Someone should start an online petition asking the House of Commons to debate “bringing back” Alistair McGowan.
It’s more than 10 years since the arch-impersonator’s BBC show The Big Impression ended, and while that period has seen him diversify into acting, to reasonable acclaim, the nation is the poorer in mirth for his absence from our screens. Up in Edinburgh, he’s doing what he does best for a few nights.
Now 51, he seems to have aged not a jot and the material has an up-to-the-minute freshness and an effortlessness that comes with years of practice. “I don’t do political satire, I do silly voices,” he explains at the start, specially bearded to look like the French composer Erik Satie (his main festival offering being the punningly titled tribute show, Erik Satie’s Faction).
Politicians don’t escape scot-free, though: McGowan’s Boris Johnson is so eerily accurate, he could prank-call the White House. And the incessantly opinionated Diane Abbott is skewered by his appraisal that while the Labour front-bencher seldom shuts her mouth, “nothing of any great value ever seems to come out of it”.
There’s a Wildean elegance to his aphoristic economy, along with the strange voodoo magic about the way he sets the famous before us. He seems to locate a core aspect of his target’s personality – a forgivable weak spot, more often than not – and the voice, facial expressions and gestures flow from that; in other words, he peers beyond skin-deep appraisals, even if the resulting material has a throwaway light-heartedness to it.
McGowan has been avidly following the Olympics – he’s entertaining about the lascivious commentary we would secretly like to hear during the athletes’ limbering up, and the asinine questions about “technique” put to champions.
Although nerdish about sport, even minor aperçus, like the melancholy of snooker player turned pundit Terry Griffiths, will speak to the non-obsessive, while his vocal transformation of former England manager Roy Hodgson into Oliver’s Fagin is virtuosic. As is his imagining of what a pampered modern-day Dad’s Army would sound like.
Most memorable bits? Well, he’s enjoyably damning about Radio 2’s Ken Bruce and Jeremy Vine (indiscriminately booming about world events and trivia alike), spot on too about Radio 4’s John Humphrys and former fellow Today presenter James Naughtie – “the only man in history who sounds like he has been taught to speak by a sat‑nav”.
Niche, yes, but niche that’s so accessible it could achieve a more mainstream impact – if not to say a bigger impression.
Until Aug 28. Tickets: 0131 622 6552; edfringe.com