Fascinating Aida—The Cheap Flights Tour

Songs by Dillie Keane and Adele Anderson with contributions from Sarah-Louise Young, Liza Pulman, Michael Roulston, Richard Link, Russell Churney, Marilyn Cutts and Issy van Randwyck
John Mackay and David Johnson
The Lyceum, Sheffield

Fascinating Aida

"Absolutely Fabulous meets Noël Coward as sung by the Andrew Sisters" (Irish Times 2011). But there is more to the magical mix of satire and song that has been entertaining national and international audiences for nearly three decades.

Founded in 1983 by Irish-born Dillie Keane, and with some variation in the youngest member of the group, the team currently engaged in a nationwide tour includes long term collaborator and performer Adele Anderson and actress and singer Liza Pulman.

The show is reminiscent of the great TV satire shows of the 60s and 70s. Nothing is sacred! There is a keen awareness of contemporary issues and a strong political stance in many of the numbers. "Companies Using Nifty Taxation Systems" (C**t) points to the ease with which large corporations are able to avoid taxation by use of offshore accounts, while ‘you and you and you and you’ (that’s us) have to pay up.

The hugely popular "Cheap Flights" echoes the experience that so many of us have had when attempting to use a supposedly cheap carrier. The satire is deliciously enjoyable and a satisfying way of getting back through laughter at companies that have shafted us.

Quite delicate social issues are thrown into the melting pot. "Orang-Utan" explores surrogate motherhood, particularly important for a woman who wants to keep her figure; and "Mother Dear Mother" hilariously plots the path of a daughter who, increasingly desperate, tries to persuade her mother to travel to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. There will only be one return ticket! It is a tribute to the writing and the performances that serious subjects like these can be treated without giving offence. Indeed, in such circumstances, laughter can be cathartic.

But a lot of the humour revolves around sexual activity of one sort or another and is made particularly amusing by the self parody of the two older members of the company, who make it clear that, despite appearances, they are still up for it and just as vigorous as ever.

Keane has a lot of fun with "Dogging", suggesting that the older members of the audience should check with youngsters to find out what if means. Or Google it! An increasingly riotous sequence ends with the inclusion of an obliging police officer. Anderson describes a particularly harmonious threesome in "Mr & Mrs and Me".

The songs are peppered with sexual allusion, the naming of body parts, and what on TV is called ‘strong language’. As Keane said to the audience after a particularly explicit sequence, ‘If you don’t like this kind of thing, why are you here?’ But the audience had grins from ear to ear and applauded enthusiastically and often.

The stage performance is a delight. The three voices, Anderson’s remarkable deep bass, Keane’s frequently raucous mezzo and Pulman’s vibrating soprano blend together well and are very effective in unaccompanied sequences like the hilarious "Bulgarian Song Cycles".

Additionally, the movement and dance by all three performers is energetic, lithe and accomplished. "Lieder" parodies 1930s German cabaret style and "Down with the Kids" has fun with contemporary rap performances. The show’s sensitive lighting provides contrast and variety.

The whole is held together by a narrative about the group’s experiences, public and personal, which frames the highly energetic first half and allows for some quieter, more plangent moments in the second, including a passionately delivered solo by Pulman.

The group has a large following, who will be familiar with many of the songs from the 9 albums and 3 videos already available. It is a special experience to see this hugely talented group on stage, and to enjoy the warmth, wit and humanity of their performances.

Reviewer: Velda Harris