This year’s Royal Variety Performance, returning to the London Palladium for the 41st time, in the presence of Kate and Wills, is a hugely enjoyable affair albeit somewhat clunky and chaotic in places.
It’s presented by Miranda Hart, the first female comedian to do so, and her slightly eccentric set even ropes in Prince William. She brings a mixture of stand-up routines and sketches, employing her co-stars from sitcom Miranda, to fill gaps between acts.
A natural heir to family-friendly variety greats such as Morecambe and Wise and Bruce Forsyth, she turns a huge gig into something warm and personal – necessary, since the evening is delayed by an hour following a panicked police incident at Oxford Circus, just yards away. Consequently, the strain behind the scenes spills on to the stage at times.
That’s immediately evident when the curtain fails to come up on the tapping chorus line of 42nd Street. After a restart, its opening number is a reminder of just how stunning the West End revival is. The young cast of Annie – which Hart starred in earlier this year – brilliantly performs It’s a Hard Knock Life, but the only other musical theatre act is Big Fish, currently at the Other Palace. The cast is still great – and it brings Frasier star Kelsey Grammer on to the Palladium stage – but the material is still disappointing.
Two musical theatre supergroups perform: the Leading Ladies – consisting of Beverley Knight, Amber Riley and Cassidy Janson – are sheer perfection covering Queen’s Somebody to Love, and the massively popular double act of Alfie Boe (amazing) and Michael Ball (less so) sing The Prayer, following up with Bring Me Sunshine for the evening’s finale.
Ethiopian circus act Circus Abyssinia elicit gasps with its acrobatics, tossing troupe members up into the rafters with startling ease, and Cirque du Soleil is as death-defying as ever.
Hart’s interludes aside, there are only two stand-ups: Tom Allen performs a hysterically funny set drawing on childhood nostalgia, and Jason Manford gets the audience going with a routine about his weight loss.
Music is a mixed bag: the superfans are out in force for former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson, but no amount of pyrotechnics can make up for the fact that he looks a little lonely on stage without his 1D mates. Paloma Faith gives an astonishingly anodyne performance of new single Guilty, trussed up in red webbing, and the Script are similarly forgettable. Seal sings Luck Be a Lady, but the highlight comes at the end of the evening when the Killers blast out a double set of The Man and Mr Brightside.
Magic and mind-reading come from Colin Cloud. His act is impressive as he guesses patrons’ pin numbers, but his patter is pretty stiff. There’s the obligatory appearance from this year’s Britain’s Got Talent winner, Tokio Myers, who plays the piano dramatically and hits some drum pads. He’s a talented classical pianist, but it’s not earth-shattering stuff.
Add into the mix brief appearances from Joan Collins and Hugh Bonneville, subtract James Blunt who couldn’t make the show after the emergency time change, and the result is a very silly, enjoyably eccentric evening, ably held together, even in its shambolic moments, by Hart.