On the velvet curtain-backed stage, there is a small table, on which there is a book (Brandreth’s own), a typewriter, and a skull. It’s the same kind of prop set up that indicated an episode of This Is Your Life, except here, Gyles is interviewer, interviewee and the story-prompt cards all in one.
The show is structured almost like an autobiography, amply peppered with celebrity remembrances and invocations of his heyday. It is a show about Gyles Brandreth, but more than this, it is a show which situates Brandreth on the wider stage, populated with stars of radio and screen alike.
From Laurence Olivier to Frankie Howerd, Hayley Mills to Benny Hill, Brandreth has an interesting anecdote. They are varied and amusing, and Brandreth’s infamous Radio 4 tones perfectly deliver these stories, which range from sharing a stage with Olivier to meeting Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Oxford (where a studio at the Playhouse is now named after them).
Considering Brandreth publicly opposed Scottish Independence, his appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe might have been a little testy. But his reception for Break a Leg! was warmly welcoming, the audience evidently filled with veteran fans, well-versed in the bredth of Brandreth’s wide-stretching career. At 23, I was one of the – if not the – youngest people in the audience. However, Break a Leg! - Brandreth’s celebration of the actors he knew, grew up with and influenced him - is able to transcend its historical moment by virtue of the presenter’s contextualisation and charismatic storytelling.
Having said that, Brandreth denounced modern filmstars as being ‘vegan virtue signallers’, and the generational gap further showed with his opening number, a gentile rendition of Noel Coward’s ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter On the Stage’ - a song which would likely strike a millennial audience as patriarchal and patronising, considering it advises “Mrs. Worthington” her daughter is fat and ugly, with a squint and a ‘too developed’ bust.
However, it must be said that Brandreth is cheerily self-aware and more than ready to send himself up. Break a Leg! mocks his lack of success as an actor, his distaste for his own voters as an MP, and his current employment as the face of Stannah Stairlifts. The show is an entertaining romp through British entertainment history and Brandreth’s wide reaching career, sure to be of interest to any and (nearly) all Radio 4 listeners.
Gyles Brandreth: Break a Leg! Is playing 14th – 26th August at 4.30pm (times vary) at Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance One)
For tickets and more information, click here