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Edinburgh Fringe 2017

The Etiquette Show : Much Ado About Everything!

Charles Stephens

Genre: Spoken Word

Venue: Gilded Balloon Rose Street


Low Down

A tongue-in-cheek canter through the foibles and faux pas that are such a vital part of life.  Well, to some people anyway.


Etiquette.  Supposedly much ado about everything.  But what does it mean to you?  To most people, it means behaving in an appropriate manner for the situation in which you find yourself.  Opening the door if someone needs it.  Responding politely to a reasonable request from someone.  Thinking about other people’s needs, rather than just your own.

Behaving the right way in society is certainly an obsession with certain classes of people, particularly here in the UK.  And it’s ripe for a good old parody as well.  Remember the BBC TV series Keeping Up Appearances that ran for forty-four episodes using basically just one joke at the expense of the social climbing Hacyinth Bucket?  And do remember that Bucket is pronounced “bouquet”, not “bucket”.

William Hanson and Diana Mather are leading etiquette experts (whatever that means) and were here, live on stage to present an explanation for the perplexing plethora of protocol that seems so important to some in society that it is apt to take over their lives.  Like the right way to prepare tea, for example.  Milk in first?  Very working class.  Tea in first?  A sure sign of proper breeding.  And the counter-signal to anyone getting a little flirtatious whilst imbibing?  Extend the little finger whilst drinking from the best bone china.  Apparently, in polite 18th Century society this used to mean that one was carrying a sexually transmitted disease.  Neat way of getting rid of the over-amorous.

It’s all a very tongue-in-teacup foray into civilised human behaviour. But the gently camp and very debonair Hanson and coyly flirtatious Mather certainly know their stuff and have clearly done their research as an engaging canter through the development of etiquette over the centuries showed.

And you can make a good living out of instructing the darling offspring of the upper classes and wannabes in more countries than you would imagine.  The newly-minted in China, India and other fast rising Asian economies are all desperate to ensure that they, and their progeny, receive the best possible advice on western customs and behaviour.  There’s money to be made, apparently, in teaching someone what to do with an oyster fork.

However, interest in Edinburgh in the vital art of greeting someone seemed a little wan on this grey bank holiday Monday, leaving me wondering whether, nicely presented and amusing though this was, it’s more a case, as the great Bard once said, of much ado about nothing.