Edinburgh `98: Camp take on the Queen of Hearts

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The Independent Culture
"I HOPE you're not expecting Frankie Howerd," titters David Benson. "Impersonating dead camp comedians is all very well but you don't want to get stuck in a cul de sac.*"

As if he should be worried. Yes, he had a big hit last year with his Kenneth Williams reminiscences, and yes, his take on the (oh so alive) Graham Norton ("a man totally without gravity - he floats on stage") makes a cameo appearance in this year's show. But Benson's playful storytelling is never arch for arch's sake.

Instead, he weaves wry, bitter-sweet tales that explore the comic potential of the darkest places. In one story, he recounts how the death of a "beautiful but troubled boy" left his circle of drama student friends disconsolate and uncommunicative. A few days later, one of them remembered that they'd written him a cheque the day before he died: "I wonder if he cashed it." At last they could talk about it: the spell was broken.

But some subjects are taboo. Surely nobody could make the national psychic trauma that was the death of our beloved Queen of Hearts anything other than the most ghoulish joke? David Benson could. In his skilled hands we learn of the real meaning of the day - "it took our minds off the boredom of our lives"; we learn why people lined up in Belfast to sign the book of condolences - "the queue was short"; and who the most nervous person in Britain was that sunny day in August - "It was Liz [simulates crown]. She was bricking it." For the sheer range of his performance, the tautness and vitality of his language, and the masterful comic insight, David Benson has few peers.

And he can sing, the swine. Miss him at your peril.

Continues until 5 September (0131 226 2428)