As I queued to enter Neil and Christine Hamiltons daily Festival Fringe talk show, Lunch With The Hamiltons, I found myself rubbing shoulders with a mixed crowd. Many were old and frail, some were young student types who must see some cult status in this media savvy couple and others were foreign tourists who seemed just ever so slightly confused. This was the last day of the preview show and around 150 inquisitors were crammed into the full venue, that during festival time is known as the Queen Dome and at other times the University Chaplaincy Centre. I didn’t know what to expect: embarrassing, funny and cringe-worthy all came to mind. After the show each of these held true for at least some aspect of Lunch With The Hamiltons.
The stage held a simple tanned leather sofa, chair and footstool with a little table in-front. On the sofa were photos of Neil and Christine which turned out to be the backs of their clipboards. Each artifact had been loaned by various businesses in Edinburgh and a little tag with the loaner was tied to everything. And I do mean everything. Neil and Christine Hamilton arrived with a pop of a champagne cork and Christine took the lead in speaking to the audience, with Neil and his horrendous multi-coloured socks, orange jacket and lunch-box having only the occasional opportunity for half funny comment. As we’ve seen on numerous TV programmes it’s clear who wears the trousers in their relationship and you do sometimes wonder how Neil managed to ever become an MP.
Three guests in total made an appearance on the show. First up was Rebecca Carrington and her cello, who was plugging her ‘Many Ways to play your Lover’ show at the Assembly Rooms. This involved Rebecca performing different musical acts on her Cello, such as playing the Blues or Madonna’s Hung Up. It went down quite well with the audience and Neil was happy to fill her glass of champagne up. Second was a theatre producer who I didn’t catch the name of. She bought presents for the Hamiltons including a massive bright bow tie for Neil, that he first put round his groin area (yes Neil it was called a Dicky bow - calm down) and finally settled for his neck, although he left the label on. Finally it was the turn of Dominic Holland whose satire mainly revolved around the fact his career had come to the point of appearing on this show. He still got to plug his stand up show at the Assembly Rooms though and turned out to be the star guest, who injected some humour and energy into the show. Lunch With the Hamiltons needs good guests, like Dominic, to deliver such necessary energy and enjoyment.
A swear box and a list of tariffs for various words was in operation with the proceeds going to the Make A Wish foundation, although Neil quipped it was the Hamiltons pension fund. Christine seemed happy to enforce the swear box rule and Dominic Holland was happy to buy some credit. Half way through Neils lunch-box, thankfully containing nothing more harmless than a donated sandwich, was opened and audience members were invited to sample the goods.
I tended to laugh when Neil told one of his rare political anecdotes or when a reference was made to their eventful political past. I was embarrassed when toward the end of proceedings we seemed to be heading into total farce with no content or structure. I cringed when the shows finale involved playing a totally random and chaotic game of pass the banana. But I, and the rest of the audience, seemed to remain entertained, if not gripped, throughout.
The Hamiltons don’t take themselves too seriously. As they repeated on more the one occasion, they are in show-business now and you will either not mind that or hate it. But ultimately it’s just the way it is. No-one will force you to visit Lunch With the Hamiltons, but they have as much right as anyone to perform at the Fringe. Personally I enjoyed their 1 hour talk show and for the Â£5 preview price it was well worth it. The real test will come during the remainder of the festival when the cheap tickets end, but their well known names and lively guests should ensure decent audiences throughout this talk shows run.
Lunch With the Hamiltons runs at the Queen Dome, inside the Pleasance Dome, until the 18th of August at 1pm each day. Some dates have already sold out, so I would recommend booking in advance - tickets will cost either Â£9.50 or Â£10.50, depending on date.