Theatre review: Allan Stewart’s Big, Big Variety Show, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Allan Stewart
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You haven’t lived, really, until you’ve witnessed Fred Macaulay singing Daydream Believer (in a very pleasant baritone) to the accompaniment of an eight-piece band, Allan Stewart on guitar, Stewart’s panto fellow-star Grant Stott on drums, and - wait for this - the actual Three Degrees as backing singers, featuring two members who have been with the group since the 1960’s; to say nothing of the entire King’s audience giving lusty choral support.

Allan Stewart’s Big, Big Variety Show, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****

Yet that’s what happened, somewhere in the second half of Allan Stewart’s Big, Big Variety Show at the King’s Theatre. It was a magical variety moment; and even if Stewart messed up his scheduling by following it with three decent but inevitably anti-climactic acts from Grant Stott in raconteur mode, himself in a too-brief single-song glimpse of his brilliance as a vocal impressionist, and his talented soul-singing daughter Kate Stewart, it was still - along with the Three Degrees’ first-half set - well worth the ticket price in itself.

Sadly reduced by the Beast From The East to only four performances, Stewart’s annual variety show nonetheless survived to provide a joyful if slightly old-fashioned evening’s entertainment, along with some some food for thought about Stewart’s achievement in using his panto fame to engineer a genuine annual revival of variety theatre - and the variety audience - at the King’s. Self-satirising magician Phil Butler added some traditional variety to the first act, the second half featured both Stewart and Stott’s much-loved comedy folk duo The MacRoberts, and Fred Macaulay in the kind of brilliant form that makes you long for him to drop the stale and sexist wife jokes, and stick to the brilliantly surreal observational stuff. And with the Andy Pickering Orchestra offering fine support throughout, this latest Big, Big Variety Show emerged as one to remember - and not only because of the snow emergency that almost prevented it from happening it all.