Fascinating Aïda – Festival Theatre

Directed by Paul Foster

Featuring Michael Roulston on Piano

Rating: 4 out of 5.

For just shy of forty years, Fascinating Aïda has taken a harpoon to topical issues and presented their views on the world, love, life, and gin through the medium of comedic songwriting. And though cast members dip in and out, the longevity of the group survives and flourishes with the trio making a return to Edinburgh (via Carlisle) – home of culture and sophistication.

So lord knows what they’re doing here.

Perhaps most familiar with audiences and recognisable for those (somehow) not already acquainted with the group, is the delightfully foul-mouthed Grumpy Old Woman and Oliver-winning wonder Dillie Keane. First forming the cabaret-style group in 1983, Keane has championed the group and continued its tact for lampooning contemporary issues and satirising aspects of the industry itself. An icon of British television and stage, Keane may now while away hours campaigning for a fairer and more ecological world, but the sharpness and venom of wit flatten any who stand in her way. And has surpassed initial struggles, the rise of cancellations, and most impressively survived multiple Tory Prime Ministers.

And though not a founding member of Fascinating Aïda, Adele Anderson’s frequent misnomer as one is a statement on her position as group royalty. A more subdued presence to Keane’s bombastic energy, and newest member Liza Pulman’s bubblier personality, Anderson’s allure and reserved disdain make for wonderful side-glances and the more snide moments of the show – a perfect balance to round out the trio.

But if one enjoys the buffest style, Fascinating Aïda serves a smorgasbord of tipples and cabaret delights; from classical comedic tunes, some spiffing live piano work, and something which, when squinting, looks an awful lot like dancing. But it could also be this dogging malarky Killie keeps harping on. The surrealist comedic nature of the show continues to this day, structured as a concert of sorts, as the trio traverse their biggest hits and introduces audiences to newer pieces, and ones sat in drawers – waiting for their time to shine.

Impressively, though not surprising given the group’s successes, the new capers are as well-thought and catchy as the original, some likely to achieve a similar level of Cheap Flights and the aforementioned Dogging. The raucousness of the Festival Theatre puts the city to shame, a city poise, reduced to waves of gleeful and utter filth, and it’s something the group embrace with revelry, despite Keane’s protestations that ‘this isn’t Butlins’.

And the near-decade in the making of Prisoner of Gender is a touching piece, perfectly timed, and understandable in why it has taken the group this long to perfect the number. Almost fated, its inclusion and Anderson’s solo are pitched at precisely the right time – where discussions surrounding preconceptions of Gender begin to rollback, after struggling to come this far. Rarely does the theatre find a show which causes such side-splitting humour, but leaves audiences with a wealth of political commentary, parcelled in tightly scripted and performed wit.

A lot of the continuing success may lay at the feet of the women and the initial song-writing stages, but a tremendous level of charm and gratitude is to be offered to pianist Michael Roulston who carries Fascinating Aida through the various genres and performance styles with ease, and a certain degree of grace – even with a flashing bobby’s hat atop his head.

A semi-concert-style recital of their finest vintages and a few freshly popped cherries – Fascinating Aïda have a secure place in the hearts and funny bones of thousands. And if they can make it, another forty years of Fascinating Aida would be a welcome achievement from us all.

‘Better Than Dogging (We’re Told)’

For further information on upcoming tours, biographies, merchandise and whatever else the group can shill – please consult their website here.

Fascinating Aida returns to Edinburgh in August for the Festival Fringe. Tickets for which may be obtained here.

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