Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show – King’s Theatre

Starring Allan Stewart

Featuring – Grant Stott, Max Fulham, Nicola Meehan, Big Men in Town and The Andy Pickering Orchestra

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s time to play the music, and it’s time to light the lights. This year’s Big, Big Variety Show comes with a bitter sting of nostalgia and recognition as the last before the King’s Theatre closes for its over-due refurbishment. More so, it’s also the first following the passing of Andy Gray, beloved performer, and comedian who receives one final bow on the King’s stage thanks to the adoration and respect of Allan Stewart and long-time Panto pal Grant Stott.

The spice of life; Variety, once the champion of Saturday entertainment, has fallen to the wayside of big budgets and touring spectaculars, but Stewart and co remind audiences of the joys of simplicity and pertain a soothing presence otherwise vacant from other productions. The intimacy of an audience and their acts showcasing unique fresh talents and coming together in appreciation of a tried, tested, and honoured tradition.

Remarkably, Allan Stewart’s decades’ long career has placed this all-around entertainer at the heart of many an Edinburgh fan – and all these years later, the newest iteration of the show shows no signs of slowing. Leaping, belting out the showtunes to a hungry audience, Stewart is mostly known by audiences of King’s as their Panto Dame for over twenty years, but tonight the dresses are ditched, and the suits are on. Well, maybe there’s room for one dress. 

Co-hosted by friend and panto partner Stott – the show constitutes a selection of skits, musical interludes and the aforementioned new and returning talents. But this evening the pair have a gift for the audience as they share their messages, photos, and memories of Andy Gray, culminating in a superbly touching and well-devised performance from Gray. A tremendous man, and legend, sorely missed but forever a part of the King’s story.

And as much as Big, Big Variety looks to the past, it celebrates the future – chiefly with ventriloquist Max Fulham with his impressive measures of a centuries-old (and underappreciated) craft. Joined onstage with his grandfather, and a partner-in-crime Monkey, Fulham evokes a sense of entertainment once prevalent, striking the right notes of humour and charm. Fulham is also an appreciated break from the heavy influences of musical interludes, returning Variety favourite Nicola Meehan who continues to belt out the touching numbers, a fine selection of crowd favourites.

But of course, there’s no show without a band – and there is no one Stewart trusts more with their Sax and Piano skills than The Andy Pickering Orchestra. The eight-strong team make full use of their place on stage, offering minor quips and providing a presence on the well-lit but still largely empty stage. In supporting Stott and Stewart, the Orchestra also has the pleasure of performing with four very recognisable crimson blazers. Big Men In Town, a Jersey Boys tribute Act certainly speaks to a selection of the crowd but doesn’t hold a candle to the real-world majesty of the McRobert Brothers.

Sentimental, Variety (funnily enough) offers a wide selection of jokes, nostalgic trips and classics to bring a smile in these difficult times. Perhaps the definitive stamp of approval rests not with the audience, but with the sincere soothing presence, it offers Stewart, Stott and company – all of whom are dedicated to maintaining the art of Variety, and the presence and legend of the King’s Theatre.

Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show runs at the King’s Theatre until April 2nd. Tickets for which are available here.

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