to Cowgate while I sing this happy tune – Kwirrrk *pop* Wooah!

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The Blurb

The songs and wit of those masters of mayhem, mirth and Madeira – timeless musical comedy legends, Flanders and Swann. This internationally award-winning show returns with all the favourites – The Hippopotamus, The Gnu, The Gas Man Cometh and many less familiar hidden gems. An Edinburgh phenomenon, now in its twelfth tremendous year at the Pleasance. Following international tour dates and appearances on Friday Night is Music Night (BBC Radio 2), see it live. 'Muddy marvellous' (Evening Standard). 'Impressive... a delight' (Times). 'Classic... joyously frivolous' (Sunday Times). Critics' Choice: Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian.

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