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Features Published 21 August 2015

Exeunt’s Edinburgh Fringe Health Check

We spill our guts on colds, numb bums, Berocca addictions, and performances that have set our pulses racing.
Exeunt Staff

Stewart Pringle: I was feeling pretty low this morning. The weather, mostly. And one too many late nights. But also because I’ve had a run of shows that were just…fine. Actually a couple of four stars in there, but more threes. I think I overdosed on Cowboys at C Nova if I’m completely honest, or maybe on Estrella everywhere else.

So I wasn’t super thrilled to be trudging across the rainy Meadows to Summerhall this morning (see what a dick this festival makes you? ‘Oh bollocks, I have to walk across some fields in my second favourite city on earth to go to a place with loads of great theatre in it’) – particularly not when I was going to see an immersive kids’ show with an unpromising title.

Well, it turns out The Voice Thief was just what the doctor ordered. It’s an hour and 10 minutes of inspired sci-fi horror brilliance, as a routine tour of the MacKenzie Institute for the Encouragement of Vocal Harmony, where girls (mostly) have the screeches, whines or cracks in their voices surgically smoothed out. It starts all Willy Wonka, and then gets a bit Dark Materials, and before you know it you’re in the… No. I’m not going to spoil it. But safe to say it will scare the living shit right out of you, have you open-mouthed and wet-eyed with wonder, and then scare the shit out of you all over again. It’s beuatifully designed and performed, it’s written with a bravery that doesn’t shy away from themes including the subjugation of women and even Female Genital Mutilation. And it’s for kids, the lucky bastards. But fortunately for us grown-ups, kids don’t have debit cards so SCREW THEM and book a ticket now, because it’s almost sold out already. Immersive psychological horror with a dose of Doctor Who and a dash of The Demon Headmaster. It’s good for what ails ya.

Nicole Serratore: I correctly front-loaded my trip with as much Daniel Kitson as I could (two comedy benefits shows and two times to Polyphony) which is usually a good way to make me happy and renew my faith in performance. Kitson delivered.

Otherwise I was feeling a bit down with solid but middle-of-the-road work. But then as it often happens I stumbled upon a series of work that just hit me in the right place. I left This Will End Badly nearly skipping down the street. An odd reaction to a dark piece but I was just so revved up by the electricity of the show (and how a grumpy walkout made me feel like the show was unsettling people in the right way).  I was glad to see the mysterious and ethereal Actress from Sleepwalk Collective. And though the crowd seemed reticent I liked the oddball nature of Zoe Coombs Marr’s comedy-performance show Dave.

I definitely have not been eating my vegetables or drinking enough water.  I’ve eaten a cookie for dinner more than once. Don’t tell anyone.

Catherine Love: Each year at the Fringe, there are those shows that remind you why you’re dragging yourself from dank, dingy venue to dank, dingy venue, subsisting only on caffeine and Berocca. So far, I’ve luckily not been subjected to that many spirit-sappingly shit shows (unless you count the cliche-a-minute hand-clapping of The Church of Malcolm at Assembly, which I’m trying not to), but there’s been a lot of “meh” theatre. A lot of well executed but not all that exciting work that quickly disappears into the sleep-deprived haze of the festival.

Thank the Fringe gods, then, for Sonia Jalaly and Jamie Wood, who I want to prescribe to every glum festival-goer struggling through the second week. Happy Birthday Without You, with its skewering of every autobiographical performance art trope you can imagine, has found its perfect home on the Fringe. An antidote to all those solemn and excruciating solo shows that abound up here, Jalaly’s show is possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen this month (it’s in a close battle with Jonny and the Baptists’ latest – also brilliant). And then Wood’s O No! is just sheer, undiluted joy: loveably ridiculous and ridiculously loveable.

Alice Saville: Mid-way through the Fringe and I’ve got a cold: the main symptoms so far are coughing, complaining, and an infuriating need to sleep more than six hours a night. None of which make me ideal Festival-going company. But although I’m fantasising about a show that has a free steam inhalation midway through, and maybe takes place in a mound of warmed duvets inhabited by friendly rabbits (that might be the effects of a few too many swigs of Covonia, actually) there’s still plenty of performance that’s been warming the chilled-through cockles of my heart.

Ockham’s Razor at the Underbelly Circus Hub was just lovely, a pastel-tinted aerial fantasy shot through with wit and vulnerability. Watching acrobats effortlessly soar through the air on ropes is somehow even more magical when you’re struggling to get halfway across the Meadows without a Strepsil. Vincent Gambini’s This Is Not A Magic Show was self-deprecating, and dealt in a quiet wonder that’s dazzling in the midst of a Fringe where every performance seems to be shouting Me! Me! Me! And it’s only just opened, but I know that a mug of tea in Hunt & Darton’s Cafe at The Biscuit Factory will cure what ails me, with a cheerful slice of live art to go with.

Tim Bano: Doctor, doctor, there have been only one or two shows so far that have brought a lump to the throat and made my heart miss a beat.

I was dying to see The Last Hotel, an opera about euthanasia, and the cast really killed it. I saw an interesting play about amnesia, but I can’t remember what it was called. I also saw a very moving play about dementia, but I can’t remember what that was called either. My narcolepsy, which seems to get worse as the Fringe goes on, was temporarily cured by a show called Awakening. A vitamin C deficiency was sorted by Walrus Theatre’s Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons. A show called S.E.N. restored my zen. I went to see Stef Smith’s brilliant play Swallow, but I got thrush. It was a lark though.

I’m sick of the stink of some of these venues: there’s a place in Underbelly – Pot Belly or Mariinsky Belly or something – that smells permanently of TCP, and another that smells like a yeast infection. I’ve got numb bum from too many uncomfortable seats. So far, I haven’t been sent to anything at Surgeon’s Hall, which I’m cut up about.

All in all, I’m starting to feel like a may have a career in proctology because in the past fortnight I’ve seen a lot of shit.

Duska Radosavljevic: When you can only afford a weekend in Edinburgh you can’t really afford to be too experimental with your choices. Hence the average score of my selection this year was probably around the four star mark.

I tried to catch as many international companies as I could especially if I wasn’t sure they would necessarily be available to see in London.  The Belgians delivered as usual – Kopergietery’s Fringe First winner History of the World Through Banalities and Skagen’s Pardon/in Cuffs – while not mind-blowing were both good. An unexpected five star show was a dance piece from the Czech Republic – Correction. An expected five star show was Robert Lepage’s 887. I won’t dwell on the disappointments. Probably the biggest one was that I missed the call for Sleepwalk Collective’s Actress by about a minute. Also gutting is the fact that it is not reasonably possible to fit more than 5 or 6 shows in a day and give each proper attention.

My ultimate five star moments however are not about shows but about people: rejoicing at the successes of former students and friends, and bumping into and having drinks with the people I would otherwise not easily see in London – that’s what makes Edinburgh Edinburgh every time.

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Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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