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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Fascinating Aida

For 40 years the comedy cabaret act Fascinating Aida has been entertaining audiences all over the country.

Today they are perhaps more popular than ever, filling the Royal Festival Hall in 2022, and continuing this leg of their current tour with three dates at the London Palladium. That’s no mean feat for a company who have rarely appeared on television or radio and perhaps difficult to comprehend until you have seen the act, which is often sharply satirical and more than occasionally post-watershed in flavour.

The line-up of vocalists has varied over the years, but the current and most enduring ensemble comprises founder member Dillie Keane, Adèle Anderson and Liza Pulman. Keane’s deadpan delivery and distinctive alto fuses perfectly with Anderson’s arch, sophisticated contralto, and both are tempered by Pulman’s trilling, playful soprano. It could be twee and mawkishly nostalgic; instead, this show, smoothly directed by Paul Foster, is fierce, uncompromising cabaret that takes no prisoners.

Through all the lampooning of everything and everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to the Tories, the common denominator is well-honed, intelligent songwriting and polished vocal technique.

There’s no single defining motif to Fascinating Aida’s work; the setlist nods to many musical styles, from Gilbert and Sullivan to Noël Coward, via rap and Weimar cabaret. Meticulous harmonies resonate, heightening the dark comedy of Mother Dear Mother, or intensifying the solemn despair of The Blues Got a Skeleton Key.

Those harmonies are also a major part of Cheap Flights, the cod-Irish ditty penned by Keane and Anderson, a send-up of the airfare wars, which went viral online and introduced the troupe to a whole new audience.

Old favourites, written by members past and present, make an appearance among new songs that are so fresh that they are surely being carefully composed on a daily basis. The number AI owes a debt to Bauhaus as it skewers our over-reliance on digital technology, while Enemy Of Beauty pokes fun at the perils of too much Botox. Musical director and pianist Michael Roulston, who also shares some of the compositional credits, is elegant and warmly comic, striking an easy balance with the three vocalists.

Lighting designer Daniel Carter-Brennan deserves a mention, too, for subtly catching the mood of each number, while Foster’s deft directorial touch delivers a seamless production that benefits from the occasional explosion of choreography from Emma Woods.

Dance may not be Fascinating Aida’s strong point, but the timeless Lieder number is a hilarious parody of Bob Fosse, while Down with the Kids is a hip-hop revelation. In a UK cabaret scene filled with new talent and ideas, after 40 years Keane, Anderson and Pulman are still leading the vanguard.

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