Edinburgh Festival `98: Still queen of the cabaret - just

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MIKA, THE lady boy of New Zealand cabaret, is back at the Edinburgh Fringe. I like Mika. I caught his show twice last year. He sings quite well, in a mildly Jimmy Somerville manner, to his karaoke backing tracks and he struts about with lithe confidence; but his great strength is his endearing personality. Audiences love him and return night after night for more camp badinage.

Last year, his set was a spicy cocktail of Maori war cries and old Tom Jones numbers, and he brought with him the Uhuras - two tall men in sequined bikinis who high-kicked around him like the girl from Ipanema with attitude. With bored-to-death leers and never-ending legs, they sent him up and took the edge off the sweeter, more self-regarding side of the show.

This year he's gone solo, and the 80-minute extravaganza is weaker in consequence: singer-songwriter he is not. Without the lovely Uhuras to vamp about while he rests and changes costume, Mika has to take his breathers on stage. Cue some of the most cringe-making ballads it has ever been my misfortune to hear. He still does the show-stopping Marina, Aquamarina, with full audience participation, but it is only a third as good as before.

The audience wasn't complaining, though. An excitable party of girls (who looked like the sixth-form common room on a late pass) rushed up to be showered by the drops as he shook his wet hair in their direction. There was also more nipple-squeezing going on than Tom Jones would ever have stood for.

Mika remains adorable, but Edinburgh after closing time is easily pleased. The show is rumoured to be heading south soon, and if he thinks adolescent ditties about junkie boyfriends will work with a London audience, he's in for a nasty shock.

Mika Ahi Ataahua is at the Assembly Rooms (0131-226 2428), at 11.45pm, until 5 September

Dominic Cavendish