Seduction fascinates me | Kit Hesketh-Harvey – formerly of Kit & The Widow – chooses his musical comedy favourites

Seduction fascinates me

Kit Hesketh-Harvey – formerly of Kit & The Widow – chooses his musical comedy favourites

Have Some Madeira, M’dear (Flanders and Swann)

This is (apart from fathering the stunning Stephanie) the greatest thing that Michael Flanders did. And he is, for me, by the greatest comic lyricist that the UK has ever produced. The character of the lubricious seducer sits superbly in his rich voice. The cumulative excitement of the ‘Will he/Won’t he?’ story holds us enthralled. The sweeping pace is carried along brilliantly by Swann’s vigorous arpeggios.

But it’s the sheer fun of the repeated grammatical trick of zeugma (one unifying verb attached to a comic series of objects:‘... she made no reply, up her mind, and a dash for the door’) that is dazzling. I learned it at the age of two on a veranda in East Africa. Seduction has fascinated me ever since.

Uncle Harry (Coward)

Seduction again. Coward, the supreme epater-er of the bourgeoisie, is at the top of his game. It tells of a missionary who slithers off the moral high ground into a stew of moral turpitude. My own grandfather was a missionary. (He didn’t). Along the way, Coward strews the primrose path with images of deliciously-rhymed absurdity. (‘Some of them were beaten up/In the course of these rampages/Great -Aunt Maud was eaten up/While singing Rock Of Ages...’). 

His own rapier rendition of it is unequalled: it is just as well that it was cut from the recent tour I did with Dillie Keane of Cowardy Custard. I would so have suffered in comparison. And speaking of Dillie Keane...

 

German/Lieder (Fascinating Aida)

Dillie and I have an annual consultation, squabbling over comedy topics to ensure that we don’t overlap. (‘I’ll swap you Somali Pirates for RyanAir...’). We’ve jogged along side-by-side, with deep affection, for the last 30 years, colliding only over the subject of dogging. (FA’s was much better than ours). 

At the recent lunch Dillie gave to mark their (and as it happened, my) 30th anniversary, my place-card read Deadly Rival. But this laceratingly funny song is, I think, the best that even they ever did. It plays to Adele’s Gothic dignity, it skewers Bob Fosse and Kurt Weill in a single thrust, and it is, when you think about it, meta-cabaret. I’m so relieved that FA aren’t at Edinburgh this year, though I must be the only person in Scotland who is.

 

Cleopatra (Reynolds and Slade)

The nightclub opener of Act Two from Salad Days  I again learned at the age of two, belly-dancing on the shores of Lake Nyasa. It’s a Wilson, Keppel and Betty piss-take with staggeringly accomplished rhymes from Dorothy Reynolds. (‘Cleopatra/Egypt’s answer to Montmartre...’). 

Imagine my joy when, some 32 years ago, its composer Julian Slade himself introduced me to my cabaret partner, James McConnel, saying ‘I think you two would work well together’. Imagine my later joy when in 1996 I starred in the West End revival of Salad Days, and got to sing this one.

 

Could I Leave You? (Sondheim)

James and I were lucky enough to study theatre-writing under the great man himself. It was like having one’s ears syringed, and he taught us with the generosity of a copper-bottomed, ocean-going genius. This viciously dark study in marital breakdown is a theatrical dartboard: Sondheim’s every rhyme comes with a barb, which he then adorns with extra spikes on the internal rhyming. (‘Not to fetch your pills again/Every day at five?/Not to give those dinners for ten/Elderly men/From the U.N.?/How could I survive?’).

I was lucky enough to star alongside Diana Rigg when she sang this in Putting It Together. Her rendition of this number, in a confined space, with her soon-to-be-ex husband sitting in the second row, was electrifying.

 

And the rotten tomato goes to...

Anything By W.S.Gilbert

I’m sorry, but I do think that he’s generally pretty awful. I feel so sorry for the brilliant, brilliant Sullivan.

 

&bull Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James McConnel are on at the Edinburgh Academy at various times

Published: 17 Aug 2013

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