Edinburgh panto legend Allan Stewart resurrects his Big, Big Variety Show for one last fling

Like all the best acts, Allan Stewart is making a comeback. Having announced that the 2019 Big, Big Variety Show would be the last ever, he's back with another. So what brought about the change of mind?
Allan Stewart and Grant StottAllan Stewart and Grant Stott
Allan Stewart and Grant Stott

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The performer who holds the record for starring in more Edinburgh King's pantos than any other is in a chirpy mood when we catch up, and he explains, “It's one of those things. When we did the panto last year I got this feeling, ‘Should I do it again?’ I wasn't sure because putting the whole thing together, getting new material together and booking the acts is a big job that I find really difficult.

“But then the panto got cut short and I thought, ‘We really have to go for it.’ So this is us saying, 'We didn't manage to finish the panto run but we're trying to make it up to you somehow’.”

The McRobert Brothers - Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and Andy GrayThe McRobert Brothers - Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and Andy Gray
The McRobert Brothers - Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and Andy Gray
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He continues, “That's one of the reasons, the other is that I it has just sunk in that the King's is actually closing for a couple of years and I doubt very much if I will ever do a variety show there again. So I have look at it as being the last one... although, while I say that, what age will I be when it opens back up? 74 or 75? Who knows, I may still be going. Actually that would be a really special one to do, wouldn't it? Once it reopens.”

He almost talked himself into yet another comeback as he adds, “However, this year, I have a song that says everything you could want to say about the King's closing. It's Bobby Darin's The Curtain Falls. I used to close my shows with it and it's what I will close this one with too.”

Allan Stewart's Big Big Variety Show​ returns to the King's Theatre on Tuesday, March 29, where it will run until Saturday, April 2, with performances at 7.30pm each evening and matinees at 2.30pm on Wednesday and Saturday.

Joining Stewart, best known to theatre goers in the Capital as panto dame Aunty May, will be his pantomime side-kick and River City star Grant Stott, singer Nicola Meehan, who also appeared in last year's Sleeping Beauty and up and coming comedian/ventriloquist, Max Fulham.

Allan Stewart and Aunty MayAllan Stewart and Aunty May
Allan Stewart and Aunty May

​Completing the ​bill will be Jersey Boys tribute​ act​ Big Men in Town, ​with ​all ​the performers ​backed ​once again ​by the Andy Pickering Orchestra​.

“What can we say about Grant Stott?​” he asks, and you can hear the mischief in his voice.

“Now that he is an ​'​ACT​-T​OR​'​ on the telly I'm not sure if we are going to be able to control him. I've written a sketch about him being a bit ​big-time, ​so when he arrives on stage he is all actor-ish ​in ​his red velvet jacket, cravat and dark glasses,” he laughs,​ adding, “​​and ​now that he​ ​is an actor​​ he's bought himself all the stuff so we didn't ​even ​need to provide it.”​

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Another face familiar to panto audiences will be Leith-based Nicola Meehan, who played the Fairy Godmother in Sleeping Beauty.

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“Nicola is an absolutely stunning performer, she has such an incredible voice,” says Allan.

“I saw her years ago on the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Victoria cruise ships and I remember watching her, thinking, ‘She is stand out.’ Compared to the rest of the girls in the shows she really was something different.”

Opening the second act, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tribute group Big Men In Town are another act Allan spotted on the cruise circuit.

“They just ripped the place apart,” he says. “They do seven No 1 hits and it's just great great music, so I thought, ‘I have to book them.’ They're the type of act that will really get the second half going.”

Max Fulham, he saw performing at the Panto Awards, “He's the new hot ventriloquist, he's only about 20, and what he does is really very clever,” he says, adding, “There are no big names on the show as such but I have found that doesn't really make a difference to whether people come because they know they are going to get a good show or because they're coming for Grant and I or Andy, Grant and I.”

Yet the late Andy Gray, another King's panto favourite, will still be with them, in spirit this year.

Allan explains, “There’s a humorous tribute to Andy. We have a load of photos and videos that he sent us over the years, usually stupid ones. Once he sent Grant and I a video of him sitting in his chair singing Gilly Gilly Ossen Feffer in an Elvis voice. So at the end of the tribute we are going to play that with the band playing along live as he sings on the screen.”

The band, as always, is the ever reliable Andy Pickering Orchestra.

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“Picks, as we call him, is the best guy ever. ‘No’ just doesn't come into his vocabulary. You can ask him for something a couple of days before a show and he'll come up with it.”

One sketch, however, is likely to prove worth the ticket price alone... Having had her panto run cut short Aunty May is back.

Allan laughs, “Grant is going to interview Aunty May and even dance with her as she does one of her routines from her days as a member of Pan's People and then Hot Gossip.”

The mind boggles.

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