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

Banff Mountain Film Festival – Festival Theatre

For many years now a Canadian treat has found itself a warm home in the centre of Edinburgh, as the Festival Theatre hosts the Banff Mountain Film Festival in the shadow of our very own Arthur’s Seat. An international film competition, originating back in 1976 from the Canadian town of Banff, Alberta, the Mountain Film Festival celebrates upwards of 300 films, whittling them down to a final competing set which tours globally.

Promoting two spectacular programmes, labelled Red & Blue, Banff Mountain Film Festival moves from a simple evening affair into an experience for the whole day/weekend. This evening, witnessing the Red programme first-hand it cannot be stressed how envious you feel knowing others in the theatre were smart enough to catch both programmes. An evening of accomplished filmmakers captures the mind-boggling intensity of human endurance, far-flung cultures, and on occasion, our compassion towards one another and the environment around us.

There’s little which can be gained in reviewing the films showcased at the event, as the quality of each is superb. What is striking, however, is the variety in which the audience find themselves sampling. If onlookers view this as an event purely for the climbers, extreme sports fanatics or hikers – you couldn’t be more mistaken. Banff has polished their festival into a welcoming environment, with brief, but efficient live interludes to introduce film segments and handle this evening’s most important aspect; giveaways.

Particular highlights which, in essence, capture the event’s atmosphere spectacularly are the found in Danny Day Care, Reel Rock: Up to Speed and a near feature-length tour edit of Sarah Outen’s four-year journey across the globe. A tremendous piece, not only as an example of the human condition but of time-lapse film making keeps the audience on tenterhooks for the entirety of the film. Other films provide a fount of knowledge, both for the accomplished enthusiast and those of us spooked by the heights – and on occasion, a whole heap of unexpected hilarity. 

It isn’t all about the big-budget however, select small-scale productions still invigorate a sense of adventure, containing the sort of fear-inducing stunts which would panic any mother. Celebrating dedication, Thabang offers an account of Thabang Madiba’s dedication and eventual pay-off, becoming the first black South African to represent the country in running. Touching, with multiple first-hand interviews, it’s an accomplished piece which opens our eyes to sporting legends and competitors we hadn’t known existed. 

Still, at the heart of it all there’s an element of business, but a tasteful display rather than corporate. Transforming the festival into a full-blown event, people taking inspiration from there films, or even just keen beginners can find merchandise for Banff themselves, and the occasional piece from other suppliers and sponsors of the events.

Whirring, it transforms the Festival Theatre in a peculiar way not traditionally associated by many of the traditional theatre crowd. An award-winning lineup, with an award-winning team of producers, runners, hosts and event staff – there’s little wonder why the Banff Mountain Film Festival draws in a diverse crowd of eager film watchers into Edinburgh, finding itself as an annual tradition awaiting discovery for many more.

Tickets for the Banff Mountain Film Festival can be found at: https://www.banff-uk.com/tickets

Banff Mountain Film Festival finishes it’s Scottish tour in Glasgow King’s Theatre on February 25th

An Evening with Elaine C. Smith – Festival Theatre

Warm-up Act by Johnny Mac

There are a few things which capture the richness of Scottish culture, art and theatre quite like actress, comedian, and all-around character that is Elaine C. Smith. Scotland’s auntie, there’s no better way to spend an evening than in the company of an entertainer who is just that – family. From The Steamie right through to Two Doors Down, Smith has been keeping Scottish smiles going through it all, and she has no intentions of stopping.

Warming us up, the home-grown talents of Johnny Mac offer a comforting jovialness to the evening, but while his passion may lie in ‘silly’ jokes, there’s a silver tongue lashing around. There’s a timeless quality to Mac’s set, striving not to rely on easily punchable targets in politics or fame, instead, he continues a familial feel. These are the sort of gags you share with your cousins or granny when she’d clout you round the ear if you swore. His work with Smith in the panto makes him a fitting warm-up act, drawing fire at the various regions of Scotland with pantomime mirth.

The glittering main event, naturally gifted, Smith is quite at home on the stage, treating it like the front room, stopping for a chat, regaling us the odd anecdote of her career – wedging them around honest humour which provides more than simple laughter. A cosy evening, a chance not only for Smith to entertain the audience, but to express her thanks for their continuing support.

In this age of comedy, it takes a great deal for a comedian to carry off jokes which centre around the archaic notions of ‘men and women’, and yet, Smith is capable of keeping these alive. Not only this, current with insight on the changing dynamics of gender, Smith touches on her championing attitudes for woman across Scotland. Complete with a stirring rally cry for those of us in an industry where, things are never easy, especially for women, and that the illusion of being handed fame on a platter may seem tempting, but soon the meal grows cold.

Never forget – Smith has pipes. It’s no secret, star of the Susan Boyle musical I Dreamed a Dream, Smith has taken to the roles of Miss Hannigan, Betty in Fat Friends and a staple of Glasgow and Aberdeen’s pantomime history. This evening, however, any ideas of a comedic singer, with vaudeville roots are displaced as Smith delivers a tingling rendition of I Will Survive, alongside a special guest. Marvellous control, it takes a tremendous restraint to equalise tempo with an operatic performer – without straining to override the performance, Smith blends the harmonies.

Not only here for the comedy, we’re also after a right good gab. It wouldn’t be an evening with if we didn’t have a few insights into the woman behind the performances. Regrettably, rather than taking live questions from the audience, Smith is instead prompted with a selection of social media questions. The answers we receive are enlightening, enjoyable, but have an air of rehearsal. With such a wit, it’s a shame Smith isn’t able to cut loose and fire back into the crowd who no doubt have a few hidden gems among them.

Kindly, Elaine offers translations for the awfy posh folk of Edinburgh, the mark of a true Lady. It’s the smallest of punches like these, that offer a sense of playful welcoming. Smith is a Scottish woman through and through. West coast born, as one of the few Glaswegians who loves Edinburgh, Smith is a representative of Scotland. All of Scotland. No matter if you’re a Dundonian, Teuchter, Buddie, Fifer or an unfortunate Aberdonian, Elaine C. Smith is a treasure we all share.

An Evening with Elaine C. Smith was performed at The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.