Part of This Is Cabaret's coverage of the 2012 Edinburgh Festival FringeCircus stunts at close quarters is the unusual premise of The Tom Collins Free Variety Hour. Performed in the back room of a pub for audiences no larger than 20 people, the increased proximity to the artists makes for an unexpected thrilling experience, no matter where you’re sitting.

Tom Balmont and Abi Collins combine their talents in a rich range of variety, comprising musical comedy, hula-hoops, sword swallowing, a human hoopla number and more. A small CD player operated by the performers themselves enhances the thrown-together feel of the evening. Artists and public bond quickly, establishing a sense of community where you’re free to get up off your chair or sofa and visit the bar at any point, with plenty of interaction going on as part of the entertainment. You may well leave this show having made new friends.


Tom Balmont and Abi Collins bring intimate circus and no-frills cabaret to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

A seasoned character comic, Collins spends most of the time in the guise of Peggy Sued, a crass, slightly desperate Las Vegas alcoholic divorcee. Her overbearing charms do much to break the ice with the intimately sized public and drive the structure on. The interplay between her over-the-top buffoonery and Balmont’s straight-faced persona is a pleasure to witness. The comedic chemistry between the two is spontaneous and confident.

Going for the utmost intimacy, Collins reveals her real self towards the conclusion to share the unfortunate story of how their material required a last-minute re-design to suit the unexpected conditions of the venue. You wouldn’t tell it from their performance. If you’re looking for a show that encapsulates the spirit of the Fringe, you’ll be hard-pushed to find anything more suitable. The Tom Collins Free Variety Hour is no-frills cabaret, raw and right in front of your nose, by experienced professionals. For free.

The Tom Collins Free Variety Hour. Performed by Tom Balmont and Abi Collins. Laughing Horse @ The White Horse, Edinburgh EH8 8AA (Venue 296). 2-26 August, 0:15. Free.


Photos courtesy of the performers