Home / Cabaret / Fascinating Aida: Charm Offensive – Southbank Centre, London

Fascinating Aida: Charm Offensive – Southbank Centre, London

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

[rating:5]

Fascinating Aida - cJohnny BoylanIf anyone ever wondered what the St Trinians schoolgirls could have turned into in later life, Fascinating Aida may provide the answer. These three ladies are elegant, mischievous and, in the nicest possible way, extremely rude. Now into their 31st year, they have aged like the finest wine, honing their writing and performing skills to the point of near perfection.

Founder member Dillie Keane is still going strong, together with Adele Anderson, who joined a year later, and relative newcomer Liza Pulman, who has been with the trio for just under ten years. Charm Offensive is a show that is certainly charming, but it is only likely to be offensive to the most diehard among prudes. Somehow language that might be shunned even on a building site becomes perfectly acceptable when uttered by sophisticated ladies in evening dresses who have reached their prime years.

The show is a mixture of old and new. Greatest hits such as Dogging and Cheap Flights are almost obligatory, as is the Bulgarian song cycle, except that the lyrics of each of the short songs have been updated to make cutting references to the very latest news headlines. To prove themselves bang up to date, the ladies chant Facebook Blues and then Keane, who is now beginning to look like a very young Margaret Rutherford, re-brands herself as “Keane Dillie” to perform an energetic rap number. Later, she adopts the guise of a French chanteuse to ask Where Is Your Johnny Now, Johnny, which is very risqué but completely hilarious.

Topicality is high on the agenda, as the ladies become bankers’ wives pondering the dilemma of how to spend “his” bonus, they reflect on how their generation of baby boomers has ruined everything for succeeding generations and they lament the Eurozone crisis to the accompaniment of traditional Greek music. The centrepiece of this show lands a hefty swipe on the face of the British Education system and informs us that OFSTED is an acronym for “”Overpaid F***ers Shafting Teachers Every Day”.

The evening is not just a collection of comic numbers and crude jokes. Several wistful and poignant songs are blended skilfully into the mix to vary the mood. Look Mummy, No Hands is a lovely celebration of mother/daughter relationships and Old Home reflects nostalgically on places we have lived in but left behind. Pulman, who possesses a crystal clear soprano voice, sings of a first date between two divorcees and Anderson gives a deeply personal account of gender change. There are times during these more serious moments when the lyrics are so delicate and the rhymes so precise that it is possible to wonder whether the songs are really original or taken perhaps from a Sondheim musical.

Sending the audience home for the festive season, the ladies warn Try Not To Be A **** At Christmas, but, sadly, lack of BBC airplay may ruin it’s chances of ever being a contender for Christmas number one. As a couple of hours of cabaret, this is about as good as it can get, at least until Fascinating Aida come up with their next show.

Photo: Johnny Boylan

Runs until 10th January

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