Fascinating Aida bid their farewells with a stash of palliatives against the depredations of the new millennium. Returning fans will be well aware, as the ladies remind us after Dillie Keane has staggered through her cod-morose intro, that the universal response to tragedy - up to, and including, a dead puppy - is to “Sew On A Sequin”; but FA wish to leave us with more problem-specific solutions.
Are we losing sleep over George W, Rumsfeld and Cheney playing cowboys with the entire northern hemisphere? “Suddenly New Zealand doesn't seem so boring”! Are we confronting old age? Go for the tucks, the staples, the artificial limbs - indeed the whole enchilada - but then, do remember that “Mobility's the enemy of beauty”. Are we facing Armageddon? Sod the Civil Defence and its shelters - just stay rooted, “Stick your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye”!
One Last Flutter provides a near-comprehensive creed for everywoman in 2003, with a degree of gynaecological explicitness that only a group of well-bred ladies could possibly get past the PC police. But the show is much more than women singing dirty. Keane and Adele Anderson, with occasional assistance from Marilyn Cutts - the third member of the group, returning to restore FA to its original profile - have produced twelve new, sharply directed numbers, taking in subjects as diverse as those cited above, along with Brit art, the menopause and the urban colonisation of green belts. And, as leavening amongst this hilariously witty feast, we also get three wistful and reflective songs, including Keane's almost unbearably poignant “Little Shadows”, about a retired couple attempting to sublimate their childlessness in travel and cultural pursuits.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of the evening, however, is the sudden emergence of a fourth member of the group. Not just that, but it's a bloke, Russell Churney, an MD/pianist/performer whose introduction frees up Keane from her piano stool for much of the show and enables her to swoop around the stage and participate in Geoff Garratt's enjoyable choreography. And Churney is much more than a comedy patsy: he sings and he delivers deadpan lines with timing and aplomb, bringing a welcome testosterone counterpoint to all this women's talk.
With a selection of numbers from their voluminous back catalogue and an utterly outrageous dive into panto, including a drop-down songsheet and the two sides of the audience (not to mention a leaping central swathe) cajoled and bullied into competition with each other, One Last Flutter is shaped and paced by director Christopher Luscombe with sure-footed craftsmanship.
Much is being made of this as Fascinating Aida's final tour. It's a great marketing tag, no doubt, but we don't have to believe a word of it - not even they are entirely convinced. Gridlock on the motorways of old England might force them off the road, but 20 years is no sort of longevity in this game and there's clearly plenty of creative life left in these not-so-old birds yet. Keane and Anderson are talking of writing a West End musical featuring the FA brand; so wish them luck as you wave them goodbye. See you again soon, girls!
- Ian Watson (reviewed at the Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple)