No, nothing murky or salacious. But with Biggins seemingly stalking the Whingers it seemed only fair to return the favour. And besides it was for charity. He was giving his BIGgins Night Out at the Richmond Theatre, a variety show with the promise of quick-change artists, magic, puppetry, song and dancing dogs – not to mention liberal helpings of the National Treasure himself. What could possibly not be to like?
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It was a bit of a madcap showbiz day as the Whingers had already rocked up at the Barbican that afternoon for The Magical World of Rogers & Hammerstein a concert featuring Maria Friedman & Daniel Evans which was exactly as implied by its serving suggestion, but nothing tinny here.
Ah, those lush tunes. Even from the front row and despite being a one-off concert the sound was excellent. The show featured songs from five of the best of the R&H cannon: Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The Sound of Music and The King & I (plus the good one from State Fair and the good two from Allegro). Sections were preceded by orchestral excerpts from the shows played gloriously by the 40-or-so-strong London Concert Orchestra followed by a vocal selection performed by Friedman, Evans and the Capital Voices choir.
Two songs in and Phil was hissing in Andrew’s lughole, “This is more like it”. Yes, after Paint Never Dries, this was a full Rogers and Hammerstein ennema leaving the Whingers feeling purged and glowing. Andrew described it as “refreshingly under-blown” after the excesses of last week’s musical outing.
Most of the orchestrations were as originally penned by Robert Russell Bennett but there were a couple of new ones by Jason Carr and Andrew marvelled at his most delicious opening harp and violins for “If I Loved You”.
All in all, it was the perfect thing for Mothers Day. Not that the Whingers took their mothers, but if they had it would have been perfect. Across the aisle from them Mark Shenton and his partner were also celebrating Mothers Day without their mothers but frankly from the look of them one concluded that they were under the impression that it was Valentines Day. Maria Friedman had, however, brought her mother. The whereabouts of Daniel Evans’ mother was not alluded to.
Anyway, the Whingers make no secrets of, like teacher, having favourites and Friedman can do little wrong in their jaundiced eyes, this despite her inviting children in the audience to come up on stage and take part in “The March of the Siamese Children” or as Friedman introduced it: “The March of the Siamese Twins”*. Sadly there seemed to be no Siamese twins in the audience on Sunday so the opportunity was opened up to visibly less co-joined children to get on the stage and bow to Daniel Evans who gamely bowed back in the Siamese manner without once looking as though he were wondering whether this was a slightly unusual occupation for an artistic director of a major regional theatre.
Thankfully there weren’t that many kiddie-winks on hand as the Whingers were starting to get a little angsty about their departure for Richmond.
And if anyone heard Andrew warbling “Edelweiss” when Friedman invited the audience to join in for the finale, then Sing-A-Long-A Sound of Music is culpable.
And so it was that the Whingers sped off for Richmond leaving no time to schmooze with the Friedman dynasty (who were out in force) but humming away and with the prospect of a variety show in prospect.
Ah, variety. Too much to talk about here, but hidden amongst the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent acts on display were some gems: prestidigitation from Alan Shaxon who did boggling things with knots and hoops, students from Laine Theatre Arts who did a number from Billy Elliot which almost made Phil want to reassess the show, a hard working tap dancer Kane Ricca who had chosen the wrong music to display his not unconsiderable talent, Leanne Jones, the original London Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray,who performed the opening number from said show. But almost above all there was Britain’s Got Talent‘s Kate and Gin the Dancing Dog featuring not one but two performing pooches.
But it was another Britain’s Got Talent runner-up - Damon Scott the ‘Monkey Man’ – who stopped the show. No description of his act would do it justice on paper as it really has no right to be as entertaining as it is. All he does is manipulate a puppet monkey which lip-syncs to the likes of Michael Jackson and Boyzone (though Scott did accompany him on the latter with a most amusing Ronan Keating impression) the audience were howling.
And if the finale of “Dancing Queen” with the statutory clap-along by Björn Again tribute act So Abba proved to be So Not Abba, even this did nothing to stop Andrew grinning from ear to ear enthusing “I could sit through this sort of thing every night”.
Sadly the Whingers didn’t win anything in the raffle and they were not tempted to delve into purses for the charity auction despite the first lot being a knowingly worded “Theatrical Experience” which turned out to be tickets to Love Never Dies and a chance to meet the phantom Ramin Karimloo. Biggins threw the Whingers a knowing look at their involuntary snorting laughs. Biggins struggled to pronounce the phantom’s name, finally settling on Ramekin Karimloo as being near enough and then he naughtily employed the Paint Never Dies epithet, guiltily brushing it off as “something I read in a newspaper”.
There were only three disappointments to the evening:
- A particularly concerted effort on the part of Transport for London to thwart all attempts at journeying through the capital meant that one in the Whingers’ party was late and another failed to make it at all.
- We’re sure we read there was supposed to be a quick change act but there wasn’t. Or if there was it was so quick that we missed it. We had been looking forward to that.
- Andrew had worn his coronet especially in the hope of meeting the member of minor royalty who had been mentioned in the promotional blurb but despite his constant scouring of the royal box there was not even a glimmer of Princess Alice Hospice.
* She also invited an old man onto the stage to join her for “Shall We Dance?”, the answer to which in the minds of the audience was a resounding “no”.
Both most enjoyable: