It’s a good few months since the Edinburgh fringe programme was birthed into an unready world (with less harrowing artwork than usual – congrats guys!). Exeunt’s team of fringe reviewers have been scrutinising it from every angle, and are now ready to present some recommendations; gird your loins and ready your spreadsheets for the month-long outpouring of performances to come.
Solo shows that will be worth your while
Solo shows! Oh joy! I won’t lie to you, I don’t exactly start doing cartwheels when someone suggests going to see a solo show. Every Edinburgh is filled with one-person offerings, in no small part due to the fact that they are cheap to produce and can often fit into the odd/cupboard sized/actual cupboard fringe spaces. I’ve felt myself subconsciously developing a value-for-money-means-more-
I’ve seen a work in progress of Boar by Lewis Doherty (a follow up to WOLF in 2018) which has a character list to rival Game of Thrones, all performed by Doherty in a hilarious cinematic collage. Yours Sincerely by Quick Duck theatre starts with performer Will Jackson accidentally stealing 300 second class stamps, before vowing to spend a year writing letters, in an effortlessly joyful mix of storytelling and cabaret. Other shows that I haven’t seen yet but look bloody GREAT include Post Popular by Lucy McCormick (even when there’s other people on stage, it’s still a solo show) Hearty by Emma Frankland (stuff of absolute LEGEND) and All of Me by Caroline Horton, (China Plate, The Yard, AND Cambridge Junction producing something?? Keep me from breaking down the Summerhall doors, I dare you.) (Emily Davis)
Shows that bring the weird
The format of the Fringe rewards a punchy 55 minutes – concise shows with neat conclusions which let you move swiftly onto the next show on your colour-coded spreadsheet (yes, I do have one, too). But it also plays host to shows which are more difficult, oblique or downright odd – they might ask a bit more of their audiences, but can be rewarding in ways that are unexpected and reveal themselves over time. Glasgow-based dance artist Ultimate Dancer makes strange, sensory work which orbits the spiritual and the metaphysical, and I’m really looking forward to her enticingly trippy-looking piece For now we see through a mirror darkly. Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill bring their surreal phone-in radio show, MOOT MOOT to Summerhall. As identical hosts Barry and Barry, they bat inane banter and catchphrases back and forth; it’s intentionally repetitive, chasing its own tail in echo chamber feedback loops, but balanced with a cheeky sense of humour and a surprisingly emotional core. Rachael Young’s OUT, which tackles homophobia and transphobia within dancehall, is a mesmerising and shape-shifting thing – it’s hot, fluid, smokey and seductive, and a word is never uttered from the performers’ mouths. Its language of bodies and movement instead offers multiple meanings and resonances, and its slow, spacious ending is a vessel for reflection. (Ben Kulvichit)
Shows which (might?) reinvigorate your faith in the power of human connection
Van Gogh. Keats. Eeyore. These melancholics have nothing on me. Fringe can be a tough time, for makers, critics and audiences, so it’s always best to have a healthy mix when you’re booking shows – my fatal flaw last year was accidentally having one day of watching nothing but shows about sexual assault – not ideal if you want to stave off depressive tendencies. Not this year, I say, stroking my Excel spreadsheet. Not this year. We’re going *plane emoji* wholesome. Liz Richardson’s Swim looks set to be perfect for this purpose – exploring how trauma and pain can be processed and alleviated through wild swimming. Fringe stalwart James Rowland is bringing up his hit Songs of Friendship cycle with Rowland performing all three storytelling shows (Team Viking, A Hundred Different Words For Love, and Revelations) in one four hour whammy every Sunday in August – prepare to weep happy-sad tears into your cagoule. And The Wardrobe Ensemble, fresh off their Trafalgar Studio run, are up with their new show The Last of the Pelican Daughters – their take on a traditional family drama, with all the playfulness, wit and incision that is so integral to their work. (Ava Wong Davies)
Shows which could actually teach you something
My dad has got very into Edinburgh since we went to the fringe together last year and, with the zeal of a new convert, he has put me to shame by making his show schedule two months ago. He’s booked me a ticket for Footnotes at Summerhall because, as he put it, ‘it’s what you do in your PhD’. Footnotes, made by dance artist Lewis Holt, is apparently a parody of an academic lecture, repeatedly interrupted by surreal diversions. Standard PhD experience, then. Sticking with the performance lecture format, Jordan & Skinner present ‘A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego’, a comic interrogation of gender politics that sounds right up my street. For those who are fans of experiential learning, Javaad Alipoor follows up on last year’s interactive hit The Believers are But Brothers with his new play Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran, which promises an investigation of consumerism and how societies are formed. And those with fond memories of story time can seek out Tim Crouch’s Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestial Salvation at the Edinburgh International Festival, in which actors and audience will read a book together that predicts the end of the world. (Hannah Greenstreet)
Musicals to (potentially) please even an American
I come from a land spilling over with composers, lyricists, and of course everyone’s favorite musical theater wunderkind, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Throw a stick in NYC and you’ll hit at least one musical in development. So I never quite think about targeting musicals when I come to EdFringe. I have haphazardly caught a few gig theater shows and the great How To Win Against History (in a sweaty shipping container no less) at the Fringe but it’s not my usual focus. But this year I realized I was putting more musicals on my list than ever before. I’m hoping these shows put a song in my heart, a spring in my step, or punch me in the gut with their story and music. The Canary and The Crow is a gig theatre piece from one of my favorite companies, Middle Child. I’ve been a fan of their shows (Ten Storey Love Song and One Life Stand) which howl and shout about the difficulties of love, connection, and the ever challenging world around their working-class characters. They are always working with interesting playwrights whose writing fuses well to the gig format. This one is a semi-autobiographical tale focused on a working-class black boy in a fancy school and uses hip-hop as its musical metier. Keeping up with the bird musical theme, Parakeet caught my eye. With a teen trying to find themself through punk music and exotic birds, it sounds like a story that would benefit from a raucous soundtrack. Tokyo Rose is a rap-based musical with a group of female DJs who sing about the Japanese-American woman convicted of treason for her radio broadcasts out of Japan in World War II. Like what? As someone who once wrote her high school junior thesis about the Japanese-American internment and the wartime legal cases around the internment which were fighting against anti-Japanese sentiment and xenophobia I need to see this.
It’s the main festival that has the word ‘international’ slap bang in the middle of it, but the Fringe (and I bang this drum every year, normally with the obligatory shout out to my buddies Big in Belgium) is one of the best chances you’ll get to see theatre made by companies from ALL OVER THE WORLD. This year, I’m looking forward to Deer Woman by Article 11, one of a group of works by indigenous Canadian artists on as part of CanadaHub. There’s also the quite-possibly-brilliant Monster, one of two Taiwanese works on at Dancebase, lovely lovely half-hidden gem of the Fringe, Dancebase this year. But what I’m looking forward to the most is Spray by Korean company Cho-in Theatre. On at Assembly Roxy it’s about a man who steals a neighbour’s parcel and discovers it contains her dead cat. The rest of the time, I’ll just be counting down the seconds to seeing Internationaal Theatre Amsterdam perform Robert Icke’s Oedipus. (Rosemary Waugh)
Shows by excellent companies/writers that I don’t really want to see but will anyway
I’m not looking forward to the Fringe this year. There, I said it.
Usually, I have a long list of dozens of interesting, peculiar or otherwise tempting shows which are whittled down only by the harsh reality of not having time enough to see everything. This year, I don’t even have a long list. There are barely a handful of things I want to see. I’m praying the buzz will take over or word of mouth will save the day. Maybe it’s just not going to be a good Fringe. It happens.
That said, here’s a rather backhanded list of recommendations for three shows by companies and/or writers whose work I admire, even if their 2019 offerings haven’t filled me with the usual excitement. Henry Naylor is a thoughtful writer who writes equally thoughtful parts for women, which I like. This year, he returns to musing on the UK’s fraught relationship with the Middle East in The Nights, a play about “Jihadi bride” Shamima Begum, which I’m less sure about. New Diorama is a tiptop theatre and I’m sure their show this year, The Incident Room, will be dazzlingly inventive, even if I’m still wracking my brain trying to figure out why in god’s name they’ve created a production about the manhunt surrounding the Yorkshire Ripper. But of all the shows I’m most-least looking forward to this year, To Move in Time sits atop the pile. Even though I’m no longer sure where Forced Entertainment rests on the love-them-or-loathe-them spectrum of most theatre critics, I feel a great deal of affection for the company’s work. And, even though it’s not clear what Tim Etchells’s monologue is actually about, I’m hoping that he and actor Tyrone Huggins work strange magic and redeem everything. (Crystal Bennes)
Plays that are written by people who don’t usually write plays
In terms of writing plays, few people are better qualified than playwrights: people who have actually, you know, written plays. Commissions of “celebrity” replacements have not always been universally well-received. And yet, despite myself, I still feel there’s an allure to the musician, the actor, the comedian, and to the play they might concoct. In our imagination, we hope for the best: that person’s single unique resonance will fill the theatre, like that fable where the candle fills the room with light. Not only that, but we’ve heard of them, which (we hate to admit) is always a draw. None such project can be more inviting this year than Anguis by Sheila Atim, both because Atim’s idiosyncratic, carefully studied performances have already marked her out as a distinctive voice, even when vocalising other people’s words; and because ‘Cleopatra records a podcast with an immunologist‘ is bonkers enough to be appealing in its own right. Elsewhere, Baby Reindeer by Richard Gadd (that’s the listing’s full title – see, the allure of the non-playwright!) sounds interesting, if only because Gadd’s work has previously, erm, tread so close to performance art. And then there are two plays involving pop musicians, both musicals of some kind so we should be OK: Hold On Let Go with Paul Smith from Maxïmo Park (collaborating with theatre-maker Luca Rutherford) has a potentially fruitful premise about memory and modernity, whilst Brigitte Aphrodite’s boundless creativity must surely make Parakeet a hit. Tim Minchin didn’t always write musicals, let’s remember, and now he’s, like, properly good at them. After all, aren’t there some people we just want to see more of? (Tom Moyser)
Shows for the…ahem…frustrated
We reviewers, performers and reviewer-performers enter the Fringe, fully committing to spend our long hot summers cramped in flats with far too many people per room and no space to yourself. Holiday romances be damned in Edinburgh, along with any time alone with your partner. I’m just saying… three weeks! You know the score (or lack thereof). The return of HOTTER won’t serve as a cold shower so much as a celebration of what gets you going, in as inclusive a way as possible (12+, though definitely not one to take the parents to on their visit). The Patient Gloria promises a cathartic scream into the void that is society’s understanding of female sexuality, which I’m keen on seeing (hopefully it’s developed since Exeunt’s coverage in 2018).
If you’re less about sex sex sex in your shows, The Happiness Project could be the ticket. Non-sexual contact is just as important as sexual, especially for a bunch of overtired art types who’ve been lowering their vitamin C intake for a fortnight. Forgo the flyer-averse public for an hour, why not? (Louise Jones)
Shows to remind you that the Fringe is ridiculous and we should all chill out a bit
OH GOD ITS HERE AGAIN. Gather thee round for once again we must venture in search of gold, nestled between the endless, fucking endless improv and acapella university choirs (please for the love of holy Anna Kendrick, I don’t want to see another white person harmonise No Diggity with a ukulele. Just give me death ok? Sweet. sweet death). Two quick Caveats. 1. This year is the first for a few since the Fringe turned into a self eating giant Kraken that I am looking at my spreadsheet with genuine excitement and hope. 2. For many people working it, the Festival is genuinely a really hard, often painful, financially crippling time.HOWEVER – I really think we all need to chill out a bit about it. It’s a theatre festival not the actual Hunger Games (though if I hear ONE chord of Blackstreet…). So, a few shows to remind you that it really is a very silly thing that we all do: JollyBoat are pirate rockstar brothers and a stalwart of a very particular joyous nerd-circuit. Bards Against Humanity is sure to contain plenty of sing alongs and balloon swords. I am determined to organise an Exeunt group outing to Bubble Show (for Adults only). Ada Campe and her Psychic Duck promises plenty of ‘what the fuck am I actually watching’ fun. Last time I saw John Robertson I got covered in beans so your probably safer taking part in his retuning live action text-video game (stay with me kids) The Dark Room which will have you shouting YOU DIE YOU DIE YOU DIE in an outpouring of anger much more healthily directed than at colonisers butchering 90s hip hop. (Francesca Peschier)
The shows I haven’t found yet
I can spend hours cracking the spine of my already-dog-eared fringe programme, waiting for ‘the show’ to pop out at me – and find nothing but a printing ink and bad Photoshop-induced headache. So yes, I’m highly comforted by the presence of shows I already greatly suspect I’ll be into, like Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum With Expats, Lung Theatre’s latest Who Cares, and Antler’s Civilisation. But I’m trying to intersperse them with wilder cards, because the promise of the fringe is that performers with no track record, no PR, and no friends-in-high-places can rise up and become stars, like unprepossessing girls in Hollywood backstage musicals. When you’re short on time and under pressure, taking a complete risk feels counterintuitive. But this year I’m swearing that I’ll (mostly) swear off the safe bets – and if I get trapped in a four-hour mindfulness experience in a Leith cellar or tricked into witnessing the latest outpourings of the American High School Theatre Festival, please don’t remind me of this lofty promise. (Alice Saville)