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Royal Variety Performance 2018 review at the London Palladium – ‘nostalgia and diversity’

Adrienne Warren performing at the Royal Variety Performance. Photo: ITV
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This year’s Royal Variety Performance was held in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Members of the Invictus Choir led the national anthem, in recognition of the Duke’s work on the Invictus Games, before host Greg Davies took to the stage.

Davies made for a convivial, if occasionally woolly, compere. His set pieces with regular TV stooge Alex Horne were amiable enough, but it’s fortunate that the television audience will be spared their fluffs and fillers.

Following their success at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, the cast of Hamilton opened the show with the musical’s opening number Alexander Hamilton. Good as this was, it was eclipsed by Adrienne Warren’s powerful performance of River Deep, Mountain High in an excerpt from Tina – The Tina Turner Musical. 

Consummate showmen Take That made an early appearance but in terms of spectacle, they too were over-shadowed with the quirky opulence of Clean Bandit, hanging from balloons as they sang a medley of their greatest hits.

Greg Davies at Royal Variety Performance. Photo: ITV

Circus was well represented with RVP regular Cirque du Soleil presenting a sequence from its show Totem, featuring synchronised juggling unicyclists. More traditional circus came in the form of Circus 1903, including tumblers, aerialists and brilliant life-size puppets of an elephant and her calf.

The Royal Variety Performance’s programming usually lives up to its name. This year was no different, the varied line-up placing pop music and West End fare alongside classical music and comedy. The bill also included internationally renowned tenor Andrea Bocelli and his son Matteo, as well as cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who proved game for a laugh, bantering with Davies before playing an exquisite piece from his debut album Inspiration.

Alexander Armstrong, introducing a round of The Imitation Game, made for an unusual interlude and also provided one of the biggest laughs of the evening. But the RVP attracts a diverse audience and this can make it difficult for comics to find the correct pitch for their brief time on stage. Rhod Gilbert‘s observational humour probably needs more breathing space to flourish. The punchy, quick-fire delivery of Ed Gamble and Rose Matafeo was more successful.

Circus 1903 at Royal Variety Performance. Photo: ITV

Welsh comedian Rod Woodward flew the flag for old-school comedy, appearing for a third time on the RVP stage with his lyrical humour. The winner of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent competition, comedian Lee Ridley aka Lost Voice Guy, further served to remind us of the diversity of light entertainment with his cheeky, self-deprecating humour and killer timing.

George Ezra made a successful RVP debut with the sing-along hit Shotgun, as did Norwegian singer Sigrid, clearly enjoying herself as she energetically waded into the auditorium to meet her fans.

Veteran heart-throb Rick Astley added to the show’s nostalgia quota, something that reached its peak with Jimmy Tarbuck showing Davies how it’s done.

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The flashiest event on the variety calendar still manages to throw a few curve balls into its traditional line-up