Alex Salmond Unleashed: a review
Alex Salmond at the Fringe - Lesley Martin/PA Wire
Standing in the lengthy queue to get into Alex Salmond’s fringe show, I was disappointed, given what some reviews had said, that the punters, bar one man sporting ‘Yes’ braces, looked perfectly normal.
And then I spotted two familiar faces – old friends who had moved to Brighton ten years ago and who I’ve not seen since.
They were perhaps the most colourful characters in the queue and that’s nowt to do with the SNP. We embraced and made a date to rendezvous after the show.
Salmond may have split the country and the critics but managed to reunite pals. One of them is head of entertainment for a major commercial television station and was interested in what Salmond had to offer as a potential ‘new face’ in a light-entertainment slot. He wasn’t disappointed.
For beginning to end, Salmond commanded the stage like a pro and stuck to what he loves the most, talking about himself.
I’ve known the former FM for over 30 years and this was him at his convivial best, delighting the audience with tales from his golden, olden days at Westminster. And as this big beast of politics stalked the stage he littered it with the ghosts of other political giants who had populated his past. For anyone interested in politics, it was political porn and completely satisfied. Unlike the joke that had become the focus of much debate.
The uncharacteristic sexual inneuendo of the previous day’s performance that created such a storm was absent and that was a good thing. The Salmond I know is not a sexist man, neither is he a particularly funny man but he is an engaging story teller and that is what had the audience enthralled.
He walked us through his infamous intervention during Nigel Lawson’s 1988 budget speech which saw the young Salmond ejected from the Chamber and fired the starting gun on his notoriety as an enfant terrible. He had a fair stab at impersonating some of the characters of that time and as he gave his own take on how to use some of the ancient rules of the House to best advantage, he teased about who his next guest should be.
Talk of Salmond’s younger, more rebellious self, was nice segue into the surprise guest of the day, ‘another enfant terrible who went on to hold high office’, said Salmond as the Speaker, the Rt Hon John Bercow, bounced onto stage his teeth dazzling the front few rows with a smile that almost completely split his face.
The two sat down in big leather armchairs borrowed from the hotel over the road and chatted about the good old days when Bercow was a constant thorn in the Tories’ side. ‘How easy was it to put aside party politics,’ asked Salmond of the Speaker. ‘Very’, seemed to be the short answer although Bercow never uses one word when he can display his prowess for vocabulary.
The two chatted about Bercow’s love of tennis, his desire to see electronic voting at Westminster and his anger at the abuse that some MPs suffered online, particularly mentioning that which former MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh endured.
He also shared the fact that he and Ahmed-Sheikh, who is producing Salmond’s fringe shows, often shared a curry together during parliament.
And despite Bercow’s insistence that he must stay away from anything controversial, he did tell one member of the audience who had asked where he would advise she go live if there was another independence referendum and the answer was still ‘no’, that people should never give up on their dream.
I felt at that point Salmond missed a trick when he did not mention his own book of a similar name. He did however, confirm that he has read books!
There were also jokes from comedian Jane Goodley, music from the in-house band, and the indelible memory of the sound of Salmond signing a verse from ‘A Scottish Soldier’ every time Ruth Davidson’s name was mentioned.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable performance and while It was entirely predictable that reviews of Alex Salmond’s Edinburgh fringe show would split down the usual partisan lines because for some, Salmond is just a bore whose ego is more inflated than the ticket price, for my friend the TV mogul, he thinks he may have found a star.