Review: Fascinating Aida

It's interesting what you can get away when you've got a smart accent and a posh frock. Whereas most pensioners would be sizzling with consternation if they heard Jonathan Ross use the the c word - Fascinating Aida had them shouting for more. Singing to the everyday concerns of the middle classes, Dillie Keane, Adele Anderson and Liza Pulman wrap their beautiful voices about genetic mutation, dogging and famously - cheap flights.

Fascinating Aida

After brief introductions the ladies let the songs speak for themselves. Time flies by with segues in all the right places, lots of movement and a few musical props. In their song cycles they lampoon Tony Blair, the Muslim veil, immigration, corporate greed. The comedy is suspended (and ultimately enhanced) with Old Home, a touching love letter to the houses we've loved and left.

But it's the satirical lyrics that get us every time. Who else could rhyme puberty with Schuberty or cunnilingus with fingers? None of it is forced, the sentiments are spot on and the laughs come thick and fast. The delivery is very dry and very funny.

Behind the perfectly blended harmonies and gorgeous gowns Fascinating Aida are edgy, sharply satirical and wonderfully filthy. It's easy to see why after thirty years they're still the reigning queens of cabaret.

Review: Lady Rizo

We go to the Edinburgh fringe to be entertained, have fun and hopefully find inspiration. Last night, New York's remarkable cabaret diva Lady Rizo delivered the hat-trick. She has a remarkable voice (with a Grammy to prove it), an original sound with touches of Billie Holliday, Amy Winehouse, Etta James and Fiona Apple. She uses covers, originals and she's very funny. First and foremost though, she's a storyteller. She shares her journey from Princess Cruise Lines to marriage in Alaska to infidelity in New York City. The whole set, the story, is brilliantly put together. The theme is adult relationships. She raises difficult issues with such honesty we can't help but feel deeply connected to her. She gets down to the bone and we love her for it. The more she reveals (physically and emotionally) the more we empathise. It is, at times, an uncomfortable journey, but so is life.

Lady Rizo

Musical accompaniment is provided on track and with live support from her songwriting partner Yair Evnine on cello and guitar. It's very effective. The sound is huge one minute and hauntingly intimate the next.

The songs are knitted so tightly into the story they sound like they were written just for her. It's an opus that speaks to all of us.

This was the first full standing ovation I've ever seen at the Fringe. I was left moved, uplifted and oh so grateful for the chance to experience Lady Rizo for myself. "Edinburgh," she told us, "leaves me raw, ravaged, hoarse and broke". Take it from me Lady Rizo - it's worth it.

Review: Grannies Gone Wild with Lynn Ruth Miller

I didn't expect to see an 80 year old strip for me tonight but that's what I got with Lynn Ruth Miller's Grannies Gone Wild. A revealing, funny, inspirational hour I'll never forget. The gags come thick and fast ("I'm from Brighton but I happen to like men") and her timing's great but what makes Lynn Ruth special is her warmth and sincerity. Within minutes she has her audience singing along (to original songs), laughing and grinning like kids on Christmas morning.

A lot of performers struggle to make their patter sound natural. They should watch Lynn Ruth - it's a master class. Sure she's reciting a script but you'd never know it, it all sounds right off-the-cuff.

Grannies Gone Wild is Lynn Ruth sharing a lifetime of funny stories punctuated with parodies like 'Thank Heaven for Little Pads' which sees a flurry of incontinence pads flying back and forth from the stage to the audience. Somehow she makes this not only funny, but endearing.

From drug addiction, nudity and internet dating she leaves no ageing stone unturned. She's racy ("I want to come back as a prostitute"), she brash and she speaks her mind - but through it all she radiates love. Love for her audience and love for life. Just a few days ago she broke her arm. For most 80 year olds that would be game-over but Lynn Ruth never missed a show. In fact the day it happened she did five. If that doesn't inspire a whining 43 year old like me to pull my socks up, nothing will.

The silliness is punctuated with the beautiful songs Look In The Mirror and Nothing Like Love, reminding us that no matter how many years a person has they still need a hug, a little kindness and someone special in their lives.

Lynn Ruth writes all her own lyrics but credit to writers Bill Smith, Robert Pettigrew, Larry Dunlop for proving some of the original material.

Spending an hour in Lynn Ruth's company is like visiting a favourite aunt - you just feel better for it. All that's missing is the homemade fruit cake. When she sings "I've got all my life to live and I've got all my love to give" you know she means every word.

Review: Songs on Film with Joe Stilgoe

As Joe Stilgoe's growing fan base will already know he is a brilliant pianist. He's funny, handsome, charming and sings like a dream. He also writes his own material. In short he's disgustingly talented. Lucky for us he's at the Edinburgh Fringe with Songs On Film: fifty minutes of cinematic merriment. The show begins with Joe chatting over a vamp setting up the show with anecdotes and the occasional musical reference. Engaging though it is, after fifteen minutes I was aching to hear a song performed in full. It finally came with a refreshing, original reading of Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.

This is a beautifully crafted set. Like word association, one song leads seamlessly into the next. Nothing jars and before we know it he's taken us from Groundhog Day to Snow White to Arthur to his own composition Popcorn. The Pixar section complete with balloons was especially touching and the mood changed beautifully with the lads downstage-centre for a memorable acoustic medley.

Even with such a rich source of material to mine Joe knows that ultimately the show's success relies on his personality. His anecdotes and banter keep us involved and though I would have enjoyed a few more songs, there's no doubt Joe is an engaging entertainer.

The band (the Checkpoint Cinematic Symphony Orchestra) comprised of Tom Farmer at the bass and Ben Reynolds at the drums. They clearly enjoyed every minute of the show providing backing vocals, horns, whistles and costume changes. Like true professionals they know they're not just there to play the dots - they are part of a show. They keep the focus on Joe when necessary and ham it up for comedic effect at all the right points.

Joe takes us towards the finale with his trademark mashup of audience requests improvising the words and music of Feed The Birds, Moondance, Brief Encounter and at least three more. He is brilliant and of course the audience is left begging for more. Naturally he obliges with a raucous homage to Bugsy Malone and an unexpected Footloose.

I can't wait for the sequel.

Review: Divallusion with Christiana Bianco and Velma Celli

With millions of views on YouTube and an appearances on the Ellen Degeneres Show and Graham Norton, Christina Bianco is the singer impressionist everyone is talking about. In her Fringe debut she teams up with cabaret drag queen Velma Celli for Divallusion – a celebration of everything diva. This is much more than impersonator and her act. We discover divas old and new, there's poetry (in the style of Sarah Jessica Parker and Cheryl Cole), parodies, party games (Tranny Atlantic Diva Battle) and of course lots of singing. This is 50 minutes of high octane entertainment.

Though Christina's YouTube fame may have got people through the door, Velma Celli turns out to be a critical part of the show. Where an evening of vocal impressions (though brilliant) may begin to loose their shine Velma's comedy and vocals provide the necessary light and shade to keep us fully engaged for the whole show. Never far away with the right balance of edgy camp, she towers over the diminutive Christina to great comic effect.

Divallusion

It's a true collaboration and wisely, the pair don't compete for stage time. Each plays to their strengths and Christina happily steps aside as Velma dances up a storm (complete with splits) and relishes her own diva moments.

But it's Christina's voice that gets the audience screaming with delight. The range of sounds she produces is quite remarkable: Bette Midler, Whitney Houston, Adele, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Edith Piaf... I could go on. Even without the impressions she has an incredible instrument. From her uncanny Barbara Streisand to the high notes of Kristin Chenoweth – I lost count of how many times shivers ran down my spine. We get plenty of the real Christina too, her heartfelt 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' providing the antidote to Velma's outrageous 'And I'm Telling You' as Margaret Thatcher.

Kudos to the director for giving the show such great pace and shape. There's lots of light and shade and it's very funny. There's good use of pre-recorded music alongside pianist Joe Louis Robinson and credit to the engineer for creating such a rich resonant sound.

There's so much to enjoy in this fully formed show. The impressions are backed up by truly superb voices, it's pacey and very funny. Go! These divas won't be around for ever.

Review: Night Bus with Sarah-Louise Young and Linda Marlowe

Anyone who's used London's public transport will know the tube is packed with people silently staring at their shoes but the night bus plays host to noisy drunks, sleeping shift workers and assorted "items of lost property". It's this everyday cast that Sarah-Louise Young and Linda Marlowe explore in Night Bus. After an arresting opening montage we're given a collection of character studies exploring the lives all around us. There's a girl with a fantasy app controlling an itinerant teenager, a transgender office worker called Marilyn, duelling pregnant women and a mother in crisis.

night bus Edinburgh fringe

I especially enjoyed the lady out to buy Earl Grey tea with a (very clean) morbidly obese brother at home. It was a touching portrait reminiscent of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads. Likewise the elegant lady describing her first night bus journey lulls us in with light humour before before hitting us with a horrible truth.

Music is used sparingly and with great effect to occasionally punctuate scenes. The performances and direction are strong but the real magic is in the writing. Violent, funny, poignant, touching and often with a twist. We even get a little philosophy from the bus itself.

We make assumptions about people everyday never knowing the triumphs and struggles just below the surface. Night Bus gives us a glimpse behind the masks we wear. Hop on, it's a rewarding journey.

Review: Hector Is Magic

I once overheard a guest on a ship tell their partner, "I'm not going to the show, I don't like magicians". I wondered if they made similar generalisations on other things such as: "I don't like food" or "I don't like people". Maybe they had the old stereotypical magician in mind: an ageing man with too much hair product producing rabbits from a fraying hat. In that case, five minutes watching Hector Is Magic would change their mind. I saw him on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas and loved every minute.

A true family show

Hector is energetic, handsome and crucially, modern. Though young (he looks late 20s), he's been working big stages long enough to have crafted a strong, engaging set. There's lots of audience participation including a wonderfully crafted bit with a kid on stage, who of course has the audience all gooey in no time. This is the perfect family show with great music and clever humour pitched for adults as well as kids.

One highlight was an original bit where Hector turned bubbles he'd just blown into solid spheres. It's great to watch a show as an adult and still be amazed.

It's a strong 50 minute set and though it might benefit from a little trimming, there is a lot of light and shade. Familiar illusions feel fresh and engaging with Hector's energy and charm. One highlight was the shadow puppets - so good that I though it was produced by a projector, not Hector's own hands.

Multi-lingual international appeal

A native of Seville, Hector effortlessly weaves between Spanish, English and where necessary Portuguese.

He makes great use of stage lighting, (credit to the techs), his assistant and a simple stage set. The tracks he uses to accompany his illusions are fresh and help dictate the right mood.

Hector is Magic is a delightful act. It has wide international appeal and is great for families. Highly recommended.