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Interview with Fascinating Aida

10 December 2013 Nicky Charlish

"We keep fresh by writing, writing, writing. We never do a show that doesn't have 
a significant proportion of new material."

At first glance this female trio seems a throwback to the musical cabarets of the 1950s. But 
whilst their stage ethos may seem to be of that era, their material is bang up to date. 
Elegance and edginess blend in perfect harmony. London Calling catches up with their 
founder, Dillie Keane.

London Calling: Tell us about your latest show

Dillie Keane: This is always the most difficult question to answer so of course it is your 
first question. Aiee! A Fascinating Aida show is always the same but always different. 
We sing, we poke fun, we kvetch in rhyme and in music, and the show you see 
tomorrow will be different from the one you see today, because we are always 
updating. This show takes pot shot at the wives of the men who earn Big Bonuses, 
Boomerang Kids, Ofsted inspectors, the ubiquity of pink for little girls, and people who 
go dogging. We sing about petty annoyances, great heartbreak, major issues of the 
day and whether Cheryl Cole looks like a ladyboy. Everything and anything, in other 
words

LC: How did Fascinating Aida first get together?

DK: We didn't so much as get together as drift into existence. It was a total accident 
and I'm rather bemused to be looking back at 30 years of Fascinating Aida!

LC: Fascinating Aida broke up for a time. What encouraged you to re-form?

DK: We've actually broken up twice, once in 1989, and the next time in 2004. On 
other occasions, it was largely triggered because our sopranos saw brighter futures for 
themselves outside the group, and it gets too disheartening to keep trying to find a 
good replacement. We reformed the group in 1994 and 2007, on the first occasion 
because we met Issy van Randwyck, and on the second occasion because we realised 
that Liza Pulman, who had saved our bacon in 2004, was marvellous.

LC: Does Fascinating Aida have a core audience and, if so, who forms it?

DK: We don't actually have a core audience, and I can only sum up our audience by 
telling a story which happened years ago at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen. The 
place was jammed to the rafters, and the manager stood in the wings with me for a 
few moments before the second act. 'Ye've every type out there, ye know,' he said. “Ye've rich, ye've poor, ye've old, ye've young, ye've intellectuals and ye've country 
bumpkins.'”

LC: How would you describe your style of humour?

DK: Bawdy.

LC: Do you feel that humour varies from one country to another? If so, how does 
this affect your material and the way you present it on tour abroad?

DK: Yes, there are differences, and we take advice on the ground. The main 
difference is between us and the Americans, who are more religious and more prudish 
than us. It's incredibly important to find someone you trust in the country you're 
visiting, so that you can adapt your material accordingly.

LC: Have you had any criticism of your style and material (e.g. too traditional, too 
feminist)?

DK: Not really; criticism of our style has faded over the years. I think we were 
thought of as old-fashioned but that was mainly because we're just three women and 
a piano which is somewhat analogue in this day and age! However, anyone who 
listens to the words could not mistake us as anything but extremely current and up-to- 
the-minute. And occasionally people leave because we're too vulgar!

LC: How do you compile your material for a show? What inspires you?

DK: I have no idea where the inspirations come from. Mostly they just grow slowly in 
my mind. I try to work on putting together a collection of songs that will be 
sufficiently varied to keep an audience entertained for over two hours

LC: How long does it take for you to put a show together and rehearse it?

DK: This show we got together pretty quickly. Too quickly really. I like at least a year 
to write and learn the stuff as we go along, including six,weeks of rehearsal. That's hard 
financially on everyone. This year we had about six months and I was ill for two of 
them which was difficult.

LC: How has Fascinating Aida kept its style fresh, and free from stagnation? Do 
changes in its membership affect this?

DK: We keep fresh by writing, writing, writing. We never do a show that doesn't have 
a significant proportion of new material. The changes of membership do affect us a bit 
- some new people are easier to write for than others.

LC: Do you have your own individual projects when not touring? If so, what are 
they, and how do you fit them around the Fascinating Aida work? What are your 
future plans for Fascinating Aida?

DK: I don't have any other projects really. I might do something with Sandi Toksvig, 
we're always planning to write another show together but time and events conspire 
against us. Fascinating Aida is pretty all consuming and if I did much else, I'd never get 
home. I live on a farm in Oxfordshire and I have a lovely relationship; I grow fruit, I'm 
very proud of my garden, plus we have three dogs, three chickens, two donkeys and 
horses, so ambition has given way to bucolic contentment.

LC: Finally, what do you like about London, both culturally and in general?

DK: I'm with Doctor Johnson. I think anyone who is tired of London is tired of life. It's 
a wonderful, thrilling, quirky, unruly city. I get excited when I know I have a London 
run coming up, because I get so much done. I book up to see exhibitions and 
matinees of shows.

Fascinating Aida: Charm Offensive runs at the Southbank Centre from 22nd December until 10th January. Tickets from £15, available here.

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