The Edinburgh Academy makes for a spacious yet slightly odd choice of venue for music and comedy due Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James McConnel. BBC Radio 4 stalwart Hesketh-Harvey explained amicably that due to their, and therefore their audience’s advancing years, the flat approach ending in a slight downward slope made for an easy and swift entry (ooh errr) into the performance space. And so the show took off on Pegasus wings; an exhilarating flight of wit, timing, musicality, pathos and breathtaking comedic skill that belied the classical depths of their award-splattered careers thus far. I could barely write for laughing most of the time and the rest of the audience echoed.
Their current show pays homage to Coward, Weil, Abba, Schöberg, Sondheim and Frank Farian (composer of the Boney M. hit ‘Rasputin’. Thank you Google) as well as more than a saucy nod and wink to the legendary Hinge and Bracket. Each cabaret style was perfectly parodied, slick and well-timed throughout with gigglesome quips such as “We’re more M&S than S&M” during a song about a middle aged man’s complaints about his wife’s discovery of the Fifty Shades of Grey books. There’s songs about Nigella using her errant husband’s art collection in a culinary way; a critique of Russell Crowe’s singing in ‘Les Mis’; the macho persona of Vladimir Putin; Pippa Middleton; hypochondria; conspiracy theories; text message autocorrect, and the sad demise of 1970’s TV presenters. It is a veritable musical feast of the events of the last year. More poignant were the two ballads, one about a lost love in Florence and the other a touching tribute to the late Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid, beautifully sung by Hesketh-Harvey and it is simply magical how he can switch from camp comedy to seriously heartbreaking within moments.
One audience member was chosen to play the Liszt game, where her name was worked out with musical notes and then the musical phrase derived from the notes turned into a mini concerto by McConnel. I have never heard this done before and it is quite the most spectacular form of improvisation - McConnel was flawless.
An hour with this magnificent pair and I feel it ought to be compulsory for young cabaret entertainers to come and study how it should be done since it feels like a masterclass. Hesketh-Harvey and McConnel pitched it exactly right for their audience, there was enough interaction both between the two performers and between the performers and audience, the songs were incredibly well crafted and professionally delivered and the whole show was paced with just the right mixture of fast/slow and funny/serious. They make it look so easy.