David Benson: Why Pay More?
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2006
For his seventh solo show, Benson dumps the grand themes and camp comics in favour of this hour of chat, sketches and songs.
David Benson is celebrating the tenth anniversary of his first solo Fringe show, the award winning Think No Evil of Us - My Life With Kenneth Williams by performing that very same show. But, he tells us, his agent told him he couldn't just do an old show lest people think he's out of ideas. Hence Why Pay More?, a truly traditional cabaret show. Benson sings songs, tells stories, and whines wittily about critics.
Sticking with a reflective theme, the bulk of the show is built around Benson's reminiscences of an even earlier Fringe show, 1990's Glad, in which he starred alongside a bunch homeless people, which involves several humorous anecdotes featuring some wonderful characters, and also allows Benson to reflect somberly on exactly why he does what he does. Things never get too dark though, as he can always brighten the mood with a song.
He proves to be an exemplary singer, but it's less to do with the voice and more the way he becomes the character in the song, matching movements and expressions perfectly and giving us an insight into his extraordinary acting ability, which otherwise painfully missing from this show. He takes on the mantle of a gentlemanly Sixties crooner, or Kenneth Williams in his infamous French song Crepe Suzette.
Unfortunately Benson's storytelling is not as strong - adequate enough for a variety performer, but on the Fringe where he will be judged against stand-ups dedicated to wringing the maximum laughs from their anecdotes, it falls short. There are some good lines, and the tales themselves are pretty interesting but not enough comedy.
Benson also makes a lot of references to the heat in the room (one of the Pleasance's metal boxes), even to the point of opening the door to let some air in, but still keeps the house lights up, leaving the audience to swelter under the powerful floodlights. There's a palpable sense of relief when they're turned off to place the focus solely on Benson during his songs. Benson may have wanted to create a more intimate, conversational atmosphere, but the heat actually makes the audience uncomfortable.
This is a lovely variety show, suitable for the whole family and steeped in an age-old tradition, but it's far stronger during the songs than the stories.