Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show – Festival Theatre

In the past sixty years, social media has become a dominant force as Great Britain has joined and then left the European Union, gone through twelve Prime Ministers and somehow, Allan Stewart’s career survives it all. Quite rightly, Stewart may host the Big Big Variety Show, we may be celebrating his sixty years in the business, but the celebration is about the industry, the lights, the songs and the people within. With his two best pals onstage, this is genuine entertainment in a manner which, regrettably for some, has died out.

Striking the band, working with them in a way only a comfortable performer can do, Stewart and The Andy Pickering Orchestra once again settle into their old haunt. It isn’t just panto pals who join Stewart on the King’s Theatre stage, supporting the show are eighties’ treasure Mari Wilson and comedian Mick Miller, a legendary comic whose stylings hark back to club gigs. A woman of stupendous talent, Wilson’s career spans decades, rubbing shoulders with the greats, and on occasion eclipsing them. Taking the boy’s sketches in her stride, Wilson rolls with the laughs and warming the audiences cockles, there’s no finer way to celebrate Stewart’s prominence on the scene than with a wealth of vocal talent.

From song to laughter, the inclusion of a comedian at first seems a jarring decision, with a trio of capable entertainers, and from Miller’s first gag we are reminded of the stark difference between a comedian and an entertainer who happens to be humourous. His control is effortless, like a true stand-up if a joke doesn’t land, his rebound does. Puns, crowd work and a few dated jokes, Miller’s finale, a radio drama featuring the story of Noddy, as told by an alcoholic, is a grand concoction of audio humour, imagination and echoes of a genre the audience will connect with.

Let’s face it, much of the crowd is here for The Three (Scottish) Stooges; Allan, Andy & Grant. Chemistry hardly needs to be mentioned in how authentically charismatic and enriching they are with one another, and their reliable delivery of the one thing no crowd can resist – cockups, massive ones, or wee ones depending on who you ask. Taking it all on the chin, Stott and Stewart recognise where the evening is turning, how the scene is playing out and precisely not to fix it, to accept the mistakes, run with them, build on them and cause the audience to howl.

Showbusiness ain’t the same, or at the very least it has (d)evolved into an incomprehensible behemoth of social media, quick ‘likes’ and faux-images. In reality, the construct images celebrities manufacture is no different than before, just quicker to process and digest. Reaffirming the concept of variety, in places, the show suffers from the bulk of music and comedy, it’s an overload. There is something to be said though on Stewart’s capitalising on nostalgia, making a comprehensive argument for it. As he recites tales of the old stars, or his ten-year-old self is projected onstage at his first Barrowlands gig, it’s difficult not to find a fondness for the decades Fame has left in her wake.

Sixty years in showbiz, thirty-nine pantomimes and a dash of fake-tan, Stewart’s career spans a wider pool than the dameship with which many are familiar. Ignoring the idea of a ‘triple-threat’, Stewart decides to tackle different aspects, with some choice impressions to boot. The Big Big Variety Show seems to be taking a permanent vacation, and if this is the case, there is only one way for the city to thank a remarkable Scottish legend, and that is to let him thank the crowds for their support, appreciation and money adoration.

Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show runs at The King’s Theatre until Saturday March 14th. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/allan-stewarts-big-big-variety-show

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