Saw two cabaret shows in Edinburgh – one immaculately developed and delivered, one ragbag of the good the bad and the indifferent.

Assembly Checkpoint

From the moment she processes onto the stage, fairy-lit umbrella held aloft, in what can only be described as a ‘gown’, to the strains of Yair Evnine’s electric cello, you know you are in the presence of Fringe royalty.

Lady Rizo may hail from a hippy commune in the Pacific northwest but she commands her titled status and presents to eager audiences as a combination of elegant grandeur and sisterly embrace. Once the diva, the bustle, and the train have made it to the stage she croons, ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’ and there’s not a man, woman or dog in the house who wouldn’t willingly do that.

A more jazzily mashed version of ‘Mother’ by John Lennon follows. Which brings us to her central theme: since last appearing, Rizo has had a small person ripped from her “vagine”, and revels in fresh stories of pain, pleasure and plenty of bodily fluids. Her pipes, upstairs and down, are clearly in good order, but on top of her effortlessly pleasing vocals is now a layer of worldly observation alongside the usual filthy chat.

She bends an original composition, ‘Loving in Colour’, then, following an anecdote about IKEA, pulls off a coup de théâtre that is suddenly, touchingly, so beautiful, tender and engaging that the entire audience catches its breath. And then she swigs from a cocktail, fans her voluminous skirt over that audience and tells us how she loves us.


Pleasance Dome

Another night, this may be worth a higher rating but it’s the nature of Lili La Scala’s claim to strenuous curation that each evening she selects eight different acts she’s been researching since May to form a fringe showcase. Not entirely true: most of these troupers did the rest of the week. Maybe we were just unlucky to get a dull contortionist, an Australian hula-hooper and a hapless pianist who played ‘Delilah’, badly, as a community singalong.

La Scala took pains to explain burlesque to the audience: perhaps she should also have explained it to practitioner Tom Harlow, whose marshmallow-buttocked twerkings were refreshingly different from bear-pit ‘boylesque’ but still fell a tad short of Ivy Paige.

The nearest to good old-fashioned entertainment was Andy Askins, a subtly self-effacing but actually sharp comedian from the Isle of Wight. And the erotic highlight was Lucy McCormick and her challengingly fit and trashy dancers.

La Scala herself wasn’t totally on form—I understand she can be delicious when her song stylings match her penchant for thirties vintage couture—but the patter was trite, like a bad provincial drag queen urging on an audience that just wasn’t drunk enough. ‘Let Me Entertain You’ felt like a threat rather than an invitation, and the Bowie tribute number, ‘Space Oddity’, while adhering to the piano by the sweat of her thighs was simply misjudged.

Lili la Scala AFVS imageThe show went up late and overran, two Edinburgh unforgiveables: and maybe it would be better not to charge a ticket price for something that’s mostly advertising for participants’ other shows.

La Scala has recently embraced motherhood. In her show, Lady Rizo capitvates audiences with a maternal moment, so it’s a pity that La Scala’s toddler is too big for a nappy change in the spotlight – it might have brightened up proceedings.


 until August 28