Review: Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age – Old College Quad, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Monday August 30 2021

Four Stars

This was cabaret but we weren’t in Weimar Germany or the East Village, Manhattan. Live performance may be rebounding in Scotland following the pandemic, but residual restrictions meant that a show that felt tailor-made for an intimate space lit only by candlelight was being staged in an airy, socially distanced, makeshift venue. “It feels like we’re inside an ice cube,” says Alan Cumming, our host for the evening. “It’s like a really posh shopping centre.”

This 90-minute compendium of songs and humorous storytelling at the Edinburgh International Festival would have worked better in a spiegeltent or perhaps in Club Cumming, the performer’s bar and nightclub in New York City, with its “postage stamp-sized stage”. Yet it’s hard to imagine many other performers with the presence and charisma to conquer this rather unforgiving space.

Backed by a tight four-piece band and clad in his signature waistcoat (a reference to his Tony award-winning role as the Master of Ceremonies in the Broadway revival of Cabaret), Cumming entertained with anecdotes from his diverse career, interspersed with energetic interpretations of everything from standards such as Is That All There Is? to more recent hits such as Adele’s When We Were Young. There were affectionate nods to that grande dame of the concert spectacular, Liza Minnelli, in Cumming’s renditions of her signature songs Maybe This Time and It Was a Good Time.

Pic: Jess Schurte

The narrative thread connecting these numbers was the performer’s forthright exploration of the joys, pitfalls and indignities of ageing, some of it reflective, some of it downright scatological. The cast of characters was stellar, the performer invoking everyone from Sean Connery to Florence Henderson, the matriarch from The Brady Bunch. One anecdote depicted Cumming consorting with no less than Emma Stone, Billie Jean King and Paul McCartney.

It is a measure of his warmth and emotionally open, conversational style that none of this came across as arch or overweening. Cumming has an uncanny ability to hold and transport an audience, whether sharing starry red-carpet tales or discussing the ins and outs of dermatology and sagging testicles.

Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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