Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Consummate cabaret from a singer/comedian at the top of her genre – almost off the scale, in fact.
Melinda Hughes is a singer and an extremely versatile one. That much is clear from first note to last – a voice that’s clear as cut glass, rolling off tongue twisting lyrics without apparent effort, a voice that’s clearly used to filling big opera venues and yet can adapt the more intimate confines of the Assembly’s Drawing Room. And she’s a consummate actor to boot, effortlessly flitting between characters and accents as she reeled off an engaging and uplifting hour of intriguing music and badinage.
Backed by a smooth jazz trio featuring keyboard, bass and percussion (lead by the very capable Michael Roulston), we had a mix of musical genres that touched on ballads, blues, a bit of boogie, country and western and a few others as well. And the segues gave Hughes the chance to test out her skills as a raconteur and air a sense of humour that ranged from gentle (and groan-worthy) puns, to the silly and surreal and, occasionally, the surprisingly dark.
Off The Scale’s theme is the world of tribal polemics that Hughes believes we are sleep-walking towards. Like a lot of satirists, she’s had plenty of material to work with since the “golden year” of 2016 that gave us Trump and Brexit. And both get the full force of her creative wit and wisdom here.
Post Brexit, she claims, we’re going to need to cosy up to Uncle Sam, but we’re divided by a common language which is going to make understanding Trump’s rants even harder for us. And, oh for a return to the days when Texas gentlemen were gentlemen, women knew their place and misogyny and worse were the order of the day. And as for Twitter – don’t get her started. We had a bravura number that parodied trolling and how brave we all seem when tucked in behind a screen, a keyboard and a range of on-line identities.
Finishing off with a powerfully funny take on the “selfie” and the uncontrolled descent into narcissism that it seems to be driving was a clever way to send us out into the Edinburgh evening. It made me replay her lyrics in my head as I left, admire her confident assured delivery, her broad lexicon and an ability to fashion seemingly unrelated words into meaningful rhythm and rhyme whilst taking some well-aimed digs at individual and societal trends.
Given the overall quality of the hour, it’s easy to forgive a couple of segues that drifted on a little too long and lacked the punch associated with most of her dialogue. But even that gave the show an air of informality that drew the audience in. Hughes has great empathy with her audience, an easy way with words, a creative sense of humour, a vivid imagination and is clearly having fun on stage. And, oh boy, can she sing!