Skip to: The Ballad of Mulan, Call Mr. Robeson, Green Knight, Gulliver, Mustard, No One, Nyctophilia, Skank, Watson: the Final Problem, The Bush, Jekyll and Hyde: A One-Woman Show, Make-Up, Trainspotting, Vermin, Charlotte Johnson, Faulty Towers, The Glummer Twins, The Grandmothers Grimm, Head Girl, The Importance of Being … Earnest?, Room, Sex, Lies and Improvisation, Shelton on Sinatra, Famous Puppet Death Scenes, 52 Souls, 1972: The Future of Sex, Ghislaine/Gabler, comedy listings, The Little Glass Slipper
So, welcome to Edinburgh Fringe 2022. Last year, when all the fringes launched comebacks against the odds, it was the big celebration. Now comes the big hangover.
Edinburgh Fringe is not the only fringe with post-2021 blues. Brighton Fringe has had its own problems – in fact, Brighton Fringe’s woes were a lot more obvious: the disappearance (possibly permanent disappearance) of its biggest venue. To an Edinburgh Fringe visitor, Fringe 2022 is probably going to look very much like a typical fringe of the 2010s. Under the hood however, there’s a lot of trouble brewing.
As this piece is primarily a list of recommendations for punters, I shall hold off giving the full story just now. Most the problems are going to be noticed by performers a lot more than the public, but for now I’ll focus on the big one: the cost of accommodation. There have been a lot of stories of ridiculously-priced digs, and it appears to be down to a lot of landlords who bought up properties specifically to make money from renting in August, who are now trying to chase their losses from two years with next to no income by whacking up prices this year.
This might have a knock-on effect for punters, as performers stay away from rip-off digs and instead take up accommodation normally used by visitors. However, the most prominent effect – I think – is the rise of short runs. I’m going to avoid committing to this one too much because a few years ago everyone was convinced this was happened until someone did the number-crunching at this was debunked. But, I swear, I’ve seen way more shows only running part of the festival than before. On top of that, I’ve anecdotally heard lots of performers say they’re doing short runs because the full fringe isn’t affordable. Lots of consequences of this if it’s true, but what it means for you right now is to not assume that the show you’re thinking of seeing will still be running next week. A lot of them won’t.
One side-effect of this is a change to my listings here. In before times I wrote listings on the default assumption that everything ran the full festival unless I said otherwise. That is no longer the case, and I will be specifying the dates for everything.
So let’s go. All listings are being done in alphabetical order this time, so don’t get too excited if you show’s title begins with A.
My top category. Almost everything in safe choice I have seen before. Only you will know if these are the kind of shows that would appeal to you, but if it does, consider this my firm call that you will enjoy this if you see it. There’s a couple of other rules – it has to be firmly in the theatre category, and there needs to be wide audience appeal. We have:
The Ballad of Mulan
This has been been on my list of Bold Choices for several years, but having finally had the chance to see it at this Brighton Fringe it easily earns a promotion to Safe Choice. It’s billed as the undisneyfied version of the Chinese legend, and that sums it up very well. The story might be of a woman who disguised herself as a man in Imperial China and rose to become a general, but the backdrop could be that of any war: on one side of the coin it’s the brutal reality of the battlefield, and on the other side there’s the camaraderie only possible amongst men who might not be alive next week.
Ross Ericson and Michelle Yim have been having a good year for all sorts of reasons. Their own venue, The Rotunda, emerged from Brighton Fringe 2022 as the clear winner, hosting many of the most acclaimed acts, but this script I think has been their greatest artistic collaboration. Michelle Yim has performed a series of interesting plays about East Asian women, but Ross Eriscon’s writing that worked so well for his smash hit The Unknown Soldier works well here too. This runs on alternate days at Gilded Balloon Teviot (that’s 3rd-15th odd days, then 18th-28th even days) at 4.00 p.m. This alternates with War of the Worlds, Ross Ericson’s play he wrote for himself, which I’m also looking forward to seeing.
Call Mr. Robeson
Paul Robeson’s life as a black singer in the era Jim Crow is a fascinating story – and also a counter-intuitive one. In spite of a business by default people treating musicians like him him as second rate, he commanded a colossal following across all races and stood his ground against segregation where few others could. Until a moment came in the 1950s that almost destroyed him. Again, surprisingly, little to do with racism – instead, Paul Robeson was caught up in the Red Scare of the McCarthy era. (Robeson, it seems, thought the commies were great like everyone else did in the 1940s and never got the memo saying they were the baddies now.)
One common mistake I’m noticing with many solo biopics is that it basically amounts to a biography narrated in first person,. Tayo Akulo, on the other hand, not only covers his complex story with all the intrcacies but also gives a depiction of Paul Robeson as a person and a human, and not just list of events. Shows 21st – 27th August at The Space, Surgeon’s Hall at 10.10 a.m. Also available online if you can’t make it in person.
This was a smash hit at Buxton Fringe a few years back and rightly so. Debbie Cannon performs a retelling of the tale of Sir Gawain, the Green Knight, as told by Lady Bertilak. It’s the same story, and yet a different story at the same time. No events of the original story are changed, but in this version, the wife of Lord Bertilak – implied to be the temptress in the original text – is an unhappily married woman hopelessly in love with the gallant knight of the Round Table, duty-bound to meet his death in a few days’ time.
As well as a clever adaptation, it’s a very accessible one. You don’t need to be a medieval literary scholar or even know anything about the tales of King Arthur – this play will appeal to anyone, however much you know of the original. See it 6th – 13th August at Scottish Storytelling Centre at 5.00 p.m.
It’s rare for any new play to be rated as a safe choice for Edinburgh Fringe, but Box Tale Soup have done more than enough to earn this. Husand-and-wife team of Antonia Christophers and Noel Byrne first made a name for themselves with their delightful puppet-heavy adaptation of Northanger Abbey, but it was their later plays that demonstrated how versatile they were, with Great Grimm Tales demonstrating they can do anything from gentle period romance to gothic horror.
I know nothing about what they have in store here, but the discrepancy of big people versus little people looks ideal of puppets here. Exactly what they do when we get to the giant island and Gullivers is the little guy I’m not sure, but I look forward to finding out. Catch it at Underbelly Cowgate on the 4th – 28th August at 10.50 a.m.
I like Eva O’Connor’s writing, but this one looked just bizarre compared to all the down-to-earth plays she’s done before. What’s all this about a certain s and why is she smearing it over herself? Is this a metaphor for the hopelessness of existence? No, this is literally what happens in the story.
But, in fact, the real subject of the story is as down-to-earth as all the others. Her character’s addiction to a certain substance (available in varieties such as Dijon, American and Honey) is a mild form of self-harm. It is never explained how it started, but the thing that’s driving it now – and that is the main thrust of the story – is a toxic relationship from a sportsman who sees her as little more than an accessory to his lavish lifestyle. Which is in itself a kind of self-harm – the sensible thing to do is to run a mile – but love doesn’t always work that way. Find out why at Summerhall on 3rd – 28th August (not Mon 15th or 22nd) at 2.45 p.m.
This is a late addition to safe choices. I missed it the first time round, because it was in the Dance & Physical Theatre section rather than Theatre. However, it straddles the two categories neatly and is perfectly accessible to fans of regular theatre. Akimbo Theatre describes their version of The Invisible Man as a “remix” rather than an adaptation, but the few elements of the story they keep work well. Focusing on the relationship between Griffin and Marvel, the man who Griffin befriends is changed from a homeless man to an introverted student, and wields his power over him by making him into a magician (doing levitation the obvious way if you have an invisible assistant on stage). Griffin, however, is still the vengeful individual who reacts violently when he sees the world conspiring against him.
It might not suit you if you’re an H. G. Wells purist, because this story goes in quite a different direction to the original: most notably, Griffin is in love with Mia, but Mia thinks she’s in love with Marvel – we know this is not going to end well. But if you’re happy to let the imagination of this talented ensemble find a new story out the the novel, you won’t be disappointed. See it on the 14th – 20th August at 5.45 p.m. at Zoo Playground (that’s a new venue off Cowgate).
All of my recommendations so far are long-running groups with critically-acclaimed successes to their names, but safe choice comes from some relative newcomers. Haywire Theatre previewed their play in Buxton on a simple concept: the entire performance takes place in the pitch dark. But what’s the difference between this and a radio play, you might ask? A fair question, but it works through a series of short set in the dead of night in the same hill, but set at various points over the centuries.
When I say the entire performance takes place in the dark, that’s not quite true. That was the original plan, but it was decided at the last moment to have the odd bit on light here are there, whether a mobile phone screen in the 21st century or a candle ceremony in the dark ages. But even when it’s supposed to be dark, it is very effective just being able to make out what’s happened on stage – yes, they are still acting properly when you can’t see them. I wish they’d be a bit more decisive about whether they are interlinking their stories or not, but this risky concept works very well. On at Greenside Infirmary Street on 5th-6th & 9th-13th August at the fittingly late time of 10.10 p.m.
We finish with a couple of safe choice that were also around last year, so I’m happy to say the same things again.
Edinburgh Fringe is supposed to be the great equaliser where unknowns doing plays off their own backs stand a chance against those backed by big theatres and big names, but the expense of the modern fringe makes it difficult to realise this. In practice, the best chance you have is to start off at the smallest fringes and work your way up – and that is exactly what Clementine Bogg-Hargroves did. With only a few performances in Yorkshire to her name, she went down a storm at the Greater Manchester Fringe, and got snapped up by the Vault last year and the Warren at Brighton this year. And new Edinburgh. There are few success stories more in the spirit of the fringe than this.
Skank has previously been described as both a Northern Fleabag and a female Peep Show, but whilst the story is dominated by a lot of funny/excruciating cringe, there is a jarring twist at the end of the story. I won’t spoil it by saying what it is, but it’s something that sharply changes what’s important and what doesn’t matter any more. Find out what it is at Pleasance Courtyard on 3rd – 29th August (not 16th) at 4.40 p.m.
Watson: the final problem
I came across this little gem at last year’s Brighton Fringe. It’s a very simple concept, but what it does, it does very well. The Final Problem was supposed to be the end of Sir Arthur Donan’s Sherlock Holmes stories, where Holmes and his nemesis Moriarty plunge to their deaths in Switzerland, before- … well, Sherlock fans, you wouldn’t want me to give the spoiler now, would you. The premise here is that a grief-stricken Dr. Watson (Tim Marriott) is completing his memoirs. He goes on to tell not only the story of Sherlock’s final* case as seen through his eyes, but else a potted history of the rest of the saga, nicely capturing the relationship of the two men.
This is co-written by Ben Coules who dramatised the entirety of Sherlock’s adventures on Radio 4. As a result, this is more of a storytelling format than visual piece. But this does round of some of the rough ends left by Conan Doyle. In the books, Watson’s wife is frequently written in as an afterthought; in this play, Mary Morstan plays the important role in Watson’s story he would approve of. Showing 3rd – 28th August at Assembly Drawing Rooms at 1.10 p.m.
Next are shows I also have high expectations for but I’m less certain of whether you’ll like them. Some divided opinion, some are new plays, some are more niche, but all of these have potential. If you like the sound of any of these, it’s a gamble where I reckon the odds are in your favour.
Alice Cooper is not to be confused with the 1970s rocker, but like her namesake she has a distinctive style of performance. Even when she did her silly clown show in 2012 – not meant to be taken seriously in the slightest – I really liked the understated pathos mixed in with the humour. I said she had potential, and I was happily proven right with Waves. This play about a fictitious pioneering swimmer was a hit in Brighton and was picked up in Summerhall, with her distinctive style playing a large part in its success.
And now, Alice Mary Cooper moves on to something new.”The Bush” is something I’ve never heard of, but apparently it was the Australian version of the green belt movement in the 1970s, at first in Sydney and eventually getting what they wanted adopted in all of Australia – but not before a decade-long battle. This shows at Summerhall on the 16th – 28th August (not 22nd) at 3.00 p.m.
Jekyll & Hyde : A One-Woman Show
I said this for Brighton Fringe, repeated for Buxton Fringe, and I can say the same again. Bold Choice instead of Safe Choice here because this is something where you really need to concentrate, but this is the perfect play for Heather Rose-Andrews, who was made a name for herself with her solo horror plays. The most striking thing of the play is not how much a female Jekyll and Hyde is different but how much she is the same. Instead of looking at how society treats a female Jekyll, every stereotypically male trait is incorporated into Heather Rose-Andrews’ act as if the original character has been created for her all along – including those you’d think couldn’t possibly work as a gender-flip.
This play earned all-round acclamation on the home patch of Brighton but divided opinion a bit more at Buxton. It does help if you know your Robert Louis Stevenson, otherwise you might get lost with what’s the original story and what’s new to JD Henshaw’s adaptation. However, everybody was unanimous in praise for Heather Rose-Andrews’s transformation from Jekyll and Hyde, where agonised writhings change to causal cruelty – something that earned this my acclamation as best individual performance 2021. See it on the 8th – 15th August at 8.15 p.m. at Zoo Playground (that’s a new venue off Cowgate).
I saw the original version of this in the mini-fringe of Brighton 2020, and it had its flaws – but I’m keen to see this again. This is set after the show of glamour star Lady Christina, actually a drag act who is now reverting to being ordinary Chris. In Chris’s imagination, Lady Christina returns to a dressing room full of flowers and chocolates and cards from adoring fans. Also in Chris’s imagination is what he’d say to his estranged father. As you may already have guessed, Chris is gay and his traditionalist father does not approve. Chris’s alter-ego Christina is more of an escape than a job to him.
The plot of a gay man talking about his dysfunctional relationship with a homophobic father has been overdone a bit, but where this story had potential is just how much of an escape Lady Christina is. In the original version, it was mentioned that he’d conjured up in his mind an amazing starlet that was everything he and his dad are not – but little was done to expand on this promising plot thread. I am told that the revised version has indeed expanded on this. I look forward to hearing more about Christina on the 3rd – 29th August (not 15th) at Underbelly George Square at 1.20 p.m.
Bold choice instead of Safe Choice for this one because you need a strong stomach for this. There is probably no better description to Trainspotting Live that the description from Irvine Welsh himself: “I’m shocked, and I wrote the fucking thing”. I saw this at Northern Stage in 2019 and it was exactly what I was braced for. I think the most memorable moment is a toss-up between a naked Renton in a shitted duvet and Renton’s antics on the toilet. I also should warn you this is immersive. Begbie might pick a fight with you, or if you’re really unlucky you might be next to the aforementioned toilet.
It does sometimes veer into shock value for the sake of it, but the point of the play (being that taking drugs might seem like a good idea but it really really really isn’t). Although Trainspotting Live will almost certainly tour again, the Edinburgh Fringe should be one of the better places to catch it. Good though the performance is in a theatre, it’s the site-specific performances that really play to its strength, in this case a tunnel. This at EICC on the 4th – 28th August (not 10th, 17th or 22nd), usually two performances at 6.00 p.m. or 9.00 p.m. Just do not, I repeat, do not, pick the seat next to the toilet.
And another bold choice instead of safe choice, again because you need a strong stomach for this one, although for a very different reason. There’s no visually shocking sights to be seen – indeed, the whole story is a seriously fucked up couple telling their seriously fucked up story – but you might want to brace yourself for the graphic descriptions of animal cruelty. Billy is basically a psychopath, and it seems the only thing stopping him doing the same to humans is the consequences. Rachel might consider herself an old school romantic, but is so enthralled by Billy she considers his antics funny rather than a massive red flag.
But when their house is infested with rats, something changes to produce a deadly stand-off. I won’t say any more as I’ve gone as far as I can without spoiler, but the depiction of the two characters and their twisted psyches is terrifyingly convincing. There is a rule with writing that the more out of the ordinary a character behaves, the harder you have to work to make it believable, and Tripytch Theatre nailed it. This is at Gilded Balloon Teviot on the 3rd – 29th August (not 15th) at 1.15 p.m. There’s also Tripytch’s other production, at Zoo Playground, which I’ve also heard good things about, An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe, at 10.55 a.m.
You might like …
This list are plays where, like Safe Choice, I’m confident that if you like the sound of this you will like seeing this. However, I relax the rules on needing wide audience appeal to a theatre audience. Some are more niche interests, but this time there’s a lot that are really categories other than theatre that have a theatre crossover.
Charlotte Johnson: My Dad and other lies
Charlotte Johnson is the illegitimate daughter of the somehow-still-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and will do anything for her daddy’s approval. (Spoiler: Charlotte Johnson is not really a politician’s lovechild, this is character comedy.) And maybe Bojo should take the time to visit, because she takes after him in so many ways. Unfortunately, she’s inherited all of his worst qualities: compulsive liar, complete inability to understand what it’s like to live without a trust fund, and even more absurd ideas of what it means to be British. A silly performance rather than anything in the tragi-comedy line, but it does mean you get the contest to eat a good of British Chip Butty to the techno version to Land of Hope and Glory (loser gets deported to Rwanda). Bit of a narrow escape here, because it looks like Mr. J. is about to become a has been, but whilst this remains topical, you can see this on the 3rd – 29th August (not 15th) at 4.05 p.m. in Pleasance Dome.
Faulty Towers, the dining experience
Theatre Tours International do several dining experiences. I went to The Wedding Reception a few years ago. It’s fair to say this is more of a fun piece that any serious re-enactment of the classic TV series, and the meal included means it is out of the price range of a typical fringe show, but it is still a good experience which can mean you get to make friends with whichever strangers you get seated with. The main reason this goes on my list, however, is to annoy the right people
I am obliged to mention this production is not authorised by John Cleese and Connie Booth (TTI argue they can do this if they write new stories for the characters) – but the rival “official” production behaved like cocks. Piggy-back a format that another company showed you to be successful and lucrative if you like, but making legal threats against venues hosting Faulty Towers to make way for your version is just out of order. This is on at The Imagination Workshop: Highland Carlton (in the New Town) on the 5th – 28th August (not Tuesdays) at 1.30 p.m. & 7.30 p.m.
The Glummer twins: The Beat Goes On
They’re not actually twins – I’m not even sure they’re brothers. But they’ve been favourites at Buxton Fringe for years and having finally got to see them this time, it’s thoroughly earned. Although they’re down in the programme as spoken word, their poems also straddle the categories of music, comedy and theatre. And from a theatrical point of view, the pair of them are a perfect double act, somewhat in the style of Morcambe and Wise. My favourite poem of theirs is “He’s just turned sixty, he’s taking it badly” – but in a fringe circuit dominated by aspiring young actors and comedians, it’s great to have a reminder that the fringe is for everyone. See them at The Space at Surgeon’s Hall on 22nd – 27th August at 2.00 p.m.
The Grandmothers Grimm
This play from Some Kind of Theatre about the origins of the Grimm Tales is interesting. Most people know how fucked up the Grimm Tales are, with the villains of the fairy stories usually meeting quite unnecessarily painful deaths in the end. The originals, however, are even more fucked up: the less said about the wolf’s orders to Red Riding Hood the better, and for anyone who complains about kissing a sleeping princess – oh boy, you ain’t seen nothing yet. But … are the tales really changed for the better? What happens when you’re rewriting them for a Gemanic audience keen on family values and traditional roles. An insight into how things may have come about, you can see it at Greenside at Riddle’s Court at 4.25 p.m. on the 16th – 27th August (not Sunday).
First, a housekeeping notice. I ran a venue for Durham Fringe this year, with most of the acts using this as a last stop before Edinburgh. I have a responsibility to support all of them, so it would not be appropriate for me to pick out favourites in the days between the two. If you want to see who I am supporting with my venue manager hat on, you can follow me on Twitter.
However, I think I can relax the rules a bit for plays I saw at other venues, and I rather liked a play from new group Girl Next Door. Becca is determined to be Head Girl of her school. As veterans of student politics know, there is a tendency for thing to get bitterer as the stakes get lower, but unlike the Tracy Flicks of the world who have their who political career planned at 17 and no-one’s going to stop them, Becca’s not actually that sure why she wants to be Head Girl, just that she should. I’m told this is likened to Derry Girls, which I confess I haven’t seen although I’ve heard it’s good, so I’ll take their word for it; but even without this comparison it’s nice story of navigating the world as a teenager, with a great energetic performance in this two-hander. On at The Space on mornings of 5th – 20th (not 14th) August, exact time/location varying from weeks 1-2.
The Importance of Being … Earnest?
Say it again, Sorry, does a performance of the classic Oscar Wilde tale, except that Earnest (aka Jack) doesn’t show up. Only one thing for it, they’ll have to get someone from the audience to stand in. Also, Gwendolynn is an alcoholic, Lady Bracknell thinks working with amateurs in beneath her, and there’s quite a lot of liberties with the script. I’m pretty sure, for instance, Lady Bracknell’s question of Jack’s ability to pleasure Gwendolynn on a scale from 1-10 wasn’t in the original text. Add to that getting more people on stage as more people drop out until, if necessary, the entire audience are in the play. You get the idea. If you’ve always wanted a part in an Edinburgh Fringe play, your chance is now at Pleasance Courtyard on the 3rd – 28th August at 1.30 p.m.
Room, based on A Room of One’s Own
Heather Alexander’s Brighton Fringe performance makes it on to this list because, for all intents and purposes, she’s invented her own genre. There’s plenty of stage adaptations of books and screenplays, but this is an adaptation of an essay. A Room of One’s Own was published as Virginia Woolf’s thoughts on the difficulties faced by women writers through history, and Alexander performed this as a dramatised version of Virginia Woolf giving the speech at the Oxford college that the speech was based on.
One pet hate I have with similar plays is the number of people who depict historical characters and what they have about [pertinent issue] – when, in reality, the writer doesn’t give two hoots what this character actually believed, and instead, the writer’s views are passed off as this figure. That is not the case, because, agree or disagree, these are Virginia Woolf’s own words. Worth seeing as something different, on the 4th – 27th August at Pleasance Courtyard at 11.40 a.m.
Sex, Lies and Improvisation
Sorry this one was late to the list, yet again I forgot.
This is an improv act with a difference. Improv is almost always considered to be synonymous with improv comedy. This one, however, is improvisation of mostly serious drama. Formerly known as Between Us, Alex Keen and Rachel E. Thorn start off by randomly picking a lie submitted by a member of the public (done through an anonymous website submission – turns out only the foolhardy confess this in front of an audience) – and an hour-long play is made out of it. I’ve only seen one play so I don’t know how this squares up against a typical performance – it’s listed under comedy so maybe I had an unusually sombre one – but I think the strength of this is by being not the same as all the other improv acts. See it at The Space at Phoenix Hall, August 8th – 20th (not 16th), 9.15 p.m.
Shelton on Sinatra
The surprise hit of Edinburgh Fringe 2021 was Sinatra: Raw. The only reason I saw this was that literally everything else had sold out. But what I assumed was going to be a nice hour-long tribute act was a very clever scenario of Ol’ Blue Eyes singing and reminiscing about his time, giving way to the darkest moments of his life and how it fed into his songs. The good news is that Richard Shelton is back; the bad news is that it’s not the same play. Instead, this is a bit more like the tribute act I originally assumed this would be. But he’s a fantastic performed and it should still be a fine addition to the music programme of Edinburgh Fringe. Showing on the 5th – 29th August (not Tue 16th or 23rd) at Le Monde at 4.30 p.m.
And finally, there are four things in the programme where I don’t know whether or not they are any good, but I’m listing them as they’ve grabbed my interest anyway.
Famous Puppet Death Scenes
One of the challenges at Edinburgh Fringe is who can come up with the most eye-catching concept for being bizarre. Not easy. A title and poster that would make you go “What the fuck?” in your home town may barely bat an eyelid in Edinburgh. Four years ago, the clear winner was this thing, which is either about famous death scenes involving puppets, or death scenes of famous puppets. This could go one of two ways: either horribly horribly pretentious or hilarious – but those people who have seen it seen to be strongly breaking for the latter. If you wish to find out, it’s on at Assembly Roxy on the 3rd – 28th August (not Mondays) at 6.30 p.m.
And staying on the subject of bizarre, Chronic Insanity stuck in my mind with Polly, a Drag Rebellion from last year’s Brighton Fringe. I’m not really up to speed on drag acts so I don’t know whether a burly bearded drag queen is out of the ordinary, but Polly’s political tirade and proposed solution of murdering the Royal Family and everyone else in line to the throne until you’re next in line to the throne definitely makes a change from singing pop diva hits. I don’t know where to rank this not having any bearded-drag-regicide-themed performances to compare it to, but this follow-up looks to be just as crazy.
This one promises to be an exploration of death, with each card of a pack being a different soul. No idea how this is going to play out, but expect something else crazy. Showing Zoo Playground on the 5th – 28th August at 3.55 p.m.
1972: The Future of Sex
This is going back quite a bit now, but the Wardrobe Ensemble’s play from 2015 was a surprise hit. What looks like it might be a messy devised theatre piece did in fact come together very quickly. The story follows various teenagers consider having sex for the first time in a world that is in some parts very liberated, but in other parts still very reserved. It covers lofty-eyed aspirations of youth versus disappointments of later life, unrealistic expectations created by everything from D. H. Lawrence to modern-day internet porn, and so much else I can’t squeeze into a paragraph.
Credit to the Woodplayers (from my own Durham Universirty) for getting performing rights to this. The challenge? This is about one of the toughest plays you could take on and get right. Can this student group pull this off? Find out at The Space on North Bridge on the 5th – 20th August (not 14th) at 1.20 p.m.
And finally, a very rare appearance in my Edinburgh listings: a play I’ve never seen by a writer I don’t know performed by a group I’ve never heard of. But I have heard about the subject. When Ghislaine Maxwell went on trial as Jeffrey Epstein’s number accomplice for his appalling crimes, she tried to pass herself off as the victim. But the thing that’s always fascinated me is why she did it. She always had a strange life, from a childhood in competition to be her father’s favourite, and some very strange battles to be a most influential socialite.
The concept is Ghislaine likening herself to hero/anti-hero Hedda Gabler. A pretty tenuous association, but it is just about conceivable that she could be delusional enough to see a connection, just like – I suspect – she’s delusional enough to believe she’s not responsible for what she did. This is going to be a tough concept to pull off, but to find out if it works, come to Greenside at Riddles Court on the 5th – 27th August (not 14th or 21st) at 6.40 p.m.
From the comedy:
Sorry this is getting late, but now for a quick run through comedy. Some comedy shows get listed above when there’s enough of a crossover with theatre. Other than that, here’s what I’ve noticed:
Aidan Goatley: Tenacious: Best known for his 12 Films with my Dad, series, I finally caught him with The 12 Films of Christmas. Featuring Die Hard if it was play by Muppets. And The Muppets Christmas Carol if it was placed by the cast of Die Hard. And surprisingly wholesome. Full festival, 7.00 p.m., Zoo Playground
Alasdair Beckett-King: Nevermore: Finally saw his live show in Buxton this year – prior to that, I discovered his video shorts of Youtube. Highly recommended for his pedantic humour – and if you don’t like pedanticism, you don’t know what you’re missing. Full festival (not 22nd), 7 p.m., Pleasance Dome.
Biscuit Barrel: Plenty of sketch groups call themselves “quickfire” but they call themselves “hyperactive”. At more than one sketch per minute, my favourite is what goes into you Mickey Mouse Smoothie. There on at Just the Tonic the full festival (not 15th) at 7.30. Also a second show with guests on from 16th August at 10.40 p.m.
Crime Scene Improvisation: One of the top-flight improv comedy groups around – and if they make mistakes, they use it to make the crime scene even funnier. I was hoping for a bit more bollocks forensic science myself, but worth it for the ending where you get to vote for who the murderer is. Much more sense that this tedium over evidence. Full festival, 3.10, Underbelly Bristo Square.
Eleanor Morton has peaked: Another comedian I’ve got to know from online skits, including why being a lesbian vampire is overrated and coining the phrase for suitors of Henry VIII’s being not power hungry, but power peckish. I also once saw her host a comedy gig that was funny, but that’s a completely different story. (Short version: I inadvertently played a small part in setting off a shitshow over one reviewer; long version: see my 2017 fringe coverage.) Full run (not Tuesdays), Monkey Barrel Comedy, 12.40 p.m. Also one-off on August 15th at 8.20 for the extended version of Craig, the tour guide who don’t give a fuck.
How to Live a Jellicle Life: Everybody may have panned the film, but we did get a show from it where Linus Karp dresses as that king of cat, and explains what you have to do to be Jellice. (Short version, pretty much anything is accepted except being James Corden). From August 15th (not 21st), Greenside Riddle’s Court.
John Robertson: The Dark Room: Most of you should know this by now. If you don’t, it’s going to be tough to explain this in a paragraph. It’s a homage to 1980s text adventure games, but lots of you young whippersnappers don’t remember that. Just turn up anyway, you’ll pick it up as you go along. Seriously, though, John Robertson is one of the most skilled comedians I’ve seen, able to respond to anything thrown at him, and even once doing a show where he makes it up as he goes along. Full fringe, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 10.00 p.m. Also children’s version at 5.30, which is basically the same show but without the swearing.
Michael Spicer: The Room Next Door: Most comedians I’ve become fans of due to online work are doing stand-up sets, but Michael Spicer is making a fringe show out of his infamous man next door. The format is that whilst Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and Prince Andrew give terrible interviews, the man in the next room is trying and failing to stop them putting their foot in it.
Late Night Dirty Scrabble with Rob Rouse: Like Scrabble, but with rude words. Rob Rouse plays the game with three guests. If you can’t think of any rude words, don’t worry. Either find a reason for a normal word to be rude (“hour” is a rude word, for example, if you’re staying in an establishment that rents rooms by the hour), or invent a rude word. Occasionally also features an extra guest in DICKtrionary corner. But we don’t talk about that. Until 14th August, 10.30, Gilded Balloon Teviot. Also you can see Rob Rouse’s standard set at until the 15th. Just don’t turn up as a drunken arsehole.
Police Cops: The Musical: The Pretend Men make a name for themselves a few years back with Police Cops, which was basically an amalgamation of every cliche ever written in 1970s cop shows, with an energetic ensemble of three. Now they are promising a bigger and better version with an expanded ensemble. Full fringe (not 17), Assembly George Square, 7.00 p.m.
Nathan Cassidy: Observational: Nathan Cassidy has done several sets at Buxton Fringe and has a good following. I’ve not seen this particular set but apparently it’s his most popular. The main reason he earns his place on his list, however, was for his sheer bloody-mindedness in bringing a show to Buxton Fringe in 2020 when everything thought it impossible. And we at Chrisontheatre admire sheer bloody-mindedness. Full fringe, 5.20, Laughing Horse at the Three Sisters.
Notflix: Another improv troupe in the top flight, and one of the first to show me that is is actually possible to sing songs accompanied to music on the fly if you really know how to work together as an organisation. They take a film and make is cornier and add songs, such as the version of the Titanic where it doesn’t sink thanks to the pucky Irish sailor on his first day. Full fringe, Gilded Balloon Patter House (that’s what was C Venues), 5.00 p.m.
Rosie Holt: The Woman’s Hour: And a final one on the list of things I got to know through video content. Rosie Holt at first got on the online radar for her all-too-convincing ultra-right-wing Boris-worshipping fanatics. However, Poe’s law went up a whole new gear when she started pasting herself into various interviews as an assortment of incompetent arse-kissing MPs defending the latest tax-dogding party (with an immigrant persecution theme) – which people to this very day mistake for the real thing. Full fringe (not 16th), Pleasance Courtyard, 6 p.m.
Shit-Faced Showtime: From the people who brought you Shit-Faced Shakespeare and lots of other thing starting with “Shit-Faced”. A troupe of classically trained actors, one who is sloshed. There is the fun at the start of working out which one it is (usually solved in the first 30 seconds), and then expect a lot of misbehaving. See the butchering of a Christmas Carol, full fringe, The Stand New Town theatre, 7.10 p.m.
Showstopper!: Another top-notch improv comedy troupe, again with music sung on the fly. The premise here is that Cameron Mackintosh needs a new musical in the next 70 minutes, so let’s knock one out. Although, to be honest, this is probably better than half of the jukebox musicals in the West End which seems to have been knocked out in 7 minutes. Full fringe (not 16th), 9.30 p.m.
Yasmine Day: Songs in the Key of Me: And finally, the pop dive from the 1980s who is totally a proper pop star and everything and definitely of an embittered hasbeen sings some of her favourite original songs. Including “We are Kissing Cousins” and “I’ve still got it!” (the latter in response to builders shouting “Nice ass, bitch”). Full fringe (not Tuesdays), PBH Voodo Rooms.
And one from the online programme …
One footnote to these listings is the quiet departure of online fringe. No rules have been changed, and anyone who wants to register an online entry is still free to to do. (In fact, there was never a rule that said you couldn’t do this – it’s just that this was made easier in 2020-2021.) Credit where it is due, online theatre has persisted a lot longer than many people expected – it might have been a stop-gap for when live theatre was illegal but last a lot longer. But with so many people commenting in late 2021 how good it was to be back, I guessed its time was finally up. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of online theatre, but my expectation is that in future, these will be occasional projects from established theatre groups for ideas that work online only.
But if there are to be no more online picks, let’s leave with a last hurrah, with one of my favourite online plays from last year.
The Little Glass Slipper as performed by the Queen of France and her friends
I would love this one to have come to Edinburgh to be performed in person; in practice, I accept this play’s staging is probably too demanding to work in the cramped confined of a fringe. But I loved the concept. On the eve of the storming of the Bastille, Marie Antionette is performing her favourite story, Cendrillon. (That’s Cinderella to us.) She think being poor is cool and glamorous, so much she’s the original hipster, making Mumford and Sons look like the cast of Shameless. But it quickly becomes clear that she isn’t arrogant – she’s just naive. She doesn’t understand how this could come across as obnoxious, nor does she understand the problem with flaunting her colossal wealth in front of people who are starving. I won;t give you the entire plot, but I particularly loved the ending that juxtaposes Cinderella’s big day at the wedding with Marie’s big day at – well, not a wedding. Available online on Vimeo (access via Fringe website).
And that’s the end, at last. Phew.