Journal Tyne Theatre
Newcastle upon Tyne
The Best of British Variety Tour is chance to recapture the past, as several acts are faces who we used to see regularly on TV. Admittedly most still appear in panto each year and some of the acts are still relatively well known, but in essence, it’s a trip down memory lane for the older generation.
Holding the show together is Christopher Biggins, who starts the proceedings with community singing. But as there is no live music, its left to the audience and his enthusiasm to keep things going through "Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag" and "It’s A Long Way To Tipperary" which makes the average age of the audience very apparent, as most know every word. Biggins also becomes involved in the seating arrangements with late comers, before introducing the first act, Syd Little. As one half of the Little and Large Comedy Act (Eddie Large having retired after a heart transplant) Little tells a few rambling jokes , occasionally losing his way through the stories, and sings Buddy Holly and Gene Pitney songs. Then the Grumbleweeds manage to liven things up considerably, although there are only two performers now (I can remember the original line up of five). Their comedy appeals to all ages and is thankfully very funny . To close the first act, Dana took us through a selection of songs, then came in to the audience to chat before closing the act with a trip down memory lane of her hits. She also included a memory test for the audience on Eurovision. I am not sure "It’s Gonna Be A Cold Cold Christmas With Out You" was ideal for a September evening, but we all knew "All Kinds Of Everything" would close the first half.
Act Two stars the Krankies and while the material may seem very familiar, the husband and wife team has the audience in the palm of their hand. The school boy act is still funny and my nine year old daughter , who had never seen or heard of them before, declared "The Krankies Are Cool" . Is higher praise needed? They mention their forthcoming panto with John Barrowman in Glasgow, which I am sure, will give them a whole new following and several times Janette commented she was now sixty three years old, which makes you realise their longevity.
Top of the Bill is Paul Daniels and his wife Debbie McGee. He involves the audience in stories about his forthcoming appearance on Strictly Come Dancing while performing a card trick and then selects an audience member to join him in an illusion. One trick that involved a twenty pound note, took me back many years to when he was appearing at the North Pier in Blackpool, with the late Marti Caine. Changes have been made admittedly, as, without giving the trick away, I am sure he used an egg and lemon, rather than a packet of Polos, all those years ago.
Nostalgia is the shows strength and while it tries to recapture memories of years gone by and introduce the acts to a new audience, it does have its failings. Over all its just too long, especially evident during the Syd Little and Dana acts. Also the production values are very basic, with all acts performing in front of a large Union Jack backcloth and there is no live music. This is a trip down memory lane even to the point where the National Anthem is played before the show starts. It is then you realise how things have changed as many of the audience did not appear to know what they should do, as some rose to their feet instantly, while others remained seated and shuffled around uncomfortably.