Fascinating Aïda are British cabaret royalty. Through successive line-up changes since 1983, this musical comedy trio has appeared in theatres, TV and radio, also winning an Olivier award. Named after one of their songs that became a viral hit online video in 2010, their popular show returns to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe after last year’s acclaimed run.
These cabaret pioneers have helped create the foundation for much of the modern scene, and are still at the top of their game. The audience might look old and established, but the material isn’t. Right from the start, with opening song C.U.N.T.S. (“Companies Using Nifty Taxation Systems”), they let you know what you are in for: satirical pops at current issues set to impressive music.
Founding member Dillie Keane runs much of the show effortlessly, playing the piano with the dotty charm of Alastair Sim in the St. Trinian’s films. An accomplished pianist, she is a worthy replacement for their late great musical director Russell Churney.
They are ladies of an uncertain age, but full of attitude. Theirs is an old-fashioned sort of cabaret: Fascinating Aïda belongs in a fine British satirical tradition together with Flanders and Swann, Gilbert and Sullivan, Noël Coward and The Two Ronnies. The clear enunciation and fantastic delivery of Adèle Anderson, a member and lyricist since 1984, makes this evening a real treat. Liza Pullman returns from a recent sabbatical, rounding up the group’s brilliant three-part harmonies.
A Bulgarian a cappella segment has flawless singing. Later, the Cheap Flights song proves a climax, voicing the universal frustration with budget airlines in unequivocal terms: “you’re an idiot if you think a fecking flight is 50p.” Down With the Kids, a hip hop parody “gone fungal”, shows they are aware of who and what they are, and don’t have a problem with it. Take note, Madge.
Looking at the mass of grey heads in the audience and the three ladies in their immaculately complementary evening outfits, the elegant presentation and performance seem sometimes at odds with the hard-hitting lyrics. Like naughty grannies, though, they can say the most shocking things without upsetting any one.
Cheap Flights is middle-aged, middle-class entertainment that could possibly leave a lot of under-30s cold, but Fascinating Aïda are superb practitioners of their craft, and something of a national treasure. It’s an exquisite pleasure to see polished and talented ladies who can give such delightful lessons on growing old disgracefully.
Fascinating Aïda: Cheap Flights. Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh EH8 9AJ (Venue 14). 1, 3-11, 13-20, 22-26 August, 18:30. £8-14.50 (£12-13.50 concessions). www.fascinatingaida.co.uk