Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Cerebral entertainment in a witty hour of song and patter from that doyen of the Fringe, Kit Hesketh-Harvey and his partner in rhyme James McConnel.
The elegant hotel on George IV Bridge that has played host to early evening sessions of banter (nay, badinage), mirth and music with Kit Hesketh-Harvey and his partner in rhyme and song, James McConnel seems to have changed its name yet again. It’s now a Radisson Blu having swopped its previous corporate moniker at some point after last year’s epic from these two.
But some things never change; this is Hesketh-Harvey’s 39th year at the Fringe and, looking around the room, I recognised a number of faces, young and old, that I’ve encountered at previous incarnations of the quaint, slightly old-fashioned cabaret entertainment that this duet are so well known for. It’s a bit like on old friends’ reunion – indeed, one dear lady has been every year since the start of the run back in 1980. I assume she has a season ticket by now.
And if ever an audience mirrors its performers, this is it. A rainbow of brightly coloured trousers was once again on display which, coupled with the quixotic headgear often sported by the Morningside mafia, meant you had in the room the quintessential segment of the socio-economic strata at which Hesketh-Harvey and McConnel’s staple of cerebral, witty repartee and satirical song-writing is aimed.
The evening started with a lament to the fact that nothing’s allowed to be funny anymore for fear of someone, somewhere taking offence. It was a neat parody of the excessive political correctness that all but the politicians, it seems, can see we’re suffering from.
A ditty examining the challenges of being a male of the species these days and having to interact with the fairer sex without risking offence was swiftly followed by examination of what Hesketh-Harvey described as the “lavatory that is McConnel’s love life”, with the latter’s latest muse being Mary Berry of Bake Off fame. There was more innuendo in this tribute than currants in an Eccles cake.
Continuing the lavatorial theme, we had the first of two Abba songs to which new words have been penned, in this case a lament to the rise of the ubiquitous portaloo. McConnel then did his usual trick of taking someone’s name and, using a chart developed long ago by Franz Liszt, turned letters into notes and developed a tune around them, a kind of musical improv if you will.
That this year’s show seemed a little rough around the edges and contained a fair amount of material from previous years didn’t seem to bother the aficionados. Anyway, it’s still very clever stuff – take a pretty familiar or simple piece of music and tell a new story to it, often using a subject about which many in the room will have knowledge or concern. The frequent use of alliteration, innuendo, double entendre and neat word play all accentuate the intellectual feel to the show.
The occasionally melodramatic, slightly camp delivery of Hesketh-Harvey is reminiscent of Hinge and Brackett at their finest (albeit absent their elegant Edwardian dress and plumage) and is nicely complemented by the urbane McConnel. They sound and act like many of the devoted married couples that are the backbone of their audience, finishing each other’s sentences as the patter cascades and flows. They are masters of comic timing as well – the pauses they insert are just the right length to set up the inevitable punch-line or denouement that follows.
And despite his longevity, Hesketh-Harvey shows no signs of slowing down with his prolific writing skills extending to a rip-roaringly funny version of Rigoletto’s La Donna e Mobile to bring down the curtain on another successful show, leaving the audience to drift out into the hotel foyer, reminisce about times gone by and look forward to a big party to celebrate the 40th concert next year
An amusing hour from two very cerebral entertainers.