“HE is my Camilla Parker Bowles,” says Kit Hesketh Harvey of James McConnel, now warming the piano stool left cold by the departure of The Widow in 2011 – ending one of the Edinburgh Fringe’s most enduring partnerships.
McConnel has an impressive composing CV across the worlds of stage and screen. They met, Kit tells me, 32 years ago, introduced by the late great musical theatre writer Julian Slade (tossed together in their own Salad Days, one might say…). They studied together “under Sondheim” and are godparents to each other’s children.
They share a Vivian Ellis Award for their musical, Orlando. In fact they seem to occupy such swathes of each other’s CVs that it’s a miracle Kit found time out to get through such an impressive list of directing, translating, writing and performing on stage and radio – to say nothing of three decades as the intellectual and sartorial smartest pants on the cabaret circuit with the now divorced Widow.
But the new marriage is coming along very nicely, thankyou, and the couple are very happily contemplating their sojourn on the Fringe. McConnel is Scottish, very handsome and suffers both from Tourettes and heterosexuality, I am informed by Kit, the only man who can out-talk Paul Merton on Radio 4’s Just A Minute. However, he doesn’t let either problem impinge on the stage performance. “We did consider calling ourselves Kit and the Weirdo,” says Kit, “But we were warned off by a solicitor’s letter.” Having a flagrant heterosexual in the act (as it were) is “a marked shift in our demographic”, confesses Kit. Audiences have been admirably open-minded about the whole thing and performances have been generally rewarded with a big warm hand.
Some things, of course, never change. Hesketh Harvey still “actively resists” a move onto TV. He doesn’t believe that the intimacy of cabaret works on screen, and Kit and McConnel are no more likely to end up Live At The Apollo than were Kit and the Widow. With an insouciance that makes the Free Fringe look like the Underbelly, the couple are performing back at Edinburgh Academy, so far off the beaten track that the beaten track is barely visible. But they like it. “It has free parking for our audience’s Zimmers,” says Kit. “And it’s uber-comfortable, and quite posh – as is James.”