After last year’s spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Variety Performance returns to the spiritual home of variety at the London Palladium for the 38th time, for an evening in the presence of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. After appearing at RVP in 2010, comedian John Bishop returned this time as a genial host, his languid, Liverpudlian drawl comparing the evening to a conversation with his Nan - you’ve got no idea what’s going to happen next.
The first surprise is headliner Gary Barlow getting first billing but he warmed the audience up with Take That hit Greatest Day, arranged here with a strong percussion accompaniment. It is Barlow’s fifth appearance at the RVP and judging by the reception of his new number Let Me Go it’s unlikely to be his last.
Ice-skating champions Torvill and Dean glided onto stage with a few highlights from their most famous routines, including the spine-tingling Bolero and for a little contemporary movement Flavia Cacace burned up the floor with the cast of Dance ‘Til Dawn.Rizzle Kicks hip hopped their way into the RVP as they Skip To The Good Bit, backed by booted and suited dancers while newcomer John Newman showcased his northern soul roots with his breakthrough hit Love Me Again.
Jessie J’s voice seemed strangely subdued for her high-tech appearance, especially when compared with simplicity and power of Mary J Blige’s Favourite Things. Olly Murs was certainly a favourite with the audience and rightly so after his dynamic rendition of I Miss You. Closing the first act, Murs was joined on stage by an un-credited Robbie Williams, for the duet of I Wan’na Be Like You, no doubt celebrating the success of Williams’ Swings Both Ways album.
You can always expect diverse comedy at the RVP and Jason Byrne swung onto the stage on a demolition ball (a la Miley Cyrus) in his underwear, before launching into his engagingly surreal act whereas Hal Cruttenden found humour in tentatively dissecting the behaviour of the British middle-classes. Jimmy Carr, in his second RVP appearance, came across as decidedly old-school, with his sleek, smart, simple delivery reeling off a stream of deadpan one-liners to great effect.
Harry Hill popped up to introduce his new musical I Can’t Sing!, due to open at the Palladium next year, with Cynthia Erivo as Chenice proving that the show’s title does not apply to her. Andrew Lloyd Webber gives us a charming ballad from Stephen Ward featuring Alexander Hanson and Charlotte Spencer and the cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory offer a taste of what’s on at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane at the moment.
Britain’s Got Talent winners Attraction performed a festive shadow ballet with a sentimental heart but the act appeared a little detached, hidden behind their screen, compared with the immediate appeal of Gareth Malone and his young Voices choir singing Respect.
Bryn Terfel may not be performing any classical opera but here was backed in the beautiful Homeward Bound by Only Men Aloud and finally introduced the incomparable Dame Edna Everage, currently resident at the Palladium for her farewell tour. In fact, the Dame had made an appearance earlier in the evening, materialising unexpectedly in the royal box, to the apparent shock of the royal party. Dame Edna looked at her ticket and claimed she’d made a mistake, and had a better seat anyway.
In spite of the stop and start nature of the live show, this year’s performance was a slick event featuring a neat mix of staging and lighting effects, complemented by some stunning backdrop projection. Ultimately, though, the finale is somewhat low-tech with rockney stars Chas and Dave celebrating 50 years in the business and their first RVP with all too truncated versions of Ain’t No Pleasing You, Rabbit and closing the show with the full company singing London Girls.