Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2016
To Do List spent the first half of August gallivanting around Edinburgh, seeking out the finest fringe frolics to recommend to you, our dear readers…
So, without further unnecessary ado, here are ALL 55 OF OUR EDINBURGH FRINGE 2016 REVIEWS in one place!
An unmissable view through the magnifying glass at life in Nigeria & the shit we are dying to get away from.
Adura Onashile’s Expensive Shit is a heart-rending and twisted, yet laugh-out-loud funny triumph, telling the pulse-pounding story of Tolu, a nightclub toilet attendant from Nigeria, and her journey from Kalakuta to the UK. Sabina Cameron’s performance as Tolu is undeniably brilliant and oozes realism, both empathising with and resenting her ladies toilet ‘customers’. The ensemble cast of Teri Ann Bobb Baxter, Jamie Marie Leary and Diana Yekinni give a masterclass in soulful, honest performance and are directed with panache by Onashile. The music, from Fela Kuti, and dance routines are energetic, underscoring a deeper political message about the gender-imbalance of power, even in 2016. RD
★★★★★ Kate Lucas: Whatever Happened to Kate Lucas? | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 3-14, 16-28 | 10:30pm | From £6
The best hour of musical comedy you’re likely to find at the fringe!
Kate Lucas will one day be a household name. She has to be, otherwise the world is even less fair than we previously thought. Because Kate Lucas is the musical comedian that the world NEEDS. There are funny people, and good musicians, and sometimes people are passable at one and a little better at the other. But Lucas is the real deal – hilarious, edgy, cheeky, intelligent and confessional in a way that leaves you teetering tantalisingly on the fence between cringe and guffaw, and a bloody good songwriter too. There are hours at the fringe that stretch out ineterminably before you, and there are others that come and go never to be remembered again. This is not one of those hours – it whizzes by, soundtracked not only by Lucas’ songs but by the sound of an audience grabbing whatever breath they can between belly-laughs, and sticks in the mind long after the metaphorical curtain falls. Comedy perfection. SW
Many layers, in its many hands, and through its single loveable squishy character.
On the one hand, Meet Fred is an exquisitely composed puppet show, on the other, an existential look into modern life. But this style of puppetry is based on Bunraku, which is three man puppetry… So, on the third hand, Meet Fred is a comment on disability and the difficulties of battling the world as someone who is differently abled; on the fourth it perhaps suggests that difficulty with the world might actually be what unifies all of us. On the fifth hand, Meet Fred is laugh out loud funny, but on the sixth hand, the final other, this show has an underlying sadness. There are many layers at play here, addressing difference, choice and control, representation, independence and a whole host of issues. If you choose to, you can ignore some of them and enjoy the show at its sweet, rude, funny face value and you will have a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Fred is a character it would be hard not to warm to. If you read the free-sheet and do a tiny bit of digging (through boxes and a layer of dry water), you will not only have a thoroughly enjoyable experience but one of depth. You will see how significant this show is. Complimenting its content, the show’s set is minimal and effective, all of the cast are impressive and every moment of the show is captivating. LE
★★★★★ My World has Exploded a Little Bit | Underbelly Cowgate | Aug 7-16, 18-28 | 13:10 | From £8.50
A sublime tearjerker that dares to talk about death.
The show centers around 17 logical ways to manage bereavement and sets up a comedy life-guru style slideshow that is quickly disrupted by central character Bella’s emotional plight. There are touching musical moments, which reminded us of Yann Tiersen’s Amélie soundtrack. Bella Heesom’s straight man to Eva Alexander’s cheeky chap is a perfect pairing and the humour in the show makes it all the sadder. My World has Exploded… braves the ultimate taboo, and made us laugh, cry and help come to terms with our own experiences of death. It’s the ultimate refreshing pause from the frantic fringe, delving into the bitter-sweet truth of what must, one day, happen to us all. RD
An unmissable punk prophecy which makes you want to DO something.
66 year old Penny Arcade has something important to say to the millenial, and we should listen. Through an hour of pulse-pumping rant fueled by iconic music, Penny Arcade dissects Facebook, gentrification, the power of being a loner and so much more. I’ve never been so riled (in a good way) by a performance at the fringe and would recommend using this hour to have a word with yourself and make something happen to stop the world becoming a dull commercialised place. What will your world-shattering idea be? Come to Penny Arcade’s explosive hour and you might just find out. RD
A thoroughly gripping and impressively performed look through the eyes of a gender-confused teen who steps onto a dangerous path.
Amy McAllister is incredibly engaging as the character we come to know as Kes, vividly breathing life into the script without props, co-performers, or even a set. McAllister wows with just words and a body – the two things that the show is about really. The story, which results in a tricky legal situation, emerges through a confusing battle of truth and lies (or the lack thereof) when it comes to the way a body is presented and words spoken, accepted, and left out when talking to a romantic interest. McAllister makes eye contact with probably everyone in the room and completely draws in her audience. You’ll feel for Kes; a character based on someone who, not so long ago, we were pressed to hate and fear by the media. This is an intensely personal story of an experience that is hard to imagine – until you see this show. And we really think you should see this show. It feels triumphant for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a loud, compelling voice, a story that feels real and raw. But a story also that holds us in its hands – it is not designed to shock or to incite guilt or anger; just to share, to show, to tell a story – a human being’s story. LE
★★★★½ Counting Sheep | Summerhall @ The King’s Hall | Aug 7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-28 | Times Vary | From £13
If you want to have an immersive theatrical experience, have this one.
A rare beast, here is an immersive show that is actually pertinently immersive. And it’s the kind of immersive theatre that not only keeps your body engaged for the whole show, but keeps you emotionally invested. This is a show that manages to be heart-warming, inspiring, terrifying, worrying and totally eye-opening. It tells the story of the Ukrainian revolution by both putting you inside its recreation, and by showing you its reality – on screens showing documentary footage. This is a powerful combination that really gets under the skin. There is undoubtably nothing quite like this at the Fringe. LE
Engages its audience through a cutting edge style of pop-subversion.
Hot Brown Honey is a rainbow kaleidoscope of light, rhythm and sass. The show takes it’s cues from the variety show format of its brother Briefs and then shakes it up a little with new skills including supreme beatboxing talent, mind-melting reverse striptease and dazzling aerial circus performance. Dissecting stereotypes with such footstompers as ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, Hot Brown Honey engages its audience through a cutting edge style of pop-subversion. RD
An enigmatic, often hilarious, fringe firecracker.
This show’s title grabbed us immediately – the question was, would (could?) the show live up to such an attention grabbing title? Well, yes, it did. This is a 45-minute, tense but rib-tickling tale, of a man and the girl he has chained to his radiator. This key story element really is the elephant in the room: it’s in the title, but it’s not addressed directly, with no real, full explanation of why she’s chained to a radiator. Alex-Wells King and Monica Forero play the kooky kidnapper and the handcuffed heroine with such skilful sarcasm we could imagine the show as an episode of Charlie Brooker’s excellent dystopian comedy Black Mirror. The pop culture references (Including a classic Ross and Monica-esque dance moment) and quick-witted, contemporary writing dissect a surreal yet hyperreal situation with aplomb. Surprising, offbeat and unique, it’s a must see for those with a dark sense of humour. RD
Sh!t Theatre can make anything funny – the housing crisis, adult babies, love and friendship and even pigeon netting!
We’ve all been there – you move into a new flat and find yourself endlessly bombarded with ex-tenant’s post. What do you do with it? Sh!t Theatre do not believe in return to sender – and frankly, who’s got the time, really?
Letters to Windsor House retells Louise and Rebecca’s attempts to learn more about their predecessors in Windsor House by (legally, possibly) reading the mail that continues to arrive. What sounds like a simple concept proves both entertaining and thought-provoking, and provides the frame for a show which also sees the friends, flatmates and colleagues addressing their own relationship with each other. At times hilarious, at others surprisingly touching, Letters to Windosr House is a triumph of simple ideas, pitch-perfect comic performances, uncompromising honesty and no shortage of cardboard! SW
A show that doesn’t hide its politics – Mark Thomas’ conviction and passion ensure that this theatre/stand-up mash-up is absorbing from beginning to end.
Thomas is on fiery form from the start, telling people from ‘Morningside who come to the Traverse every year’ (haughty voice), that if they don’t like it the doors are at the back. There is something admirable about this – we all have our politics (or lack of them) but somehow, although it is probably assumed that most shows at most venues in the Edinburgh Fringe might attract a left-wing or liberal audience, there is often a fear of stating too much or pushing things too far. Mark Thomas has none of this fear – he only has heart. The Red Shed never feels sermonic, but the heart in this show might even swing someone neutral into engagement. Thomas gives us stories – real stories, not facts and figures – and he is proud of it. He knows how powerful stories are, and his are powerful: full of zeal and animation and humour. He has seen the results of words and he is putting his own to use. LE
A glimpse into a not-too-distant future, hilariously skewering stereotypes and prejudices in post-Brexit Britain.
Ignore the Fringe brochure description – this is not the story of three women forming a punk band, although there are certainly punk elements. Instead, this is the story of three seemingly ‘different’ women who discover that they share more in common than they could have imagined in a not-so-difficult-to-imagine future where British citizens of uncertain heritage must attend interviews to ascertain their true Britishness. Each one identifies as British; each feels certain that they contribute to society; and none can understand what their grandparents places of birth should have to do with whether they can receive benefits or, worse, whether they might be deported.
It’s serious stuff, but told through a satirical lens – the script is razor sharp, and balances subtlety with in-your-face humour – and performed with utter conviction by Alexandra D’Sa, Rebecca Oldfield & Dilek Rose. It takes skill to produce a show which can make an audience laugh and make them angry in equal measure – Fine Mess Theatre have achieved that with style. SW
★★★★½ POP-UP Duets (fragments of love) | National Museum of Scotland | Aug 17-21, 24-28 | 3:30pm | FREE
Completely accessible, enchanting and heartfelt duets!
One of the best things about this show, when thinking in terms of contemporary dance as a genre, is its placement. Pop-up duets in the National Museum is a great idea – some have come specifically to see the show, but some happen upon it. It is totally free; it is placed within a centre of culture, but an accessible one; it is inside (no rain danger), but it has space. There are all kinds of people here, including quite a few kids, who seem transfixed. And the fact that the pieces migrate, following a mapped route through the Museum, is part of the charm of the work, and helps to give the kids (and all of us!) a chance to relax and then re-focus. If you just want to watch one duet, that’s fine – you can be there for 5 or 10 minutes, or the full 50, you’ll still feel you’ve witnessed something.
The dance work itself – enhanced by a lack of staging and lighting, meaning the focus is entirely on the movement – is beautiful. The dance is considered. At times it is poignant, and times playful. The dancers are completely committed and have a great chemistry that really gives an atmosphere of love. LE
Sarah Kendall is the comedian we all wish we could be!
You know when you’re watching some underwhelming comedy and you think ‘I’m sure I could do better than that, I’m pretty funny’ and you think about how you’re always making people laugh in the pub…? Well Sarah Kendall is the actualisation of that funny person you think you are. Her comedy is amiable and yet full of punch. She is incredibly likeable and totally engaging – her shows are entertaining stories peppered with laughs, just the right blend to keep you completely engrossed. And yet, she also touches on a kind of moral question of humanity, with skill and without pretentiousness. This is a totally relatable hour of tales of childhood lying in a world of unpopularity, and we’d see it again in a flash. LE
This shadow puppetry show is so clever and has clearly taken so much work to create. The puppet work is beautiful and painstakingly performed with the minutest of details addressed. The show is enthralling – constantly revealing new amazing tiny touches that add to how enveloped you are in the show. The only part that is lacking, arguably, is the story itself, which is somewhat straight-foward. But really, it doesn’t need to be complex – the complexity lies in the puppets, and scenes. There are backdrops setting the scene for everything. There are lights that light up. There are bicycles. There are tiny unseen hinges on tiny puppets, that move their arms, legs, heads, even eyelashes. The flow through from scene to scene and between shadow puppets and real life marionettes is faultless. In all likelihood you will forgive the simple story, and will be carried away by it, completely caught up in this paper world. LE
★★★★ Adam Kay – Fingering A Minor on the Piano | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 13-16, 18-23, 25-29 | 6:40pm | From £13
Honour not just near-the-knuckle, but straight inside the knuckle and through to the bone and sinew.
We almost didn’t make it through this show, and not for reasons of quality. Given the title, and Kay’s previous darkly humorous shows, near-the-knuckle humour is expected. But this show cuts deep, straight inside the knuckle and through to the bone and sinew, as Kay takes us through his experiences as a hospital doctor, using his insightful, amusing and sometimes hard-hitting diary entries juxtaposed with his better-known comedy songs. The songs are given a fresh context here, demonstrating the need for gallows humour in a stressful profession, but perhaps some of the more cynical material could be cut in favour of newer stuff, especially as Kay has a passionate and political message to deliver about the NHS. At the performance we attend, someone faints, and the man in front of us runs out for some fresh air. This is a new Fringe experience – a mix of a standing ovation and people passing out on the floor. For anyone who has spent difficult times in a hospital bed, a purely visceral reaction is to be expected – which of course can be forgiven: the impossibility of staying objective in this life is the point of the show, as Kay movingly reveals when describing the reason he left medical practice. LN
An interesting thematic blend supported by strong performers.
And Now… is a thought-provoking piece of dance performance which, in its most straight-forward sense, is about growing up. The set reflects this quite beautifully, but simply, with a collection of different sized chairs that the performers interact with. The text spoken in the show is also a nice addition which underlines this theme. There is an undercurrent to the work however, mostly reflected in the actual dance and movement, that concerns the uncertainty of Scotland and Britain following the referendum results. The juxtaposition of these two themes is certainly an interesting one. Although, whether the second would be obviously apparent without reading the program is not certain. The performers themselves are strong and their individual personalities shine through in the choreography. The inclusion of live music enhances the score and adds to the piece. LE
A hard sell, no doubt, but not to be missed – a brutally honest exploration of a dark subject matter, engagingly and provocatively performed.
It’s hard to be excited about a show exploring how a group of young friends deal with the revelation that one of their group has been convicted of possession of child pornography. It’s just as hard to emerge from such a show with much of a sense of enjoyment. But theatre is often at its best when tackling subjects that many find difficult to talk about, let alone think hard about and attempt to comprehend. Daniel is everywhere in this show except on stage. Empty-chaired, we only learn about him and what he has done from the group therapy-style discussions between his friends, who are coming to terms with the devastating realisation that one of the closest friends was not who they thought. Questions of guilt, responsibility, revenge and recognition are tackled head-on by a talented young cast, who’s brave performances expose them and the audience to a whole set of questions often kept locked away. SW
A performance as clever as it is expressive – Delphine will keep you guessing right until the end.
This is a play about growing up, a coming-of-age story made more poignant by Delphine entering her third decade still living in her mother’s house, sleeping in the bed where she was born, and dreaming of everyday experiences she’s convinced are beyond her reach. Crippled by shyness in the outside world, where talking to strangers brings her out in a blush she calls ‘the creep’, we’re invited into her room, a nest-like space cocooning her from disappointment and stress. Comfortable here, she confides her secrets, including a recent relationship that could transform her prospects. Delphine herself is reminiscent of Mike Leigh’s most detailed and convincing characters, appearing as a real person with a complete inner life. Clare Pointing’s performance is as clever as it is expressive, displaying an intense physicality that never seems strange in such a socially awkward character, as she conveys Delphine’s experiences including a fantasy romance and her first visit to a nightclub. Once invested in her hopes and dreams, the story keeps you guessing right until the end. Delphine reminds us what we learnt through the necessary pain of growing up: and, just as importantly, how we need to keep learning throughout life. LN
A powerful experience, leaving a hunger for more.
This performance by Leeds University student company stage@leedscompany offers a contemporary response to Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu’s ‘Nanke Ji’. The story has an intriguing air of early fantasy and science fiction in the vein of Gulliver’s Travels, as the central character enters a Kingdom of Ants and is given the chance to fulfil the dreams denied to him in reality. In this adaptation, the main character has been updated to a soldier returning from Iraq, finding it hard to adjust to civilian life and far more at home when offered military glory in the fantasy realm. It’s a powerful experience to watch a classic tale for the first time, leaving a hunger for more. When released from the confines of the Fringe format, scenes could be added to develop the characters and heighten the emotional punch of the final act. The actors do well in mixing a naturalistic style with elements from Chinese theatrical tradition, giving a great introduction to a playwright little known in Britain, and demonstrating how contemporary adaptations don’t have to be confined to familiar classics. LN
This spiky, in your face two-hander charting the rise and fall of fictional punk band The Rips is tonally spot on and funny to boot.
Viv Albertine will be happy to know that a female punk band – albeit a fictional one – is at the heart of this bittersweet story of two girls’ rebellion against the machine. At times laugh out loud funny, at others provocative, and at others deeply sad, Fran & Leni lives up to its feminist punk inspirations: the two protagonists are neither defined by nor indebted to men, they make their own way, do their own thing, and say whatever they need to say to make themselves heard. SW
A sweet and intelligently written take on friendship and intimacy – and fish.
Although at first we were a little apprehensive on entering the performance space for this show, confronted by two women in lycra, it turned out to be very much worth sticking with. Goggles is a sweet and intelligently written take on friendship and intimacy – and fish. It was brilliantly performed by Josie Dale-Jones and Gemma Barnett, who really complimented each other on stage. They totally charmed the audience, cleverly taking their characters in and out of the main narrative of the show. A very promising young company. LE
Our kind of spoken word – lyrical and heartfelt storytelling combined with beautiful songs.
An intimate hour of coming-of-age storytelling from Tom Gill, whose way with words and engaging personality are a truly winning combination. Reminiscent in some ways of Richard Milward’s Apples, Growing Pains combines quick-witted lyricism with original songs in telling the story of a young adult escaping his hometown and his bullying father for life in London and his dream of becoming an actor.
At times inspirational, at others deeply moving and poignant, Gill is a revelation, his wordplay matched by his songwriting and guitar playing. This is not a dull one-man spoken word show – this is a young life on stage, living for the moment, breaking the mould and looking to the future. SW
★★★★ Grumble: Sex Clown Saves the World | Underbelly, Cowgate | Aug 4-9, 11-14, 16, 18-21, 23-28 | 8:45pm | From £6
Extreme, naked clownery – a truly unique fringe experience!
The whole fringe was rumbling about Grumble, the extreme naked clown who’s bringing punk feminism to Cowgate. We quivered with anticipation on approach to our spiritual fringe mecca, Underbelly’s Belly Dancer space. Grumble’s eye-opening show is a venus flytrap to the male gaze – we watched as geezers dotted throughout the audience realised this wasn’t going to be the titilating strip-show they might have expected from the saucy poster. Grumble’s stage is strewn with rubbish, dishevelled newspaper and odd knickknacks, but this is no throwaway show – it’s adult clowning with a message, and it’s a truly unique fringe experience! RD
A winning combination of theatre, acrobatics and dance telling a dark story with dark beauty.
A trio of talented performers – Harriet Feeny, Francois Lecomte and Adam Gordon – tell the story of lonely hearts Edith Cole and Ralph Conti who fall in love but embark ona murderous spree, for which ultimately they are held to account. Tooth+Nail Theatre Company specialise in this sort of dark material, investing it with welcome dashes of humour and eschewing straightforward performance for a highly physical interpretation. The performances are subtle and nuanced, the lighting and sound sultry and seductive, and the combination of source material – based on the true story of the 1950s ‘Lonely Hearts Killers’ – and performance style is a triumph. SW
An honest and uplifting celebration of love and fidelity – Cilla would be proud!
Rob Drummond explores that crazy thing called love: what draws people together and what keeps them together? This being a show from the man behind hits Bullet Catch and Quiz Show, there’s a twist of course: Rob invites two ‘lucky’ audience members to join him on stage, to experience a first date in front of a live theatre audience.
Think First Dates with the science thrown in – Drummond coaches the potential lovebirds through their date, whilst explaining the science behind love, attraction, fidelity and – of course – infidelity.
Perhaps unfairly, there is some cynicism towards shows with such integral audience interaction – one wonders how much is truly left to chance, or whether the participants are briefed in advance. As it turns out, In Fidelity appears to be a thoroughly honest production – if there is trickery behind the date elemt of the show, it is well disguised. And regardless, the audience reaction says it all when the couple share a parting kiss – this is a heartwarming and uplifting show which talks up the joys of relationships and celebrates that greatest of human qualities, the desire to share our lives with someone we love. SW
A visually agile look at loss that steers clear of overly emotive crutches.
It Folds is a beautiful and slightly perturbing show revolving around the way we navigate grief and loss. It is moving, but it is brave enough not to rely on emotional manipulation for its strength. There is talk of death, but its declared matter-of-factly. There is music, but not smulchy ballads designed to invoke tears. There are moments of humour, the reaction to which seem to reflect the awkwardness of humour in the face of tragedy. Anyone who has experienced grief can no doubt recognise the visual metaphors and relate to the behaviours presented – although whether someone who has never lost anyone might react in the same way is a question we can’t answer (there were some young people in the audience who seemed decidedly distracted). The cast are all brilliant in achieving a delicate and nuanced hour of performance. Particularly impressive is 16 year old Ben Sullivan – to find such a committed young performer is a blessing, and his wordless performance is quite mesmerising. LE
Not your average stand-up – an hour of surprising and thought-provoking observational comedy, turning the lens back on comedy itself.
Comedy about comedy isn’t new, but then what is? Douglas Walker isn’t re-inventing the wheel, but he’s using it in his own way in this show which gradually builds to a surprisingly philosophical climax. A recurring joke about an Adoption Services-like department for re-homing poorly executed jokes is the skeleton around which Komischer fleshes out the very artform of comedy, and asks: is it all about the material, the performer, or the context? SW
★★★★ Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons | Roundabout @ Summerhall | Aug 11-15, 17-22, 24-28 | 12:10pm | From £12
An expertly delivered look at a word-starved world and its effect on love.
We’re happy to say that this show lives up to the hype surrounding it from last year. A daily word limit is a refreshingly different dystopian concept – which, as unlikely as it seems, is a frightening thought (and, parallels with the EU referendum are worryingly evident – in a way that makes it hard to believe the show wasn’t written this year…). The show does touch on the politics of the situation, but focusses on one couple’s experience. It is more about relationships and the communication within them than anything else, but with this fresh and intriguing angle to highlight the problems of missing connections. Both performers are accomplished and impressive as they switch between words stilted by the law and what comes to seem almost like blabbering by contrast at times; as the story moves back and forth through time. The approach to being entirely in the round at Roundabout is also admirable and we are never left wondering what’s happening, even when the characters are wordless and still. LE
Improvised material from an inherently funny stand up.
This show is a work in progress and it’s in the early stage, so it’s a touch hard to review – there’s very much the sense that what you see in the finished article will not be the same. But… our version was a very good one and we have every reason to believe that yours will be too. It is essentially one-woman improvisation, but Martin has put a structure into place that seems to work. The show essentially revolves around audience questions that may or may not spark memories and generate jokes or comic tales. In the most part, they do – and Martin also has a couple of genre tricks up her sleeve that are likely to result in laughter whether they fail or succeed. This is quick witted comedy – Martin is smart and likeable, and funniness seems an innate part of her personality. LE
★★★★ Michelle McManus: Pop Goes The Idol | Stand in The Square | Aug 6-14, 17-21, 24-28 | 8:20pm | From £12
Saved from “local lass sings karaoke” territory by McManus’s personable comedy persona, a community spirit, and a belting climax!
The 2003 Pop Idol winner returns to the fringe for the final part of her one-woman show trilogy. It’s no surprise that there is demand for McManus – intenational pop stardom may have eluded her, but there’s every suggestion that she’s actually quite glad, and there can be no doubting that this type of performance – engaging with an intimate audience, delivering hilarious anecdotes and artfully dropping in the odd joke or two – is where she’s really in her element. All This Time fans, fear not – the winner’s song gets an expertly performed outing at the end, following some earlier trips into pure karaoke territory with the likes of My Way and You’re So Vain. But this show is all about personality, storytelling, and charm to spare. SW
Solidly executed new writing that’s moving and relatable.
Living up to the standards that we have come to expect from the Traverse, this is a play that might not be about to change the world, but it is well performed, and written with a keen observational eye. Milk is a story of love, needs, desires, and the nourishment of these, across three generations. Three pairs of characters aptly express the problems and needs of their generations, in stories that are nicely told, though perhaps never dipping far below the surface. The question of the degree to which love and food can substitute for one another is indeed interesting and current; but what are we to do about this modern-day problem in all its nuances? Who knows. The cast are strong, and performances emotive – particularly impressive is Tam Dean Burn, playing the role of Cyril (standing in for Cliff Burnett) who seemed to bring a tear to the eye of a fair few in the audience. LE
Happy-go-lucky Aussie charm sprinkled with fierce observation.
Nath Valvo is a likeable guy with jokes we can all relate to (well, there is one bit that might be slightly more relevant to a certaindemographic, but we won’t spoil that for you…). He has a good energy and a skinny, white gay-boy kind of charm. (Ed.: Can we say this? We’re saying this.) His comedy manages to avoid being ‘gay comedy’ though, which is refreshing – Valvo’s sexuality is merely a part of what underpins his experiences. His material revolves loosely around parents, their quirks, and your likelihood of turning into them – something that’s hard not to laugh at. Valvo’s sometimes self-deprecating observations make him hard not to warm to and his brief sallies into dance are quite delightful. There are some unexpected jaunts away from the traditional stand-up-and-talk-for-an-hour comedy format. which are slightly surprising and very welcome. Valvo also seems to have a lot of hate in varying amounts for a number of things and people. People with hatred of the world should always be encouraged to go into it, in our book, and Valvo vents in a way that still has the audience on side, and in fits. LE
★★★★ Peter and Bambi Heaven: The Magic Inside | Assembly George Square Gardens | Aug 4-14, 16-28 | 10:30pm | From £8
A camp and calamitous spoof on the Las Vegas magic acts which falls just one show-stopping finale short of pure comedy gold.
We’re big fans of Asher Treleaven after his sleazeball appearances in La Soirée, and here he teams up with Gypsy Wood for an often hilarious piss-take aimed at those cabaret magicians who take themselves so, so seriously. This is an act rich in potential, and there are plenty of times when that potential is mined with perfection: failed or flimsy tricks performed with unsurpassable conviction, accidental nudity, failed cues, cheesy dancing and of course a fascinating (and fascinatingly twisted) relationship between Peter and his latest girlfriend-cum-magician’s assistant. Wood’s character is a riot, desperate for attention, flashing her wares at every opportunity. Treleaven plays it fairly straight as Peter, resisting the urge to ham it up too much. Somehow though, the show never quite hits the stratospheric heights we had hoped for, and the final flourish falls a little flat. Nevertheless, this is a supremely silly and entertaining show that isn’t stingy with the laughs, and should get better and better. SW
The little mermaid, this aint!
Well, there are some similarities… But Pond Wife is bursting with 90s cheeky nostalgic glee that makes for a delightful hour under the depths of Underbelly Cowgate. Some nice flourishes of theatre magic make for a cute coming of age story for the millennial generation. TLC’s Waterfalls and numerous other songs are turned into prose or played to fit the story (which just about makes sense!), which performers Holly and Ted deliver with aplomb. Our only concern was the use of so much 90s music it almost became Top of the Pops 2 (which millenials may not remember…) RD
★★★★ Puddles Pity Party: Let’s Go! | Assembly George Square Gardens | Aug 10-14, 16-21, 23-29 | 7:25pm | From £14
An enigma of a show that will leave you smiling the Puddles smile nonetheless…
Before 7th August 2016 we could not understand Puddles (Ed.: Speak for yourself, Laura!). We watched the videos online and frankly just didn’t get it – that thing that seems to make everyone who has seen him smile and nod all-knowingly. So we went to his show – and now we know. Annoying as it is to say, you probably can’t really get it until you’ve seen him. Yes, he is a clown who sings songs. Yes, he is a clown with a great voice who pulls out members of the audience onto the stage. But there’s something else to it – something more than the physical comedy and the well-timed video work. Something that’s more like a feeling and it’s hard to put your finger on. So you’ll just have to go and see the show if you want to know! (Ed.: Tease much?) LE
Absurd humour from a man who believes in himself. And not you.
Sam Simmons sits right on the line – the constant incredulity towards his audience feels just on the right side of awkward to still be funny, but for some, almost definitely, it’s just the wrong side. But that’s all part of the fun! His seemingly totally random set of characters and observations are brilliantly performed – Simmons could almost make anything funny, and yet these characters are the ones he has chosen, and painstakingly crafted into a show which, actually, is pretty cleverly made. Marmite – marmite that’s clever and funny. LE
Joyously silly, with added smarts.
At first, we are all a bit unsure. The show opens well, but in the first section it is almost like these guys are using the stage as an extension of their teenage bedrooms. It feels a bit like tidied-up pratting about and we’re not sure what it is – a mime show for the modern era? The gamer’s answer to cabaret? But by the half way point, Sirqus Alfon have shown us their other side – the clever side. The way they use light, cameras, live feeds and sound is so skilful as to inspire genuine awe. And actually, maybe even partly due to the earlier pratting about, we are on board and having a great time. Everyone (well, there’s always one isn’t there – we don’t count him) is up for the audience involvement (not scary!) – we strongly advise you to get involved with this… it will pay off, promise. So give this show the benefit of the doubt, maybe go with friends, and stay open-minded. LE
★★★★ Stephen Bailey: Nation’s Sweetheart | Just the Tonic at The Caves | Aug 13-14, 16-28 | 7:20pm | From £5
Your new potty-mouthed best friend.
Filthy but friendly, Stephen Bailey warns us about the forthcoming dick jokes and then delivers them with a smile. His chatty, casual style of stand-up makes it genuinely hard to believe that it’s all scripted. And that’s where his charm lies… we feel like we’re all part of the 16 person dick-pic analysis group Bailey warns the straight men about (the reality of what happens when you send such a pic, apparently). We’re in the know, we’re in the Stephen Bailey in-crowd, we’re on the right table in the canteen. ‘We’re friends now right?’ he asks, and we really believe that we could be. Bailey’s convivial repartee allows him to get away with delivering the smutty jokes, but his material ranges further, from real life conversations with porn film makers to stories about internet dating and his family. It’s all good stuff and there is raucous laughter in the room. It’s definitely not for prudes or the faint-hearted, but if you’re game for a laugh and a bit of insight into grindr, this is the show for you. LE
★★★★ Tom Ward: Sex, Snails and Cassette Tapes | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 7-14, 16-28 | 9:45pm | From £9.50
An impressive debut hour of comedy.
In the queue for this newcomer, we were really hoping that Tom Ward’s haircut was not the most amusing thing about him. Thankfully, we could breathe a sigh of relief almost immediately, as Ward’s gentle audience chatter showed him to be quick-witted, likeable and funny. His show flits between some classic themes of love, parents and being poor. It also contains a number of unexpected impressions, that are definite highlights. LE
A stirring deluge of words, music and movement expressing the confusion of expression.
Two Man Show is a bit of a head-f*ck of a show, in a good way. The term meta is being bandied about a lot at the moment, and this is a show where it is a pretty appropriate use of the word. There’s lots going on: there’s a play within a play, there are characters within characters, there’s a musician on the sidelines who is sometimes centre-stage. There are layers of clothing that we still haven’t quite figured out. There is music, there is singing, there is dance, there are a lot of inferred references, some more abstract than others. The show is as much about identity and humanity as it is about feminism and patriarchy – probably because they are all part of the same thing. But this show doesn’t feel preachy or twee. To be honest it’s hard to find the words for it, and that’s sort of the point. It’s when the action moves away from the scripted (scripted scripted actually) dialogue that this show is at it’s most potent and vivid – and the ending brings a twist that is raw and unexpected. This is a show that will be bubbling in the brain for a while, because, reflecting its subject, it’s hard to know what we’ve been engaging with exactly, but we want to. LE
A character within a character, laughs on top of laughs – with Zoë Coombs Marr, meta is better!
It took us a little while to get into Trigger Warning. It was also sprinkled with material from last year’s show, serving as an example of what ‘Dave’ the stand-up should no longer be doing now that he is attempting a show as Dave the clown. We waited patiently for the crux of the show to come into focus, and Coombs Marr did not let us down: of course, the structure was part of what made the show clever, as the feminist inner clown alter-ego of a comedy alter-ego of a feminist comedian unpacked before our eyes like a russian doll. That’s what the fringe is all about. The tongue in cheek humour was of the very best quality, as the show rocked up and down – Coombs Marr slipping in and out of layers of meta characters, Dave slipping in and out of accidental drug addled confusion – towards a crescendo that was cheek-achingly brilliant. We couldn’t work out if the show would be better for those who had seen 2015’s Dave or those who hadn’t, but we will definitely be in the front row (ok, not the front row, but 100% in the room) for the next installment! LE
Theatre Ad Infinitum blend text, physical theatre and music to create the structure of their work. Bucket List is the story of a young woman living in Mexico and her struggle with corruption while she attempts to avenge her mother’s death. The story is arresting – it is a powerfully sad tale, one of hope, but also the lack of it. The physical elements of the show work well, the performers slipping in and out of these moments seamlessly, their place within the structure of the show often helping to establish what time and place we are in. The musical elements however are sometimes distracting and at times it feels like spoon-feeding of information we could have done without, or if we couldn’t, why wasn’t it in the dialogue? The show also feels a little overlong, and there are definitely parts that do not seem vital. That said, the clear basis in reality that Milagros’ story shows is reason enough to go and see this show. It is a story worth telling. LE
Clever comedy with superb rhymes.
Chris Turner is a lanky, intelligent white guy, leaning slightly on the posh side, who can really… rap.
His skill at improvising in well-timed rhyme is akin to no other we have seen, and it’s impressive. Raps aside, his show is based loosely around memory, and the lack thereof, and passes through the failsafe themes of love and childhood with a well-pegged poignancy. He definitely had the room; and although we could read some of his set-ups from a slightly awkward distance, they did achieve the desired effect and there were giggles aplenty in the audience. LE
A skilled wordsmith who doesn’t need the sparkly catsuit.
Dandy Darkly clearly has a lot of talent. His stories are complex and dextrously written, they are just the right amount of surreal and show just the right amount of observation. They probably would have been totally engrossing, had we not been sat behind and next to a group of people who clearly weren’t interested, or maybe even could not comprehend what was going on! And Darkly had tried (this has probably happened before?) at the start of the show to ask people if they weren’t enjoying it, to leave quietly. But this group waited half an hour to leave, texting and giggling and whispering all the while. Darkly did deal with this well, he didn’t lose his thread and didn’t lose his momentum – but it was nonetheless very distracting, and meant we missed some key parts of some of the stories. We couldn’t help wondering what the need was for the flashy camp costume and layers of sparkly make up – did this serve to attract an audience, but one that didn’t quite know what they were going into? We certainly hadn’t expected a show of such cleverly woven, eloquent exploration. ‘Spoken word’ should definitely be the category of the show – maybe Dandy Darkly needs to emerge from beneath his costume and come out as a spoken word artist who has definitely got something to say. LE
A definite conversation-starter of a show, whatever your politics.
This is one of those shows, one that seems like something you should see, one that seems ‘important’, one that walks the tricky line of being ‘worthy’… but it probably is worth seeing. It does not give you everything, it does not give you the answer – to the question of Trident, not really; but then, it doesn’t tell you it will. It’s not likely you will have your view changed, but you will might just learn a thing or two. And you will probably enjoy Jenna Watt’s confident and honest delivery, into which she throws touches of humour. The journey of research and discovery she takes you on is perhaps a little limited, but it is one you will almost certainly never take yourself, and in that way it is valuable. This is a definite conversation-starter of a show, whatever your politics. LE
Stallions is billed as sketch comedy but there is also something of the performance lecture about it – the show is somewhere in the middle of the two. The basis is feminism and, between sketches – most of which revolve around gender and/or relationships – we are given some insights into various inequalities and examples from the performers’ real lives. These often have a comic note too, but are sometimes quite stirring. This format is one that could be utilised more. It’s a good juxtaposition which could be focussed on and shouted about. Not all the sketches totally nail it and not all the transitions are totally smooth (although one slight relapse into bronchitis was an issue totally out of the women’s control!). But the hour was a good blend of facts and laughs and it is good to see comedy unashamedly addressing this issue, without it seeming too laboured. Somewhat reminiscent of Sh!t Theatre; the Kitten Killers have promise. LE
Memories of wars past brought beautifully to life by inspired staging.
Robin Berry gives a compelling solo performance in this story of Jack, reminiscing about his experience of World War II from his rest home armchair. The story itself is interesting, and Berry’s performance is a study in character immersion, but the real star of this show is the stunning lighting and projection work. A scene in which Jack’s arm tattoo comes to life is magical, as is the use of falling sand as a projection backdrop. This is not to say that Scorched is a triumph of staging over substance, simply that it was the technical aspects of this production which really stood out to us. There is a slight feeling that this is 45 minutes of truly compelling storytelling stretched to an hour, and somewhere during the running time things do seem to drag. Nevertheless, Scorched was a unique fringe experience for us this year, and you can’t say that about many shows on the fringe… SW
Character comedy with definite promise.
Daniel Nils Roberts is a comedian with obvious ability. The intelligence in his material is evident and when it works, it works well. Some moments, however, just missed the mark. The exploration of the hour long stand-up format is inspired but just needs an extra push, and some characters felt slightly unfinished. Saying that, the character who is arguably the most interesting is the one who at first seems dismissable. This love-starved romance writer is a wet fish of a character, but one into whom Nils Roberts has squeezed a plethora of clever and unusual comparative quips. Other characters include a stupid and smarmy charity marketeer and a Christian health advocate. One to watch. LE
An incredulously engaging story which pulls you in and keeps you invested in Nicholas’ quest to find his shudder, right till the end. Daniel Holme admirably performs solo and does a great job – although questions about his character’s past and future are rather teasingly left unanswered. The performance is very slick, with great use of both sound and light, which completely transform the show’s pop-up performance space, minimally but effectively. LE
Ontroerend Goed return with yet another think-piece – mournful and meditative, but hard to enjoy,
Ontroerend Goed productions are almost always on our list of things to see at the fringe, and they never disappoint – even if, as with 2012’s All That is Wrong and this year’s World Without Us, the experience can feel more about endurance than enjoyment.
That’s not to say that this isn’t, somehow, gripping stuff. World Without Us is a one man show, a monologue bookended by audio and visual projections. The tone is at once instructional, philosophical, meditative and mournful. The audience is given time to think, to imagine, to picture a world without human influence: would that be such a bad thing, really? Perhaps the world would flourish without us. And what of our lasting legacy, that which will outlive us for the longest, the final remnant of life on Earth? Though-provoking, then, if not mind-blowing. SW
Crowd-pleasing surreal and dark physical comedy,
At first, Yokai seems to be sketches of physical comedy, segued between by some very attention-drawing scene-setting, which is either funny, or irritating, or both. The sets are a selection of very beautifully made maquette style environments and tiny figures, which turn out to be representations of the people featured in the forthcoming scene. We gradually realise that the scenes are in fact part of a loose structure in terms of narrative, and the themes of modern day anxiety and hopelessness are by the end evident. They are the glue holding the clowning together. Oh yes… there aren’t words, well very few, but The Krumple don’t need them. Their Lecoq training is evident – they are silly and strange and they are vaguely reminiscent of Trygve Wakenshaw (of Kraken), but with a bit more despair. There is a maybe a little way to go, but this group could be great. LE
A great concept, but an opportunity missed for this engaging father and daughter combo.
On paper it shouldn’t work, and then as Bricking It begins, the idea of a father and daughter – he a builder, she a performer – swapping jobs live on stage whilst chatting about their inspirations suddenly seems like it might just be a stroke of genius. Joanna Griffin and her dad Pat are funny and have (unsurprisingly) a sweet chemistry, and the early signs are that this could be a heartwarming triumph. Unfortunately, Bricking It never quite lives up to its promise, or even its premise: Pat isn’t given enough opportunity to perform on his own, and Joanna’s attempt at building a wall is disappointing. Of course, no-one expects either to excel at their borrowed professions, but for a show like this to work, both need to be absolutely committed to doing as good a job as possible. Effort and dedication can be as entertaining as funny stories – here, the balance is tilted in favour of the latter and, whilst the anecdotes are at times charming and touching, there isn’t enough to disguise a half-baked idea. Bricking It feels like a work-in-progress, and perhaps that’s what it is – given time, Joanna and Pat could develop a great show – it’s just not quite there yet. SW
★★★ Briefs Factory Presents: Sweatshop | Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows | Aug 11-14, 16-22 | 11pm | From £13.50
High hopes weren’t quite met with this late night cabaret produced by the Australian boylesque ensemble Briefs.
The concept of a factory sweatshop gets a bit lost in what is, essentially, your standard cabaret variety show. Hostess Miss Frisky presides over the night with a couple of big numbers each followed by a cabaret act from the fringe, including sex clown monster Grumble. The line-up changes each night, but on a wet and windy Monday night we didn’t see anything too memorable or different. Our highlight was seeing Nate Valvo for the third time – also at Spank! and the Gilded Balloon Press Launch – doing five minutes of standup whilst running on a treadmill in a morph suit. We would definitely award him a Fringe First for being the hardest working comedian on the fringe (alas, it’s not in our power). RD
Bubble Schmeisis is a show about a Jewish man’s experience of his first Schvitz – recounting his first visit to a Jewish steam bath; and also veering into stories of his past. It feels authentically Jewish – and in this way it’s eye-opening. Even having Jewish friends or studying Judaism at school will probably not mean that you have any real insight into Jewish culture – which is as complex and nuanced as any. Nick is a likeable guy, but his performance – although very friendly – leaves something to be desired, and feels a little forced at times, especially where the humour is concerned. The frequent repetition of lines without reason or punchline begin to grate a little. There was also a sort of elephant in the room when it came to the question of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Of course, no show can hope to say all there is to say, and Bubble Schmeisis is not about the conflict, but the brief mentions open a crack in a box of which the lid is never lifted. We would probably have preferred the remarks not to have been included. That said, this is a good one to see if you aren’t Jewish and you want to learn something and get some insight into another culture. Or, if you are Jewish, and you want to see something that feels relevant to that part of your life. LE
Kill The Beast return with more camp silliness, but missing the heart and soul of He Had Hairy Hands.
Back in 2014, Kill The Beast were a lucky find as we passed time at the Pleasance Courtyard. Their first fringe show – which you can catch again this year, and we very much recommend – was a gothic romp, a sort of mash-up of Frankenstein and Midsummer Murders. The comedy was zany, the performances more so, and the result an unqualified success. Their sophomore effort doesn’t quite pull off the same trick again, and perhaps that’s the problem. This time, it’s High Rise meets Red Dwarf via Galaxy Quest and Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens. There’s the usual League of Gentleman-esque stylings, and the performances are endearingly goofy, but somehow the whole thing feels less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps some fresh ideas are needed. SW
A family show with promise – if not quite the finished article.
Stylistic nods to Avenue Q are evident in The Toyland Murders, which contains some strong performances in the roles of the two detectives. The work involved in the production of this show is very evident – with some fantastically crafted puppets. A little bit more work on physicality and staging could go a long way here – but we did see a preview, so there’s bound to be some tweaking. A good show for both bigger kids and willing adults. LE