Review: All the Fun of the Fair, Edinburgh Playhouse

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All the Fun of the Fair

Edinburgh Playhouse

****

It is many, many years since they made David Essex a Star - since the beanpole lad with tight curly locks was cover pin-up on the likes of the Jackie. Yet at the Playhouse last night he proved he still has what it takes to light up a stage.

Make no bones about it, All the Fun of the Fair is David Essex’s show.

He might dance like your dad and his whispering rasp of a voice is hardly the instrument he once possessed, but it is his presence that adds a sparkle of silver dream machine magic.

There are plenty of others who could perform the role of Levi, patriarch of a travelling fair, whose son Jack falls for a villain’s flashy daughter Alice. Indeed, it isn’t even really his story. It’s Louise English’s as Rosa, whose daughter Mary is is Jack’s supposed sweetheart.

But that would be a totally different show. It is his songs, after all, which form the sinews which hold it all together.

Besides, there have been more than a couple of hit musicals – not to mention a creditable performance in East Enders – since Hold Me Close first made girls to weak at the knees, and Rock On tickled the hairs on the backs of necks.

It is those songs which get audience members of a certain age up on their feet, of course. But this is much more than the greatest hits album on which it is based. It doesn’t even feel like a contrived jukebox musical, thanks to intelligent performances all round.

Rob Compton is great as Jack, quite the Lothario and with a strong enough voice to take on the bigger melodies. Tim Newman is even better as the orphan Jonny, a simple lad who ran away to the fair and has become a younger brother to Jack. He convinces in his complex relationship with Levi and helps give the whole a better shape.

But without Essex there is no backbone. And he has the acting ability to carry a complex and emotionally charged story – with the sense to let his youngers carry the big tunes.

Run ends on Saturday