Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Witty, lyrical and above all insightful, the show has demonstrated a staying power.
Arriving for the show is like entering scene one of The African Queen. The rain pounds down on the Bosco tent like a wet thing hitting canvas. Tribal drums and voices raised in song float across George Square Gardens which are gently steaming in the unaccustomed heat. I half expect Robert Morley to appear, sermon in hand, ready to address the natives on the sinful nature of jollying about in the jungle. Indeed, the faithful have gathered, and in force, to hear the words of a convinced, evangelical politico.
The theme of Rock ‘n Roll Politics is simple. Despite the triviality of the media or the formless indecision of today’s leaders, the political process can never be dull.
A year ago Steve Richards launched out on a venture very different from his usual round of newspaper columns, radio and TV broadcasts. Unlike in those mediums, Richards’ Fringe show opens a direct dialogue between pundit and punters. In this innovative set up the former is no longer a remote voice crying from a distant wilderness. The latter are more than statistics on a polster’s report. The effect is a world away from the preachy opining of many classic standup routines. Richards has spent a career reporting and narrating from beyond his private concerns and outrage.
Richards is, however, concerned deeply about the size and origin of his crowd. Strange, perhaps, for a man who freely admits that the audience for his once prolific Sunday output probably didn’t extend much beyond a lone boozy regular in his local. Over half of those in attendance are revealed to be return visitors from last year’s show. It’s easy to see why. The star himself has a quiet authority and stage presence which has grown noticeably in the past 12 months. His storytelling, interspersed with impersonations of the great and the good, has been honed into a performance so well polished it outshines the silverware at Downton Abbey. His pace is punchier. His comic reach is longer: he floors the audience with an Izzardesque skit featuring the voice of Roy Jenkins – who else could do that?
The staging is simple but effective. In a new and interesting participatory section, Richards asks his audience to respond to imagined dilemmas which might face familiar pols in the coming months. IF they were Alex Salmond and the SNP were to lose the coming referendum, even by a slight margin, WOULD (not SHOULD) they resign as party leader. If they were Ed Miliband would they replace Ed Balls with Alistair Darling. Why? Why not? The responses are varied, some are even enlightening. Richards seems genuinely intrigued to canvas a broader opinion than he is wont to encounter in the national salon on the threshold to the studio of the Today Programme.
A year ago Rock ‘n Roll Politics was a show without a precedent. Rock ‘n Roll Politics 2 builds expertly on that foundation. Witty, lyrical and above all insightful, the show has demonstrated a staying power which will please all of us who want to see more of this promising new form of live performance.