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Fascinating Aida, Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank – Review

There’s something joyful about hearing four-letter words sung in close harmony. There’s more to it than that of course, but the combination of musical sophistication and gleeful naughtiness is the secret to Fascinating Aida’s eternally popular brand of cabaret. The high and low brow make easy bedfellows in their highly capable hands. Of course, Fascinating Aida have been ‘at it’ in this way for over three decades now.  Indeed, in an opening gag, they compare themselves to the Rolling Stones. This is clearly nonsense. There is not a hint of Mick or Keith’s arthritic creakiness in either their material…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

This festive season is the perfect excuse to catch cabaret royalty at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

User Rating: 3.79 ( 6 votes)

There’s something joyful about hearing four-letter words sung in close harmony. There’s more to it than that of course, but the combination of musical sophistication and gleeful naughtiness is the secret to Fascinating Aida’s eternally popular brand of cabaret. The high and low brow make easy bedfellows in their highly capable hands. Of course, Fascinating Aida have been ‘at it’ in this way for over three decades now.  Indeed, in an opening gag, they compare themselves to the Rolling Stones. This is clearly nonsense. There is not a hint of Mick or Keith’s arthritic creakiness in either their material or performance. Indeed, there is some courageous Weimar style choreography half way through act one that many a young dancer would blanch at. 

In an era when burlesque, circus, drag and even performance art all encroach into the cabaret space, it feels refreshing to enjoy three performers – Dillie Keane, Adèle Anderson and Liza Pulman – entertain around a piano so comfortably unadorned with extras. That is unless you count game and debonair pianist Michael Roulston.  

The dynamic between the performers is delightful and the source of much of the humour. I particularly fell for Keane’s faux grumpiness. Prim and proper Anderson seems to have her eyebrow arched in judgement throughout. At one point, teasing laughs come as she is appalled by the prospect of socialising with her colleagues.  What would be the point of such a thing? Pulman’s powerful soprano voice is matched by an air of showbiz trooper.  The show will go on with a smile even if the other two aren’t perhaps quite as focused on the job at hand.  As you would expect, it is the songs that are the real draw though. Whether silly or personal or political, the wordplay is a delight and the laughs just keep coming. The song Funerals stops dead at one point as we roar – a showstopper within a showstopper. The hilarious short songs of the Bulgarian Song Cycle 2019 win big too.  All the writing feels fresh and topical. This, mercifully, is no exercise in lazily knocking out the safe old hits. References including Prince Andrew, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Greta Thurburg, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson are seamlessly integrated to bring things bang up to date. There is a sense of playing to the home crowd – middle aged lefty liberals on London’s Southbank – but why not? Everyone is here to enjoy themselves.  

The celebratory tone is especially welcome during an autobiographical song from Adèle Anderson which, rightly, brings the house down. Its funny, frank, fearless and finds a delicious rhyme with ‘puberty’ that is worth the ticket price alone.  Other highlights include the filthy Dogging, viral online hit Cheap Flights (25 million hits and counting) and the encore which has such a rude title we can’t possibly print it.

Musically, there are many, many moments of sheer bliss as the three disparate voices combine. The one song not played for laughs, Goodbye Old Friends, is a total treat for the ears. The show, thanks in large part to the lighting of Mike Robertson, is a treat for the eyes too. If you are a cabaret fan, or just like laughing, you should seriously consider asking Santa for tickets to Christmas at The Southbank. You are unlikely to see better proponents of the art form any time soon.   

Directed by: Paul Foster
Choreography by: Victoria Hinde
Produced by: David Johnson & John Mackay
Booking link: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/137574-fascinating-aida-201920
Booking until: 5th January 2020

About Mike Carter

Mike Carter
Mike Carter is a playwright, script-reader, workshop leader and dramaturg. He has worked across London’s fringe theatre scene for over a decade and remains committed to supporting new talent and good work.