Best of Edinburgh Fringe
Heading to Edinburgh Festival? Overwhelmed by the brochure? Get a shortcut with our top picks.
I don’t know about you but I could do with a laugh right now. Trump’s tweet, comments, presidency (ugh); the crappy weather, fighting kids – need I go on? If you are heading to Edinburgh Festival Fringe – the largest arts festival in the world – read this first. Muddy Sussex editor, Debbie, crammed in 22 shows in four and a bit days, so you don’t have to! We’d love to hear your Fringe Festival tips or highlights too, so add them in the Comments below. Have fun up there.
Every year there’s a Fringe show that has me sobbing and this was it this time round. Ice skater John Curry won Olympic gold in 1976. Tony Timberlake (then a secretly gay 13-year-old) watched the triumph on TV. Now an actor, Tony tells us what Curry’s achievements, his outing by a newspaper and his later death from AIDS meant to him. He has spoken to numerous people who knew Curry to answer his questions and create this performance, combining spoken word with dramatised conversations. It’s moving, it’s funny, it’s charming. Probably my favourite show of the Fringe this year. p.355 in the brochure.
In this show from half of musical duo Frisky & Mannish, Richard Carpenter of The Carpenters fame is trapped in a purgatory where he opens supermarkets for people who are only interested in hearing about his late sister. It’s part comedy, part cabaret, and an increasingly surreal imagined tale of sibling rivalry. Performer Matthew Floyd Jones has a beautiful voice and he drops in Carpenters hits, lyrically altered ‘for legal reasons’. “Stormy days and Thursdays get me down…” Very funny, very slick. Brochure page 378.
I was recommended this show by another comedian and it didn’t disappoint. Australian stand-up Laura Davis has a confidence beyond her years and a really strong (in all senses) set. Feminist, original and a little surreal, she somehow manages to combine angry and relaxed. Not one for you if you’re easily offended. p.127
I was lucky enough to catch this as part of Worthing Theatres’ Summer of Circus. It’s clever and contemporary, with elements of acrobatics, parkour and some nailbiting hoop and trampoline action. A harsh female invigilator is judging men’s talents in some sort of contest, sparking humorous rivalry. It’s a bit obscure for younger kids but great for teens up. See page 199.
Elsie’s show last year was a highlight of my Fringe. She mixes burlesque with great singing and comic storytelling and some hilarious audience interaction. Last year was an expose of her day job as a theatre dresser, culminating in a comic striptease Les Mis in which she played all the parts. This year she promises behind-the-scenes tales of the supposedly glamorous burlesque scene. Part of the Free Fringe, so you pay by donation. page 18.
Young Luke Wright is a brilliant performance poet who often gets into character for his verse, so it was only a matter of time before he stretched the format into a full acted piece. In this show he both narrates the story of, and performs as, Frankie Vah, a fictional 80s punk poet, full of political fury. It’s sickeningly clever but not the most accessible of his work, so best seen if you already enjoy performance poetry. Brochure page 332.
I saw this one-man show in Hove and it’s now up at the Fringe. A troubled teen and obsessive Bowie fan revisits places from the star’s life, guided by a note from his absent dad. It’s a bittersweet tale with all parts acted by one talented man with great physicality, and of course a Bowie soundtrack. Page 333 in the Fringe brochure.
I saw this Jazz and Blues singer a couple of years ago at the Fringe and she was one of my highlights that year. Gorgeous voice, relaxed vibe, and interesting background on the original artists and material she’s playing tribute too. p.230 in the Fringe brochure
Last year hugely likeable comedian John Pendall did a show about his transformation from shy Baptist boy to gay icon and S&M enthusiast, holding up pictures of his kittens when he thought it might be getting too much for his ‘vanilla’ audience. I loved it, so this year I came back for this show about his unusual former hobby of escapology. And yes, he does teach you some tricks… p.118
One of the professional surprises in this year’s Free Fringe (meaning donations in a bucket as you leave). Aussie comic Adam Vincent is a writer for the Last Leg and this is a very smart and cynical tour de force on various things that wind him up, not least living in Bedford. It’s in a small basement room so get there a bit early for a seat. It’s pretty strong in parts so best avoided if you’re easily offended. p.51 in the brochure.
I saw this when it came to Worthing last year and loved it. It’s a one man play, told by an adult looking back on his boyhood and his mum’s battle with depression. In an attempt to cheer her, the young boy lists ‘every brilliant thing’ that makes life worth living… but depression isn’t that simple. It’s sad, yet joyous, simple, yet clever and sensitively handled, and it’s all helped along by audience interaction. See my review here. Last year it sold out in advance at the Fringe, so book your ticket ahead. p.328 in the brochure.
In 1932 a disillusioned actress killed herself by jumping from the Hollywood sign. This one-woman show gives us a would-be star in the 1940s contemplating the same. Through a monologue interspersed with retro songs, she tells us her story. Joanne Hartstone is a soulful singer and her tale has well-researched detail about the Depression, Hollywood’s wartime role, and the dark side of the Golden Age of film, from the casting couch to the pressures placed on stars. There are also lighter moments along the way. See p.335.
Comedian Lucy Porter wrote this comic play based on a real and serious society formed by ambitious women in 1717 to discuss the likes of science undercover. Rivalries and love interests intrude as do modern day jokes: “I come from a place where the ladies are noted for their sophistication – Essex.” We caught it a couple of Fringe’s back and my husband rated it one of his faves that year. It’s on a short run this August so best book ahead. p.329 in the brochure.
Don’t let the name put you off – it’s a comedy group – though there’s often some nudity! I’ve seen them do the Single Ladies dance in their pants, have a Spiderman with a wardrobe malfunction climb all over the cringing audience… you get the idea. I usually have a low tolerance for sketch comedy but these guys rock. They’re edgy and they’re original. I missed their Edinburgh show this year but I’m guessing it hasn’t got any tamer. On selected dates this Aug. p.126 in the Fringe brochure.
Another weepy but uplifting one-man show. I caught this at Brighton Fringe this year and was so glad I did. John Osborne was swept back in a flood of reminisence when he discovered a stack of old Radio Times that once belonged to his granddad. He tells about their relationship, and what the programmes his granddad had marked with circles and hearts said about him. Plenty of laughs along the way, not least from a tale about a joy ride in a police car. p. 289 in the brochure.
This show made me laugh the hardest at the Fringe this year. It’s a clip show but like you’ve never seen before. Two US comedians have spent years trawling charity shop discount bins for old VHS tapes with bizarre content. Poor safety training videos, strange exercise programmes and a self-styled ‘rent-a-friend’ among much more. The comedians also infiltrate breakfast news shows and the maddest Public Access TV gets an outing. The final clip of a pet shop owner who casually puts a range of conflicting animals together on one counter top while he talks is worth the ticket price alone. See page 95.
You may have caught Tom Binns’ characters on the recent TV series Hospital People. I’ve seen him at the Fringe several times and this particular act is somethig a bit different. As Ian De Montefort he makes a half serious, half comic comment on supposed psychics, mixing laughs with magic tricks. “Is there a man or woman in the room called Walker? …Or perhaps someone who likes to walk… or has walked here today…” V good. p. 179 in the Fringe brochure.
Respectable doctor’s wife; Suffragette arsonist and bomber. Edith Rigby tells us of her descent into militant action. The story is shockingly true and is brought to life by an actress through a series of monologues. I learned chilling things about the Suffragettes’ treatment I’d never known before. See p.403 or follow the weblink.
Exactly what it says on the tin. One serious (albeit truncated) Shakespeare play (Romeo and Juliet this year) and one very drunk actor amongst the cast. They take it in turns to get plastered for a night, which leads to giggling, memory loss, unscripted asides to the audience, and crashes with the set. There’s a health and safety claxon and extra drink forfeits decided by the audience. All very irresponsible and hilarious. It usually comes to Brighton Fringe too so you should catch them in Sussex next May. p.166 in the Fringe brochure.
A Free Fringe find. In this show Aidan Greene tells us about growing up with both a stammer and the desire to fall in love like a character in a rom com. The two, he discovers, are not exactly compatible, especially once you’ve been taught to control your stammer by heavy breathing. You take a chance on free shows but Aidan’s a strong, likeable comic who got whoops of appreciation from his audience. This is near Waverley Station, upstairs in a venue that has an actual fish and chip shop in the bar! p.95 in the brochure.
There was a big buzz about stand-up James Acaster at Edinburgh Fringe a couple of years back. I’ve since caught his Represent show and Reset shows locally and have been impressed myself. They’re off beat, very well crafted, and all tied brilliantly together at the end. If you haven’t seen any of his work before here’s a chance to catch up. He’s doing three shows –Recognise, Represent and Reset on different dates at popular venue Pleasance Courtyard. P.114 in the brochure. Book ahead.
Want to see some telly types? I always enjoy Stephen K Amos (brilliant ad libber), Andrew Maxwell(charming political ranter) and Ed Byrne (good all rounder, gorgeous accent) and they all have shows in Edinburgh this year. Besides a good stand-up show, Phill Jupitus is doing a free Porky the Poet set and a free Sketch Comic drop in where you join him in one of the city’s galleries to have a stab at reproducing a painting on ipad or paper. For pot luck, The Stand – which has several venues in one street – is always a good bet for decent comedy.
Got kids with you? Heaps of kids shows on, but for hanging out in between, try crafts in the garden at the back of Pleasance Courtyard and the lovely National Museum of Scotland which includes natural history, science, fashion and err Dolly the cloned sheep – now stuffed and revolving.
Want something a bit more sophisticated? Try cocktails upstairs in Harvey Nicks or relax in a gin garden – at Hotel Du Vin and elsewhere. Check out the modern works in the National Portrait Gallery.