ED FRINGE 2011: Flanders and Swann – Pleasance Courtyard
Reviewer: Johnny Fox
The Public Reviews Rating: 4.5 stars
Michael Flanders and Donald Swann were songwriters and cabaret artistes who debuted in the 1950s and attracted the same kind of polite following as Joyce Grenfell for whom they also wrote some material.
As a sort of Kit and the Widow of the post-war parlour song, their pairing is almost perfect: Tim FitzHigham is a patrician cross between Richard Stilgoe and Boris Johnson and expertly mimics Flanders’ booming baritone, and Duncan Walsh-Atkins neatly pins Swann’s diffidence masking exceptional brilliance on the keyboard.
I wrote in my notes that this was a “60+” audience, meaning that numerically they nearly filled the seats, but it’s pretty much a demographic too.
Joyce Grenfell once wrote that her wartime audiences loved nothing more than to sing ‘old songs together, very slowly’ and when FitzHigham embarks on the bestiary of animal numbers including “The Elephant” “The Hippopotamus” and “I’m A Gnu” the audience joins in and the whiff of the twilight home is palpable.
His vocal energy is uncontainable, he punctuates many songs by leaping into the air at the start of the chorus but the uniqueness of Flanders and Swann was that they were both chair-bound: Swann behind his keyboard and Flanders with polio. I don’t think the show would be diminished if he tried the act in a wheelchair.
The highpoint of their continually delightful absurdity is when FitzHigham strips the tubular steel music stand of its cover, inserts hosepipe and funnel and plays the Rondo from Mozart’s Horn Concerto No 4 in E-flat Major during which he turns an acute shade of puce not often seen outside a Zandra Rhodes wallpaper book. Inspired.
Thanks to everyone who joined Erin Kelly, Melanie McGrath and me at Mansfield Central Library on Saturday 25 February. We had a panel discussion and Q&A, ...