All 84 of our Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2017!

All 84 of our Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2017!

The To Do List team once again spent August gallivanting around Edinburgh, seeking out the finest fringe frolics of 2017….

So, without further unnecessary ado, here are ALL OF OUR EDINBURGH FRINGE 2017 REVIEWS in one place!

★★★★★ A Hundred Different Words for Love | Summerhall | Aug 6-20, 22-27 | 16:30 | £10

Deceptively simple yet profoundly moving – a story about love as charming as it is beautiful.

James Rowland – self-confessed middle-class, white, cisgender heterosexual child of Richard Curtis (not literally) – is the one man of this one man show, setting aside his (also self-confessed) privilege to tell a universal story about love that should resonate with all and anyone.

Whilst notionally a love story, this is more an examination of the anxiety, excitement, wonderment, confusion, bliss, turmoil, hurt, pain and hope that love is. Rowland is an instantly likeable, warm and reassuring presence, eminently skilled in storytelling and capable not only of instantly putting his audience at ease but holding them in the palm of his hand as he weaves a tail that may, or may not, be entirely untrue.

Only the coldest of hearts will be unmoved, and whether you are single, in a relationship or somewhere in between, you will leave Summerhall’s Anatomy Theatre full of hope. After all, love really is…


★★★★★ Adam | Traverse Theatre | Aug 13, 15-20, 22-27 | Times Vary | £21.50

A powerful piece which will move the majority.

Adam is the true story of a young man’s transition from girl living in Egypt to man living in Glasgow. There are two performers who both play Adam, switching between this and other supporting roles – and one of the performers is real-life Adam, who somewhat reluctantly came round to the idea of being in the piece. Is it that much more powerful knowing that the person being portrayed is there on the stage? Perhaps. But this surely reflects the power of this story.

The journey from female to male or male to female might be being discussed now more than ever; but this journey is also of persecution, of abuse, of the confines within a culture, of running away and of being doubted once you have run. And all whilst also trying to make the journey from female to male, physically speaking. It really hits home what incredible and difficult situations people can be in and it is amazing and beautiful that Adam made it through this.

It is also interesting to learn (after years of personally berating how binary our language is and how difficult it will be to help it become more neutral) that English is in fact better, less binary, in fact than some other languages. Arabic, we learn, puts gender into words and not just pronouns – so gender is intrinsic.

What is also noteworthy in this story is that it was the internet, that dark realm we can be so skeptical of, that helped Adam to feel alright about himself, to feel less alone. And the use of the internet in the show itself, connecting us to a world of trans and non-binary people who come together as a choir at the end of the show, is really quite moving.

The show is beautifully made and uses the stage and space well – in true Traverse tradition, the set is impressive. Adam Kashmiry and Neshla Caplan are both powerful and work well together.

This show is that kind of of rare experience which is both educational and visceral. It’s perhaps the kind of thing you might feel you ‘should’ go and see, but only when you go will you really appreciate it. LE

★★★★★ BlackCatfishMusketeer | Summerhall | Aug 12, 16, 18-20, 23, 25-27 | 19:10 | £11

Expertly written musing on 21st century relationship forging.

BlackCatfishMusketeer is a love story. It is a classic kind of story, but for the modern age. It deals with the increasingly popular (sort of) method of finding love – online dating. And it does so very well.

The story is effectively simple – boy ‘meets’ girl, boy and girl encounter obstacles within their relationship (one large such obstacle being that they live in different countries) and try to overcome them.

It sounds like it could be so many other narratives, but it’s very well written and performed, and it addresses not only the difficulties of love, of getting to know someone and of timing; but also the nature of online interactions and how the internet’s own complexities play into those difficulties. In addition to this, the pair’s philosophical conversations are at once complex and everyday, as they discuss the ideas around what we know, or rather what we don’t know, which is all we can ever truly know. This reflection when applied to human relationships is the crux of the show perhaps and can provide a multitude of meaning if you’re prepared to look for it.

There are three performers in the show – the man, the woman, and the person playing ‘IT’, essentially the characterisation of the internet’s stage directions. She describes the things that aren’t words that we, the users of the internet, seem unable to resist using – the emojis, the memes, the links. It is a role that somehow works really well, not feeling crass or intrusive and not letting technology take over the show. Aiofe Spratt brings a real humour and strange intuition to this role. Catherine Russell and Ste Murray’s characters feel genuine and relatable, recognisable in their everyday awkwardness. All three performers do a brilliant job and kept this overtired reviewer completely engaged from start to finish.

This is a great show. There isn’t that much more you could ask from a piece of Fringe theatre. LE

★★★★★ Demi Lardner: Look What You Made Me Do | Underbelly, Cowgate | Aug 13, 15-27 | 21:20 | £10 – £11

A wonderful weirdo destined for big things.

Demi Lardner champions a kind of non-stop comedy that is refreshingly hard to describe. In this show she starts by proudly declaring in a homemade sign, ‘NO REFUNDS’.

Lardner’s batshit crazy hour then sees a parody of her stepdad Gavin in an odd situation, being stuck in a basement constantly on the phone to a life insurance telemarketer.

Her comedy is sophisticated in its silliness, almost in a kids TV, hyperactive style, with what feels like a hundred skits going on every minute including a rather hilarious box turtle impression!

Lardner is truly an original in a sea of similarity. Catch her while you can! RD

★★★★★ Great British Mysteries? | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 6-13, 15-28 | 15:30 | £9 – £10

Spoof character comedy at it’s finest.

On a whim and struck by the League of Gentlemen style poster, I entered the cellar at the Pleasance Courtyard with a lust for a good mystery. And oh boy did The Cloak and Dagger Club satisfy my curiosity.

Rose Robinson and Will Close’s debut hour of mockumentary channels the Channel 5 shockdoc to get closer to the truth behind mysteries including The Loch Ness Monster, The Ealing Hauntings and even Noel Edmonds. The non-stop gag-fuelled script masterfully gives the twosome a chance to flex their comedy muscles and play it silly.

This pair are going to go far, with their blend of audio visual gags and committed conspiracy theorist characters Olive Bacon and Dr. Teddy Tyrell. We see this show working really well as a TV special and hope a TV producer picks it up.

In summation an oddball trawl worth delving into. You might even learn something (silly). RD

★★★★★ On Ice – Suzanne Grotenhuis/De Nwe Tijd | Upper Church @ Summerhall hosted by RBC | Aug 6, 8-13, 15-20, 22-27 | 14:00 | £10

Irrestistable offbeat comedy and heartfelt storytelling combine in this one-woman epic about buying an ice rink (or is it?)

Suzanne Grotenhuis is a remarkable performer who gives her all in this oddball comedy about why she bought an ice rink with prize money she won for a previous show.

Grotenhuis is a powerful comic storyteller and along the way she manages to cover such diverse topics as the milky way, relationships and even the Voyager Golden Record, an album currently somewhere in the constellation Camelopardalis!

Not to give everything away, the show is about much more than the title would suggest, and takes the audience on a meandering journey through life and what’s really important. There are some spectacular – and at times ethereal –  theatrical moments in the show, which move the narrative into the extraordinary.

Above all else though, the thing that really makes the show pop is Grotenhuis’ spot-on, energetic, confessional delivery, which makes us instantly warm to her and more than happy to spend an hour in her zany company. RD

★★★★★ Paris de Nuit | Assembly George Square Gardens | Aug 4-8, 10-13, 15-20, 22-27 | 20:30 | £11 – £16

Sensational, swoon-worthy cirque classique!

Hungarian circus troupe Recirquel transport us to the saucy world of 1930s Pigalle for this dazzling display of deliciously different circus skills, interactive flourishes and mesmerising direction.

From the outset the show references the golden era of Parisian cabaret whilst throwing in modern inclusive twists, like a trapeze act featuring two men romantically twisting for our enjoyment. The femmes fatales under this big top were empowered women ooozing sex appeal and charisma, never being sidelined as just eye-candy.

The acts within this tightly choreographed one-hour spectacle were truly distinct and world-class. Highlights include a side-splitting husband and wife aerial comedy routine featuring the Leonetta Lakatos, a high-flying acrobatic group tango, Zsanett Veress’ tight-rope tease, and even a hilariously inventive juggling act with a hard-done-by assistant (Erika Vasas, channeling Claudia Winkleman). A special mention should also go to the charismatic (and easy on the eye) Renato Illes, one half of a truly beautiful trapeze routine.

This show deserves to be a massive hit at the fringe this year. VIVE ‘PARIS DE NUIT’! RD

★★★★★ Palmyra | Summerhall | Aug 8-13 | 13:15 | £10
EXTRA SHOWS ADDED: 21-23 @ 10am

A thrilling tightrope walk of a show – tense yet cathartic, angry yet thoughtful.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people must set out to create a show with the intention of treading that fine line between humour, pain, anger, love, hurt, resentment, pathos, hubris, dedication, obsession, conflict and reconciliation. Very few manage to find the perfect balance, and when you’re lucky enough to stumble upon such a show – in an old veterinary school building, say – it really is a privilege.

And so, to Palmyra – a two-man tightrope walk of revenge and destruction which incorporates balletic movement, arresting imagery and powerful emotion along the way. An exploration of the politics of destruction and barbarism, Palmyra is also about everyday rivalry, wilful destruction and the eruption of pent-up aggression. It is at times funny, at times deeply moving, and at time frightening.

Bertrand Lesca & Nasi Voutsas are mesmerising, alternating between friendly warmth, paranoid angst and barely controlled rage. 55 minutes minutes in their company passes in a flash, and the imagery of Palmyra sticks in the mind for days after. A five star triumph. SW

★★★★★ Tom Allen: Absolutely | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 19-27 | 20:00 | £10
PERFORMANCES ADDED:  Pleasance Dome | Aug 25-26 | 23:00 | £11

A joyous performance from a comedian at the top of his game.

Absolutely is Tom Allen’s tenth solo show at the Fringe, and he’s clearly ready for the big time.

We attend an extra performance added due to demand, which begins eventfully as half the audience are stranded outside the venue following a fire alarm. Allen keeps us amused while we wait, likening his plight to Vera Lyn entertaining the troops. There’s a real buzz here, and the troops aren’t disappointed.

As a camp comedian destined for telly stardom, Allen is often compared to Julian Clary and Graham Norton – but he’s clearly his own man, with his own distinct style. Allen refers to this kind of stereotyping while relating his experience as the token gay man on a hen night, under pressure to behave entertainingly while undergoing all the usual cringeworthy activities: crafting, karaoke and an incongruous gondola trip in Reading, floating past Aldi, with the punchline referring neatly back to a joke earlier in his routine.

Allen’s varied material cleverly links together throughout, characterised by intelligent observation and reaction. A standout is the condensing of the entire experience of primary school into one glorious routine portrayed through the increasingly frenetic activities of the teacher. LN

★★★★★ Wild Bore | Traverse Theatre | Aug 10-13, 15-20, 22-27 | Times Vary | £21.50

One of the best shows at the Fringe this year, for no apparent reason.

We’ve all spoken out of our arses on occasion, some more than others – and reviewers/critics can be the most prone of all to arse-speak. It is refreshing, then, to see a show that turns talking shit into an art form.

Ursula Martinez, Zoe Coombs Marr and Adrienne Truscott turn the spotlight on to the reviewers in this riotously funny and unflinchingly in-your-face rebuttal of mindless criticism. No-one is denying that critics have a place, and that their criticisms are often well-founded – but the target here are those reviews that seem to start from a base of miscomprehension, misunderstanding or miserable party pooping, and proceed to make vacuous, meaningless and downright lazy observations.

That target is well and truly skewered, with Martinez, Coombs Marr and Truscott taking aim not only at their own bad review(er)s, but at the undeniably entertaining yet logically-challenged barbs aimed at Al Pacino and others.

Wild Bore is not for the easily offended, nor for anyone likely to be affronted by three women celebrating their sex, their sexuality and their bodies – and by the way, if you’re thinking that this show might have diversity issues, you’d be wrong. But you’ll need to see the show to find that out.

Dramaturgically flawless. SW

★★★★½ A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 6-8, 10-15, 17-22, 24-28 | 14:20 | £9 – £12

A touching and funny musical exploration of depression.

Depression is a tricky subject to tackle at the fringe as not even the most avid theatregoer is often looking for an hour long power punch to the gut.

This show however delivered on every level, finding time for the highs and lows of mental health issues through quirky song, honest memoirs and a humility unseen in lots of shows about ‘issues’.

The immensely talented writer Jon Brittain (Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho) and composer Matthew Floyd Jones (Frisky and Mannish) clearly work really well together and we hope to see this partnership again in future incarnations.

As a depression sufferer myself the show really hit home. Madeleine MacMahon (the protagonist)’s exquisite performance had me and many others bawling in the last section of the show.

Overall this show is an unexpected gem, fusing the ups and downs and power of talking about mental health problems more widely.

Ask for help! RD

★★★★½ Bare Skin on Briny Waters | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 8-14, 16-28 | 13:00 | £10 – £11

Sadly familiar stories told with utter commitment.

Bare Skin on Briny Waters is comprised of two women’s stories – two women who are struggling in two different ways. There is no set, no theatrics, simply two performers telling two tales, and a musician. It is a beautiful piece of story-telling that enthralls right from the start. The two performers are totally engrossing, making eye-contact with the audience regularly in this intimate Fringe venue and drawing us right into their worlds. The stories themselves are sobering and all the more so because they could be the stories of so many – the basis of both characters being so familiar – they remind us of people we may know, even ourselves maybe.

The only thing we wondered was if the links between the stories needed to be made so pointedly. We felt that the stories would have been enough on their own. But that’s a minor point, and speaks to the strength of the characters and their portrayals.

Both Charlie Sellers and Maureen Lennon give great performances, utterly believable as Sophie and Annie. The music adds nicely to the show, giving an added sense of whimsy, and the musician did a great job of disappearing into the story despite being centre stage. Contemplative work which, although less than cheery, also holds a hint of hope. A very touching show. LE

★★★★½ DollyWould | Summerhall | Aug 6-20, 22-27 | 21:15 | £8
EXTRA SHOWS ADDED: 22nd at 13:15 and 27th at 19:30

A Sh!t Theatre gem (or rhinestone).

When we first saw that Sh!t Theatre’s latest show is about Dolly Parton and not about some kind of pertinent social or political issue, we wondered what form it would take and whether it would live up to its predecessors. But we needn’t have worried – here, Sh!t Theatre are doing what they do best and the show does not disappoint.

Dolly Parton may have held the ambition of being a superstar, but she is not the star of this show. Louise and Becca are as impressive, funny and thoughtful as ever and the show’s sudden and unexpected turns are what will keep you entertained – and not without raising some subtle issues through the brash fun of it all. There’s a little bit of shock, a teensy bit of horror but most importantly, smiles and laughs a plenty. DollyWould may not be as succinct or direct as some of their previous shows, but it tries to tell us why – and within that honesty there’s something under the surface that, who knows, might some day be a future show. This one is fine for now though – more than fine, it’s a fab experience. And no, you don’t have to love Dolly Parton to like this show… but some gasps at certain particular moments suggested that the Dolly die-hards were into it – almost as much as the Sh!t Theatre die-hards! LE

★★★★½ Elf Lyons: Swan | Underbelly Med Quad | Aug 12-14, 16-28 | 21:30 | £9 – £10

A bonkers Swan Lake by clown extraordinaire Elf Lyons.

Elf Lyons recreates the ubiquitous bird-based ballet to offer an expert hour of surreal physical comedy.

Lyons’ hilarious Franglais accent, mixed with the unpredictability of her speech and actions, makes her a one-of-a-kind on the fringe.

Memorable moments including an evil Von Rothbart are mixed with introspective asides delving into the Lyons’ psyche. We would pay top dollar to see the warped mind of Elf Lyons let loose at the Royal Opera House on a grand scale – until then, we’ll make do with this hour of madcap mayhem which is exhaustingly funny. RD

★★★★½ Half Breed | Assembly George Square Theatre | Aug 5-13, 15-27 | 12:20 | £11 – £12

An impressive show concerning the ever-present old issue of race.

This is a very compelling and impressive performance from Natasha Marshall, who competently indicates several characters with slick, clear and at times, humorous transitions. The writing is excellent and the prose switches between obvious verse and a more everyday style of speech, in a way that feels fluid and natural. The emotional truths told in this writing are sadly all too familiar, but are powerful nonetheless and the show’s semi-autobiographical nature is inherent and makes the story hit home that tad bit harder. The lighting is used to good effect and the venue works well for the show. Marshall also dealt very well with some venue distractions during the preview performance we saw, appearing unphased and retaining the focus of her performance throughout. LE

★★★★½ Joseph Morpurgo: Hammerhead | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 19-28 | 20:00 | SOLD OUT

Clever and hilarious theatrical parody.

This is a really clever piece of theatrical comedy, parodying the conventions of theatre, old and new. It takes a few minutes to get into, and the very beginning made us a little wary with its brashness. But after those few minutes and getting on board with the performance style, this was a fantastic hour.

Joseph Morpurgo plays a version of himself as a serious actor, who has just finished a 9 hour performance of Frankenstein and is giving a Q & A. The audience are invited to (read) ask questions and the nature of these questions and the answers Morpurgo gives comment on pretty much any aspect of the ‘business’ you could think of, from the use of technology in shows, to over-complicated subtexts and symbolism, to arts funding, and many in between.

If you work in theatre, this show will have an added level of ‘pfnah pfnah’ for you, but this is not purely a big in-joke. Morourgo’s performance is great, and while there are a few subtleties that might only be picked up by the theatrical crowd (my personal favourite was a question from ‘Julie’ that started with her talking about herself for an irritating amount of time), there did look to be plenty in the audience who looked to be enjoying the show’s excellent timing and delivery without necessarily getting every single nuance. It is possible that if you have never been to a post-show Q&A, or moreover, never been to the theatre, this might not be the show for you. But this is the Fringe, so Morpurgo is probably pretty safe!

If you do work in theatre, you really must see this show. LE

★★★★½ Larry Dean: Fandan | Heroes @ Monkey Barrel | Aug 14, 16-27 | 18:40 | Pay What You Want

Great flowing comedy from a likeable Scotsman.

Larry Dean gives a great hour of comedy in this crowded venue (he stops to greet an audience member he ends up practically sitting on at a couple of points in the show!)

The show’s two main topics are sex/sexuality and politics, and which side Dean falls on in both matters is not necessarily obvious on first glance, which is almost the USP for this show. And although he clearly knows where he stands he is not aggressive with it. His show is maybe not suitable for conservative homophobes, but then you’d probably (we hope you’d certainly) struggle to find an Edinburgh fringe show that is.

Dean’s style has a real ease to it and it is surprising to hear that he has low self esteem as he comes across as confident and in control. There is one recurring joke that splits the room a little, but Dean’s material overall is great – honest and conversational, well-timed, with just the right amount of shock value and naughtiness. LE

★★★★½ Phoebe Walsh: I’ll Have What She’s Having | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 10-13, 15-27 | 21:30 | £9 – £11

Remember when Davina McCall was funny? Phoebe Walsh is a million times better than that!

Louis Walsh-style comparisons to Davina McCall aside (although, of course, Louis Walsh would probably have made a far more inappropriate comparison, to a young Sammy Davis Jr perhaps), Phoebe Walsh is the real deal. Seemingly effortlessly funny, she takes this hour-long set by the scruff of the neck, eschewing straightforward observational comedy for a kind of confessional narrative about her life, love, work and everything in between.

As Walsh points out, “we’re born alone, we live with weird people we find on Gumtree, we die alone”, and that’s a pretty comprehensive indication of Phoebe’s outlook on life. Things sometimes don’t work out, we don’t get to choose our family, we make fools of ourselves and lie in the gutter looking up at the stars. Phoebe is determined to keep reaching for those stars.

The Pleasance’s cosy That venue deserves to be packed throughout for Walsh’s Fringe run – there may be more polished (to the point of transparency) hours of stand-up elsewhere, but if you like your comedy loaded with humanity, infectious enthusiasm, a hefty dose of reality and with a cheeky cheesy croon at the end, this is the show for you. SW

★★★★½ Rose Matafeo: Sassy Best Friend | Pleasance Courtyard

Fantastic comedy from this up and coming comedian

Rose Matafeo bursts onto the stage rolling hand made credits to the film that is her life… that is this show. They are beautifully ‘basic’, painted onto brown cardboard – the ‘Starring Rose Matafeo’ card has a hole for her head.

The show came to be through Matafeo being told that she was not the leading lady in her life, she was the sassy best friend. And what has come to be is a brilliantly funny hour of laugh-out-loud comedy.

Matafeo has buckets of energy and is instantly likeable. But her aim for this show is to be loveable – it is to make audience member Paul fall in love with her, the sassy best friend. She can’t be the leading lady – she doesn’t fit the part. She has curly hair and she isn’t white. The show unfolds, flitting around this filmic analogy. And actually, whilst sometimes the structure of the show may seem haphazard, everything is in fact totally relevant both to the show, and to the world we live in. At times Matafeo’s standpoints, her feminism, is blatant, and at others it is more subtle, present in the premise of the show.

The physicality in the show makes us feel tired just watching her – such is her intensity. But it is an intensity full of both fun and warmth. She is utterly engaging. Her use of music and her timing are excellent, a particular highlight being the Michael Jackson sketches which are genius.

By the end, we were rooting for Paul to love her. Indeed we were hoping that somebody loves her, because she is so much more than just the sassy best friend. Either that, or we’ll happily be that sassy best friend thank you very much! LE

★★★★½ The Dreamer | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 6-8, 10-15 | 13:30 | £11.50 – £14.50

Classic texts revisited, keeping all of the magic and them some.

The essence of The Dreamer is a modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is also a little of The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu in the mix. The show is a collaboration between physical theatre company Gecko and the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, and feels very much like a Gecko show – with their characteristic style of movement and clever use of set, lighting and sound. The performers are all from the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre (with one exception, due to unforeseen circumstances), the show is set in Shanghai, and almost all of the text is spoken in Mandarin. Thankfully though, this is not a problem for us non-MAndarin speakers, as it is the physicality that tells us all we need to know about the characters and the story, with a few words of English thrown in for dramatic effect. The show is beautifully put together, with powerful movement and fantastic stagecraft and use of space in true Gecko style. The live violin accompaniment is an added layer, forming the basis of a fantastic and moving sound score which helps the audience to move with the story between dream and reality, between the magical and the mundane. Our only slight reservation was with the inclusion of the parts referring to The Peony Pavilion, which, whilst not a distraction, did not add a huge amount to the show for us and could have been confusing to anyone who had not read the (very swish for the fringe, and free) programme. However the show was a fantastic, different and yet relevant version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which we doubt would disappoint either adventurous fans of the Bard, or fans of Gecko. LE

★★★★½ The Very Important Child | ZOO | Aug 5-6, 8-13, 15-20, 22-24, 27-28 | 21:35 | £6 – £12

Funny, thought-provoking, clever and silly.

Christopher Preece and Virginia Scudeletti are here to teach us a lesson, about Jane Loevinger’s Theory of Ego Development and the Nine Stages of the Ego detailed therein. Are you symbiotic, impulsive, self-protective, conformist, self-aware, conscientious, individualistic, autonomous or integrated? Or are you all of the above, or none?

What might sound like a snooze-fest is in fact a hugely entertaining (yet also contemplative) children’s sand-pit of a show, as Christopher and Virginia compete to teach us about the ego and in doing so, cycle through the various stages before our very eyes. All at once an empirical tutorial and a exercise in highly competitive one-upmanship, The Very Important Child is a fantastically perceptive insight into the human condition, all the while sending up the very self-centredness of identifying ones own stage of development.

A show about ego, self-obsession, competition, attention seeking and showing-off, and a reminder that deep down, we’re all still children who want approval!  SW

★★★★½ Tom Ballard: Problematic | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 20-27 | 20:30 | £11 – £13

Brilliantly balanced stand up addressing equality, prejudice and comedy.

Knowing that this show was about political correctness, I was a little worried going in. I was one of only two non-white people in the audience… and yes, it’s the Fringe, so the Fringe bubble did give me a sense of some security. But when the audience were asked if we were pro-PC, we were unified in silence. Was this because everyone, like me, was terrified of giving the ‘wrong’ answer, or being picked on? Or was this going to be a very difficult hour?!

Thankfully, Tom Ballard’s excellently written show is a well balanced and frank comedic foray into the difficulties as well as the importance of political correctness. He says exactly what a number of people have been thinking for many years, but phrased it all so much better than most ever could, and managed to walk the line between politics and comedy adeptly.

I did wonder, if he wasn’t qualifying the things he was saying with the context of the show itself, if Ballard would still be saying them, or comfortable in saying them out loud, to strangers – talking about finding it funny when someone using a wheelchair got hit by a wheel for example. There is a sense that Ballard allows himself to say this by way of all of the other comments he makes regarding prejudice and discrimination and how abhorrent these views are to him. He allows us to laugh with the same reasoning. He is also – although a white, middle class, cis-gendered man – gay. Being part of a minority, and telling us so, also perhaps gives more of a license to talk more freely on these issues in a way. As he says: “I care about political correctness, but I like laughing at wrong shit”. Perhaps this is how it should be, perhaps we should all really need to qualify our dark humour or ‘inappropriate’ jokes and chat with proof of our belief in equality. This is an ongoing question and it’s a show that certainly contains a lot of food for thought. And also a lot of laughs. A perfect blend for an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show.  LE

★★★★ Aaron Twitchen: Curtain Twitchen | C Venues – C South | Aug 6-14, 16-28 | 18:50 | £8.50 – £9.50

Aerial circus mixed with gossipy stand up comedy works a treat

From the moment Aaron Twitchen flamboyantly introduces himself to the queue line, you know this is going to be a fun hour.

Through a bitchy yet relatable stand up style, Aaron takes us through life, love and proper clubbin’ with his girls. This is spliced with some aerial silk circus moments from Twitchen’s other life as a circus performer.

The combination works best when it looks awkward and somehow enhances the twisted situations Aaron gets himself into. Our one complaint was the slightly false advertising on his poster of him being topless, this was not in the show sadly leading to much disappointment – in fairness though, Twitchen did reveal a testicle at an inopportune moment when his lycra two piece stretched a little too far.

In short an enjoyable hour of stand-up cirque. RD

★★★★ Alan, We Think You Should Get a Dog | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 8-13, 15-28 | 15:30 | £10.50 – £11.50

Heavy subject matter is deftly handled in this tightly written and performed family drama.

The topic of caring for parents is handles sensitively here, in Mad Like Roar’s neatly crafted hour that explores a family struggling to stay together looking after a frail father.

Whilst such a running time hardly allows for the an in-depth study, most audience members will bring enough experience to this subject matter to fill in the gaps – those who feel that they cannot recognise anything this play are very fortunate indeed, and long may their luck continue.

Alan, the titular father, remains unseen throughout – just turned 70, but struggling to cope with an unidentified condition which leaves him housebound. Daughter daisy is the sensible, matter-of-fact type who is struggling to hold things together, moving into her father’s home with her reluctant (or perhaps just realistic) husband. Ollie is the city-working brother, trading by day and partying hard by night, whose sporadic visits – and frustration at being kept out of the loop – frustrate Daisy.

The scene is set for a tense family showdown, a climax where brother and sister learn that there is much about the other that neither understands. Gripping, occasionally wince-inducing stuff, that raises serious questions, if not providing many answers. SW

★★★★ Auntie | Laughing Horse @ 48 Below | Aug 15-20 | 20:45 | FREE

A comedy-drama challenging African attitudes to homosexuality.

Gavino de Vino is a powerhouse performer with a sensitive soul. His website tagline states that he is ‘making the world turn one stomp at a time’.

The show is less sketch show than the poster suggests, and is really about the attitudes of his mother – aka ‘Auntie’ – and a dysfunctional array of characters telling his own struggles with being gay in ‘Kengeria’. There is certainly a lot of humour in the show, and at times poignancy.

This young renegade is destined to go far, and we think he could easily become the next Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) or Chewing Gum’s Michaela Coel… RD

★★★★ The Believers Are But Brothers | Northern Stage @ Summerhall | Aug 6-8, 10-15, 17-22, 24-26 | 12:45 | £10 – £12

A difficult subject sensitively – and innovatively – handled.

Tackling sensitive subject matter in a nuanced, even-handed way is not always best suited to a one-hour slot on the fringe – but handled in the right way, as by Javaad Alipoor here, there is no reason audiences should not be confronted by some of the harsher, complex realities of the modern world.

Extremist radicalisation is the focus of the show, as Alipoor weaves the narratives of three young men whose exposure to a shocking video leads them on a dark and dangerous journey.

Cleverly integrating contemporary instant messaging technology – namely WhatsApp – into the telling of the story allows Alipoor both to bring home the relevance of such media, but also to tell parts of the story that one might feel less comfortable with spoken aloud.

Make sure to have WhatsApp installed when you arrive, and make sure you’ve been added to the dedicated group for the show, otherwise you won’t experience the full performance (and don’t be a refusenik – if you don’t like the idea, probably best to skip the show). That said, if your phone runs out of battery or you lose the wifi connection, you won’t feel stranded. SW

★★★★ Borders by Henry Naylor | Gilded Balloon Teviot | Aug 8-15, 17-28 | 16:30 | £11.50 – £12.50

Powerful, relevant and resonant theatre shining a light on the ongoing refugee crisis and the responsibilities of the West.

A taut, compelling two-hander, simultaneously telling the story of a young, pregnant Syrian woman desperately seeking an escape from her war-ravaged home country; and that of a young, idealistic photographer whose early fame capturing images of OSama Bin LAden leads to a financially lucrative yet unfulfilling career photographic pop stars. Somehow, these two stories gradually converge, and it is testament both to the tightly written script and to the committed, engaging performances that this is pulled off without feeling too unrealistic.

Naylor has found anew way to explore an issue that increases in relevance with each passing day, and early fears that a minority voice is being overshadowed by that of yet another, white, middle-class mansplainer are soon forgotten. In one of Gilded Balloon’s woefully ill-ventilated black boxes, almost no-one was worried about the east by the end – the audience was entirely captivated by two very human stories, and the finale – very much left hanging in the air – should inspire plenty of post-show discussions in the bar. SW

★★★★ Circled in the Radio Times by John Osborne | Voodoo Rooms | Aug 19-27 | 13:30 | FREE

This performance was a highlight of the Brighton Fringe, and is presented here as part of the non-ticketed Edinburgh Free Fringe, offering a great opportunity to catch a standout show for the price you wish to pay. If proof is needed that the Free Fringe can attract artistically important, quality work, this is it.

Engaging and deceptively understated storyteller John Osborne relates how he received a phone call from a friend, asking him to look through his late Granddad’s belongings, including a huge stack of Radio Times. As a lover of television, he jumps at the chance, and finds that beyond the nostalgia value of reading old articles, there’s a more personal connection to the past: his Granddad circled all the programmes he planned to watch over the coming week. He discovers subtle clues to character and situation through this simple activity, some amusing, some heartbreaking.

Looking back after the show, it becomes apparent how deftly the biographical details have been woven into the overall story. Osborne manages to express the rhythms of everyday life as it is lived, where great joys and bereavements are mixed in with and signified by more mundane moments. This subtle and moving performance is far more than the sum of its parts, and Osborne aptly demonstrates the enduring power of storytelling as a style distinct from either theatre or stand-up.

★★★★ DROLL | theSpace on the Mile | Aug 21-26 | 22:05 | £13

This intriguing slice of history, overlooked for centuries, is a must-see.

You’ll be hard-pressed to discover a show that manages to be as intellectually engaging and mind-bendingly daft as Droll.

Theatre company The Owle Screame have made it their mission to perform little known comedy plays from the 1600s, written when Oliver Cromwell declared theatre illegal and often resulting in the actors being carted off to prison. It’s as if the Monty Python parrot sketch was created in a time of oppression, only to be performed again hundreds of years later to an audience in some technologically advanced future. Overlooked by academia for their vulgar craziness, can these proto-sketches still get a laugh from a supposedly evolved and advanced audience? Well, yes, they can.

The Owl Schreame don’t hold back, amping up the weirdness to the max with a ramshackle, anarchic show. This is likely to replicate the original performances, when the actors were probably drunk and performing in secret, with few props. After the performance, while wiping off comedy make-up liberally applied during the show, actor and director Brice Stratford states that these plays prove there is a direct line of irreverent comedy running from Chaucer through to the Mighty Boosh, no matter how much the powers-that-be hoped to stamp it out. LN

★★★★ Education, Education, Education | Pleasance Dome | Aug 8-14, 16-24, 26-27 | 17:20 | £10 – £11

An entertaining step back in time to the very beginning of Blair’s Britain, when things could only get better…

Set the morning after New Labour’s 1997 landslide election victory, this latest from The Wardrobe Ensemble is a little like an live stage production of Teachers, the Channel Four comedy-drama from the early noughties. That’s no bad thing – Teachers was pretty good – and while one could easily accuse Education, Education, Education of being derivative, it finds something interesting to say about the state of the (state) education system pre-1997, the promise that Blair’s election brought, and then the subsequent struggles which see present-day head teachers asking parents to send in donations to buy equipment.

The central story – about a troubled teen struggling against what sees as unfair oppression, and the fallout from her attempts to gain support from teachers and fellow students – is framed within the overarching narrative of a German exchange teaching assistant enjoying/enduring his first day at the school.

Given the well-established ripeness of the school setting for both comedy and drama, it’s no surprise that Education, Education, Education amply supplies the laughs and the tension, and the staging is simple yet imaginative. The real triumph, though, is the cast, who to a person are spot on in their portrayal of those eternally frustrated souls we know as teachers. SW

★★★★ Form | Pleasance Dome | Aug 5-13, 15-28 | 12:00 | £10

20,000 paper balls + 3 impressive performers = escapist heaven

A devilishly talented threesome – twins Tom and Alex Mangan and Jordan Choi – present an hour of expert physical theatre and magical manipulation of objects.

The show tells the story of three office workers, one of whom wants to break the monotony of bureaucracy and adventure across the globe.

Through the imaginative use of a dozen or so cardboard boxes and thousands of white paper balls, surreal worlds are created by this young company. The expressive nature of the performance as well as the speed and skill of object manipulation and visual storytelling are wonderful to watch.

The first 25 minutes is very funny, with cliche-breaking stair-climbing mime fun. After this lightness the show gets gradually more downbeat as the office rebel gets stranded further and further away from civilisation. We believe the comedy elements were this mini marvel’s strong suit and could have been extended to make up more of the show.

In short, Rendered Retina are a terrific theatre trio who should go far with their sense of humour and expressive skills. RD

★★★★ Frankie Vah by Luke Wright | Underbelly Cowgate | Aug 5-13, 15-27 | 21:20 | £12.40 – £14.50

The most universal of passions, with the Luke Wright touch

Love and politics are two topics about which many of us exchange many words. Not many of us however, have words so brashly eloquent as the words of Luke Wright. Frankie Vah is perhaps a little slower than Wright’s shows of the last couple of years, but the show still oozes grit and force, truth and feeling. Wright is heartfelt and animated, and the show is engaging and stirring. LE

★★★★ The Glenda J Collective | Pleasance Dome | Aug 5 | 23:00 | £10

Ace improvisation from this quick-witted and vocally gifted comedy troupe!

A packed house in the Ace Dome had the unique pleasure of one of just three performances at the Fringe from the Glenda J Collective, walking the tightrope walk of improvised comedy, with songs for good measure, as only they can!

Josie Lawrence, Pippa Evans, Cariad Lloyd and Ruth Bratt are a perfect balance of intelligence, cheekiness, impishness, provocation, goofiness, and – above all else – completely undaunted by the fact of not having a clue about what anyone is about to say next.

The audience have their important part to play, suggesting words or phrases – tea towel, small hutch, light bulb and drone – which then appear and reappear seamlessly (or almost seamlessly) through a series of imaginative, inventive sketches.

There can be no better way to end a day at the Fringe than watching funny people being funny. SW

★★★★ Gutted | Pleasance Dome

The Conker Group navigate the trickiest of subject matter with ease. The show reveals the truth behind ulcerative colitis, a rarely discussed chronic inflammatory bowel disease, which leaves the sufferer always needing the toilet and often excreting blood.

The disease can be very serious, and theatre-maker Liz Richardson takes us through her experiences of the disease using the voices of others. Nurses, doctors, friends, family and public-toilet going folks all collide in their understanding and support and sometimes misunderstandings about the disease.

The show explains the horrors of the ileostomy bag (where your colon is removed and a direct hole – a stoma – into the abdomen to remove waste), the social stigma around bowel conditions like this and the life-changing support that helped her get through the whole ordeal.

There’s some awkward audience participation during the show, but those who do persevere will be rewarded with a cupcake or a beer!

A final love letter to the NHS towards the end of the show was an important moment, and shows that much more support and awareness needs to come from us for sufferers of ulcerative colitis.

To find out more about the disease and ways you can help visit:

And for support around Ileostomy: RD

★★★★ Helga – Life of Diva Extraordinaire | C Venues – C South | Aug 5-13, 15-20, 22-27 | 13:30 | £11.50

A nostalgic circus-theatre show about a geriatric showgirl

This oddball circus tale reminded us of Belleville-Rendezvous, telling a wistful bittersweet tale of life after the glitz and glamour.

Henni Kervinen’s Helga, a retired circus diva, is a triumph of clown character creation and she has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen.

There are no words in this show, but instead series of deeply emotional silent scenes including the preparation for the arrival of a much anticipated guest.

The show is brooding and quite melancholic but with a dash of wry humour including Helga’s hilarious come-to-bed eyes. The circus skills shown are good and adds a dash of excitement, particularly when the older version of Helga takes to the trapeze for a slapstick-style routine.

Overall a nice piece of character driven circus-theatre which will make you think about ageing in a new light. RD

★★★★ Help! | ZOO | Aug 16-21, 23-28 | 16:30 | £11.50

A warm and thoughtful story about dealing with depression.

Viki Browne gives a heartfelt, genuine performance in this autobiographical story about dealing with, and emerging from, depression. From the outset, she establishes the room a safe space – people can move around, and can even head to a cafe nearby if they start to feel overwhelmed by the performance.

Browne has clearly thought carefully about the impact her show might have on others who have mental health conditions – this is a show that talks quite openly about depression, and goes some way towards conveying some of the feelings and sensations which go along with it. As such, audiences may feel that despite the warmth and embracing nature of the performance, things can become a little uncomfortable.

Given the subject matter, this was never going to be a laugh-a-thon, but whilst never glossing over the darkest aspects of depression, Browne is also able to maintain a positive, all-in-this-together vibe which means that merging from the show feels like a triumphant victory. This is helped in no small way by a wonderful participatory conclusion, where Browne invites the audience to help complete her story in a very unique way.

It has become well-worn cliche to describe performances as brave, but this is certainly a brave and refreshing production which may not be saying anything too revolutionary, but says what it has to say with warmth, compassion and glitter! SW

★★★★ Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus | Dance Base | Aug 19-20 | 16:30 | £12

Oona Doherty is full of charismatic charm in this adventurous performance.

Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus starts on Grassmarket, where Oona Doherty appears and performs briefly to a mixture of ticket holders and passers by. She is bursting with charisma, sneaking tiny audience interactions into this initial part of the show, which are charming enough that no-one is adverse to them. She is an odd blend of slightly intimidating and really quite endearing. Then, she cajoles everyone into the theatre, where the piece continues.

On stage, Doherty is just as compelling. The lighting is fantastic and Doherty’s presence is powerful. Her play with words is both clever and playful – almost silly, reflecting, we assume, Doherty herself. The repeated words and movements become almost meditative, and then just at the right time they twist and transform.

The only thing we weren’t sure about was the break in the performance whilst we had to file into the theatre and take our seats, as this broke the energy slightly. Otherwise, the structure of the piece is nice. The anticipation of waiting on Grassmarket adds excitement and the show as a whole is a good length. This is an energetic and involving performance by a performer you can’t help but like. LE

★★★★ Ingrid Oliver: Speech! | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 15-27 | 16:30 | £7 – £9

A hilarious masterclass in eccentricity from a seasoned pro.

Half of comedy duo Watson and Oliver – whose sketch show is making us laugh all over again thanks to being recently added to Netflix – Ingrid Oliver shows off her acting talent here, representing an oddball mix of characters you love to hate.

The central spine of the show runs around Oliver nervously preparing to deliver a TED talk. The characters Oliver portrays include a sensationalist Daily Mail Islander Kath Morgan channelling Katie Hopkins, a surreal impressionist who can’t really do impressions, and even the voice in her own head.

Overall Oliver is a character comedienne with balls and we look forward to seeing her future solo work – or perhaps a collaboration with the Smack the Pony ladies? We can but dream! RD

★★★★ Jan Ravens: Difficult Woman | Gilded Balloon Teviot | Aug 6-15, 17-27 | Times Vary | SOLD OUT

Jan breaks out on her own for a guffaw-worthy hour of astute impressions and insight.

Radio 4 and Dead Ringers regular Jan Ravens breaks out on her own and proves to be the antidote to the saccharine world of ITV’s Loose Women – a smart, funny women who isn’t afraid of poking fun at those in power. And boy do we need that at the moment.

The shitstorm that is 2017 is dissected through Jan’s witty songs, hilarious impressions and seasoned scriptwriting. Her surly Theresa May and pitbull Nicola Sturgeon show off Jan’s supreme comedy talent.

Jan Ravens blasts the roof off the Radio 4 niceness and should be a role model for women aspiring to make it in this (still, sadly) male-dominated world. The show is, unsurprisingly, sold-out for the rest of the Fringe run. RD

★★★★ Joe Sutherland: Model / Actress | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 12-14, 16-27 | 22:45 | £7 – £9

A tight hour of conversational comedy – effectively a one-hour live CV with laughs.

Following Phoebe Walsh in Pleasance Courtyard’s cosy That venue, Joe Sutherland has put together a consistently funny and engaging hour of stand-up which is the perfect way to round off a day at the Fringe.

Joes finda there perfect balance between the approachable warmth that a venue like this suits so well, and the confidence bordering on arrogance that keeps the show edgy and unpredictable.

The running gag is that Joe is running through his various skills, as he hopes to be spotted by a showbiz scout and thrust into stardom. This conceit allows Joe to show off his skills as a performer, and to make fun at his own expense – not least when looking back at his modelling and acting career.

There’s a message too, about sexuality and bullying and rising above prejudice, but that isn’t to say that this is a show that can be easily categorised – this isn’t LGBT comedy, it’s just funny comedy. SW

★★★★ Lands | Summerhall | Aug 9-13, 15-20 | 12:00 | £5 – £10

Leah Brotherhead and Sophie Steer are effortlessly engaging in this funny and frenetic two-hander.

Leah is embarking upon a fiendish jigsaw puzzle, documenting each piece in her quest for edge pieces, people and recognisable objects. Sophie is trapped on a trampoline.

Lands is an instantly engrossing exploration of obsession, of relationships and communication, of drive and determination, and fear of failure. A deceptively simple set-up morphs into a throughly recognisable tragic-comedy about the frustrations of life, life shared with others, competing needs and questions without answers.

Brotherhead and Steer excellent – the latter combining Fringe performance with workout – taking a surreal situation and making it utterly believable. Expect to be taken on a surprising rollercoaster of emotions, from belly-laughs to anguish. Anyone who has ever knocked a jigsaw over, or discovered that the final piece is missing, will know that anguish! Anyone who has been trapped on a trampoline should seek help. SW

★★★★ Last Resort | Summerhall | Aug 6, 8-13, 15-20, 22-27 | Times Vary | £10

A satirical look at life for the ‘guests’ at Hotel Guantanamo – funny and frightening in equal measure.

Devised and performed by Tom Barnes and Eve Parmiter, Last Resort reimagines the Guantanamo Bay detention centre as a holiday resort where guests can enjoy the various pleasures of life in an orange boiler suit. In place of enhanced interrogation, holidaymakers are treated to yoga routines, meditations, quizzes and drinking games. But the line between fact and fiction is quickly blurred, as each activity is clearly derived from hideous methods of torture and violence, both mental and physical.

That this is all achieved without descending into glum depression is testament to the lively, spirited and enthusiastic reps (Barnes and Parmiter) leading the way. Last Resort somehow achieves the near-impossible challenge of tackling incredibly dark subject matter (treatment of prisoners, rendition, detention without trial) in a confrontational way (the drinking game rapidly becomes realistically distressing) in a disarmingly entertaining way. Some will see this as dismissive, or disrespectful, or misjudged. But sometimes the best way to understand true darkness is to flood it with light and see what remains in shadow. Last Resort is a full-beam mirror-ball into the dark recesses of Guantanamo Bay, and provides plenty of food (and Cubra Libre’s) for thought. SW

★★★★ Lula del Ray by Manual Cinema | Underbelly Med Quad | Aug 15-28 | 16:30 | £12.50 – £14

Another fantastic feat from this magical company.

Manual Cinema create shows that are styled as films – but created in an entirely analogue, low-tech way, right in front of your eyes. They animate pre-made scenes and shadow puppets and also use their own shadows at times within the scenes.

This show is every bit at beautiful at last year’s Ada/Ava – highly atmospheric, visually beautiful and awe inspiring. What this company can do with cut outs is amazing.

Lula del Ray is about a young girl and her love for a band, the Baden Brothers. Whether by design or coincidence, the music and sound in the show are wonderful… sumptuous. And everything we hear is created by the hugely talented live musicians on stage.

The only point of question is the show’s somewhat abrupt ending, the nature of which, though referred to briefly earlier in the show, seems to come out of nowhere. However, we still go away from the whole experience in admiration and feeling warm inside. LE

★★★★ Mitch Benn: I’m Still Here | The Stand Comedy Club 5 & 6 | Aug 19-27 | 14:50 | £10

Benn recently quit Radio 4’s the Now Show after 16 years writing comedy songs on the issues of the day, and his current Fringe performance has the feel of a farewell show or a retrospective before the next phase in his career.

He currently arranges the Distraction Club, a night devoted to musical comedy held on the first Tuesday of the month at The Phoenix in Oxford Circus. He does this to bring more musical acts together: as he notes, if you’re from any kind of minority, or have a slightly ‘different’ act, then you’ll rarely appear on a bill with another of your kind. Everyone in a perceived sub-group is assumed to have identical material, whereas white middle aged blokes in checked shirts apparently come in infinite varieties.

In this solo show, his songs tackle everything from Ed Sheeran to the Parisian terrorist attacks, showcasing an ability to tackle any subject with insightful wit. However, he refers to the plight of the modern comic, attempting to satirise situations and characters that already come across as parodies in the first place. Despite these difficulties, Benn sends out a plea for satire to continue, giving compelling examples of how comedy has long been feared by the powerful. It’s worth catching this consummate entertainer and skilled musician while he decides what to do next. LN

★★★★ Phill Jupitus is Porky the Poet in Survivalve | Bannermans | Aug 19-27 | 12:30 | FREE

Long before Phill Jupitus became ubiquitous on QI, et al, he was part of the second wave of ranting poets – the first wave including some that are still performing their impassioned and politically charged material, such as Attila the Stockbroker.

Jupitus’ poetry moniker is Porky the Poet, performing here in a non-ticketed event as part of the Free Fringe Festival. It’s clear that Jupitus has a genuine love for art and creativity, both through his delivery and the fact that he probably doesn’t need to be doing this show on top of the other four (count ‘em) he’s performing at this year’s Fringe. We’re treated to a mix of comedic poems as well as more serious material. The haiku are extremely amusing, with Jupitus – sorry, Porky – getting round the restriction of this compact Japanese form by giving them all immensely long titles.

Guest performers include the likes of Robin Ince, who recited a poem about checking his privilege – including an observation concerning how, as a middle aged man, no one thinks he’s a tart for wearing a tight top. Instead they assume (rightly) he’s left his jumper in the washing machine for too long.

This show demonstrates the advantages of the Free Fringe, which not only gives opportunities to up-and-coming acts, but offers an outlet for better-known performers to showcase lesser-known material. LN

★★★★ The Prophetic Visions of Bethany Lewis | Underbelly, Cowgate | Aug 12-13, 15-27 | 22:50 | £9 – £10

The UK’s foulmouthed answer to the Muppets.

A story of rags to riches is told through the cockney cloth puppet Bethany Lewis as she discovers her psychic powers.

A skilful puppeteer trio bring zany characters to life including a Welsh best friend, a singing steak, a flappy headed BoJo and – “it feels so wonderful to be performing for the poor” – dastardly diva Regretta Danby.

The tone is refreshingly blue, making Avenue Q look like a kids birthday party. The truly hilarious moments in this show come from the unexpectedly rude language or situations in an otherwise quite linear script.

Overall the show is stuffed full of offbeat energy throughout, and deserves great acclaim and packed audiences as the fringe goes on. RD

★★★★ Quarter Life Crisis | Underbelly, Cowgate | Aug 15-27 | 14:40 | £10 – £11

Life begins at 26.

Ok we’re biased on this one, but we loved this low-fi ode to South London and coming of age comedy by Yolanda Mercy and Gemma Lloyd.

The show tells the story of Alicia, fed up with Tindr swipes and not knowing where to go next at age 25. Is life over when your 16-25 railcard runs out? We hope not! Well-designed digital projections comprise of two spinning circles and give room from some emoji insertions to the witty script.

Through sassy spoken word and an honest performance, Mercy leaves you with a warm glow at the end of the show.

Warning: Morley’s Chicken features in this show.. RD

★★★★ Rainbow Soapbox | Traverse Theatre | Aug 7, 14, 21 | 10:00 | £9

A mid-morning queer political rant-filled cabaret.

Bleary eyed after a night at Underbelly’s dirty drunken comedy disco SPANK!, we arrive at the shopping centre style Traverse Theatre for a 10am queer cabaret. The mid-morning start seems a punk way to start a fringe day and the acts ranging from a laptop smashing FK Alexander to the Doctor of Queer Fun Ben Walters were a nice contrast to the usual fringe fare.

Miss Annabel Sings’ was our shouty compere and we loved it. Don’t miss the next line up’s on the 14th and 21st, including the madcap drag king detective Butt Kapinski and Berlin cabaret darling La Pustra.

Overall the show’s DIY punk aesthetic, liberal mantras and good vibes were like a shot of caffeine for the soul. RD

★★★★ Sarah Kendall: One-Seventeen | Assembly George Square Studios | Aug 23-27 | 19:00 | £10.50 – £12.50

Captivating story-telling from this talented comedian

One-seventeen is comedy storytelling told at the high standard we have come to expect from Sarah Kendall. This show is about luck and the idea that luck is never really good or bad. Things can change and shift. The stories shift here between decades and between continents, skilfully connected in Kendall’s captivating style.

This show feels somehow more personal than Kendall’s others. Whilst previous shows have delved into the stories of her past, this one deals at once with her childhood and her parenthood. We learn of her family and it’s dynamics, of illness close to her and trauma she has experienced. It feels raw, but somehow we are still soothed. Kendall weaves her stories with a kind of magic, keeping us engrossed from start to finish. LE

★★★★ Seven Crazy Bitches | Assembly Hall | Aug 12-13, 15-23, 25-27 | 19:00 | £9 – £11

Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man gets the stand-up-meets-cabaret treatment as Holly Morgan hilariously channels Cher, Bassey, Minelli & (four) more!

As The Boyfriend, Tom Moores, sits in a cardboard box dressed vaguely like The Shakespeare and talking reluctantly with a Brummie accent, The Diva Holly Morgan takes the audience on a wig-laden tour through the Seven Stages of Woman. Each stage is represented with a different diva, so be prepared for some spot-on impersonations of Britney Spears, Kate Bush, Prince, Stevie Nicks, Shirley Bassey, Cher & Liza Minelli.

The vocal impressions are really impressive, and Morgan has a genuinely great voice of her own – shown off best when imitating the less parodied Nicks. The links between the songs are the surprising highlight though – where Morgan could have got away with some pretty mediocre material, instead there is some genuine comedy gold here. Moores’ contributions from the cardboard box are excellent too, sometimes threatening to steal the show.

There’s nothing hugely original here, but that’s fine when the material and the performances are so good. For a guaranteed laugh you’d be hard-pushed to find a more consistently good show at the Fringe.  SW

★★★★ Sexbox | The Leith Volcano

Striking, engaging and sexually charged dance theatre

Despite the slightly off-putting name, Sexbox is a great piece. The venue, quite unusual in its set up, really added to the show for us. We wondered if it had been designed for in the round or had been adapted from a proscenium arch format. We suspected probably the latter, but it was done well enough for this to be questioned. The stage is a flat floor area in the middle of the bare bones of a church, and there is bench seating on all sides. There is no backstage area, just the unlit corners of the church for the performers to change and collect themselves. The ‘wings’ are just the space behind the audience, and this also means that performers having to exit on one side and then enter on the other must creep behind the audience, on the side we happened to be sitting on. This was kind of exciting and some of the performers interacted with some of the audience while they were offstage, brushing or squeezing their shoulders. Some might have been uncomfortable about this but we really enjoyed this added dimension.

The show itself had all the raunch and slickness we were expecting from a show by Impermanence called Sexbox. There were some wonderful moments, often with a kind of glam cheekiness reminiscent of Rocky Horror which we really enjoyed. Particularly exemplary of this vibe, was the duet between Joshua Ben-Tovim and Jordan Lennie, which was humorous, sexual and forceful. The most striking vignette for us was a short section involving Ben-Tovim, dressed in blouse and skirt, and some bubbles…

The intimacy of the venue meant we could really see the dancers faces which were powerfully expressive and the eye contact, when made, was intense. The costumes (though well worn already) were gorgeous, plentiful and appropriate. The lighting was interesting and well designed considering the space, which I imagine had its limitations.

All in all, while maybe slightly more dance than dance theatre than previous work, this is a very interesting piece. Maybe a bit suggestive to be bringing your family to, but that should be expected from the title. LE

★★★★ Sofie Hagen: Dead Baby Frog | Bedlam Theatre | Aug 20-28 | 14:00 | SOLD OUT

A range of emotions and a whole lot of laughs

Sofie Hagen’s third show follows in a similar vein to her first two in the sense that it is a pretty personal show in which she does not hold back. Dead Baby Frog is about her childhood – and specifically about her grandfather, who acted as a father figure to her when she was growing up; not in a loving way, but in an emotionally manipulative and unpleasant way. The show sounds heavy going, and it’s not a frivolous hour of jokes by any means. But it is funny and, with the exception of a few moments of shock and head-shaking from the audience, Hagen manages to keep the audience feeling more up than down by moving skilfully between disclosures and jokes.

Hagen is so fundamentally likeable and has such good rapport with the audience it is hard not to be on-side (and maybe some of this is to do with her childhood and the tendency to try to please that her grandfather helped to shape). Undoubtably there will be people who will note that the show feels like part therapy and part comedy show. True, there is definitely an element of catharsis to the show, but this doesn’t make it any less successful.  LE

★★★★ Sophie Willan: Branded | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 20-27 | 20:00 | £10 – £12
ALSO: Pleasance Dome |  Aug 26 |  23:00 | £12

An intelligent and personal hour of pertinent comedy.

Sophie Willan has a lot to say. She really does. Her show is based around branding, and about being branded by others. Something which has happened to her frequently throughout her life, and is still happening right now – though right now, its turning out to be alright – her brand is in fashion (northern, female, working class). But at other points in her life that has not always been so.

Willan’s show is a personal story, a social commentary, and stand up comedy. She blends all of these aspects seamlessly. She is intelligent and compelling, with sincerity and wit.

This might be the kind of thing that other comedians talk about, but Willan’s own specific experiences are different to most others. It is her personal circumstances that make this show unique. Which might, yes, be used for branding. But it’s more than that, it’s her humanity. LE

★★★★ Space Rocket Oddity Man | ZOO Southside | Aug 9, 11-20, 22-28 | 20:15 | £9

Gardyloo Theatre’s Lewis Garvey gives a winning performance in this intimate, warm-hearted sci-fi tale of love, computers, loneliness and the fate of humankind.

Alexander Van Der Void is floating in space, alone. Alone, that is, except for his girlfriend – the AI computer-controlled spaceship which carries him from world to world seeking a new home for humanity. PROM, the computer, has locked Alex outside. He’s let her down in some way, and before he can apologise he needs to work out what he did.

There are obvious references to – and inspirations taken from – the films ‘Her’ and  ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, but this is no derivative pastiche. Garvey – also the writer – has something to say about the nature of relationships, the loneliness of being the last human floating in space, and the effects of knowing your own fate. At times funny and sweet, at others silly and surreal, the lasting impression is one of hope – against all odds, in the face of certain failure – and the power of love. SW

★★★★ Temptation | The Wee Red Bar

Not a show at all, rather a Festival special by new LGBT club night Temptation

You’ll find The Wee Red Bar in the grounds of Edinburgh College of Art, and we approached in the dark and quiet away from the Festival hubbub. Had we made a mistake, we wondered? But there’s a more than welcoming atmosphere once we get inside, complete with heart balloons, projector screen, a friendly mixed crowd of all ages already dancing to synthpop, electro pop and Hi-NRG billed as queer synth bangers and trash. What’s striking here is the attitude, or lack of it: this night feels like a party where the hosts have made an effort but there’s no pretension. All the money raised goes to charity, and on this night they raised £700 for Edinburgh Action for Trans Health. Their next event takes place on 19th September. If you’re planning a visit to Edinburgh, it’s worth coordinating your visit around this joyful and altruistic club night. LN

★★★★ Testosterone | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 6-13, 15-19, 21-27 | 17:00 | £9 – £11.50

One person’s story that 2017 should be ready for…

Rhum and Clay and Kit Redstone have made a show about something that people are finally talking about: transitioning. Kit Redstone’s personal story of his transition is the basis for this show – and it is handled well. The show doesn’t feel preachy, nor does it feel overly emotional. It is simply a story of a person and of an experience – or rather, of several experiences which make up the longer journey. On top of that, this shows us something of a wider story, a story of masculinity: of privilege, and of repression. These are things that can only be touched upon in an hour long show, but the balance in the structure of the show works well. Redstone is genuine and engaging, whilst the supporting cast bring energy and humour (and some slightly unexpected song and dance!). This is a show for our time… and about time. LE

★★★★ Whose Line is It Anyway? – Live at the Fringe | Assembly Rooms | Aug 19-27 | Times Vary | £17.50

Among all the improv shows at the Fringe, it’s great to see one of the originals and best.

The ever witty and engaging Clive Anderson presents the classic improv show, with a changing line up throughout the Fringe. We attended a performance featuring original stars Josie Lawrence, Greg Proops and Mike McShane, together with guest performer Pippa Evans and Kirsty Newton on piano.

It might be assumed that the TV show would appear slicker, but in fact this stage show has more to offer with a greater sense of just how talented these performers are when put on the spot. It’s good to have some non-threatening audience participation at the Fringe, as well – no risk of embarrassment or insult here, just a request for suggestions and an opportunity for audience members to take part in various sketches. Most impressive are the songs, with the performers at one point creating a song about window cleaning in the style of a 60s protest song, during which they manage to satirise Bob Dylan, produce amusing rhymes and make up a good tune. If the thought of performing without script in front of a large audience terrifies you, then relax and enjoy watching other people doing it. LN

★★★½ £¥€$ (LIES) | Upper Church @ Summerhall hosted by RBC | Aug 6, 8-13, 15-20, 22-27 | 18:30, 20:30 | £14

A chance to gamble with the big boys and discover the elusive secrets of the money markets.

Despite being a geek for Collately Sisters (a hilarious character played by Doon Mackichan in The Day Today) and her financial prognostications, I have never understood what all those wankers (sorry, bankers) really get up to in Canary Wharf.

This show by Belgian experimental theatre pioneers (and fringe regulars), Ontroerend Goed, turned the Upper Church at Summerhall into a casino for a greedy theatrical game like no other.

Our croupier was a Mary Poppins type, firm but fair as we played an increasingly complex game of managing investments through the medium of craps, rolling the dice with millions of pounds. This is immersive theatre done very well – as you would expect by now from Ontroerend Goed – with gorgeously carved wooden gambling tables and committed – if a little soulless – performances.

The show aims to give you a chance to become one of the 1% but it perhaps misses a trick by not taking the opportunity to explore the true consequences of the money markets. In the end, then, it’s interesting and entertaining stuff that just lacks the necessary depth. RD

★★★½ Adriano Cappelletta: This Boy’s in Love | Assembly Roxy | Aug 6-13, 15-20, 22-27 | 20:50 | £10- £11

A charmingly performed modern gay love story which gets just a bit too meta.

Writer/performer Adriano Cappelletta’s seemingly autobiographical one-man song-and-dance tale of modern love is a charming and engaging hour. If anything, it’s all a bit too ‘nice’ – there’s an edginess missing that might have added more weight to the material (perennial single man finally meets someone who could be ‘the one’), but then things take a turn for the meta in the final third.

Meta twists are all the rage, and have been for a while, and This Boy Is In Love ‘just’ about gets away with it. But it feels a little levered into what is otherwise quite a straightforward story, and detracts somewhat from the sweet-natured musical numbers that have gone before.

That said, Cappalletta is an enthusiastic, energy-filled (note the excellent nightclub dance routine) presence, whose easy way with the material and the audience ultimately wins the day. SW

★★★½ Alun Cochrane: Alunish Cochranish | The Stand Comedy Club 3 & 4 | Aug 9-13, 15-27 | 19:40 | £12

Conversational, grumpy middle-aged man comedy that is as funny as it is unchallenging.

One third of our favourite radio/podcast show triple-act (with Frank Skinner and The Divine Miss Emily Dean), Alun Cochrane’s Edinburgh show is a reassuringly familiar expansion of his radio patter: a resigned, slightly grumpy but never too agitated Northerners-eye view of the modern world.

This is no Frankie Boyle show, there will be no shocked silences and stifled laugh-groans here (although for some, an Elvis joke is ‘too soon’) – instead, it’s fairly gentle but keenly observed, erm, observational comedy which consistently keeps the audiences laughing. There are a few genuine belly-laugh moments (a good comedy show need only really have one or two of these as long as the rest of the material is consistently good, as it is here), although Cochrane’s fence sitting with regard to politics seems to have the opposite effect to his intentions – his middle-ground wry-eye’d dismissal of the politics of left and right seemed a little too broad-brush, and the audience listened rather awkwardly. That said, Cochrane is by his own admission not really one for politics, in which case he might be better to leave it out of his set altogether.

All in all, a very pleasant and enjoyable hour that won’t change any lives, but will certainly give you reason to be cheerfully grumpy. SW

★★★½ Blank Tiles | Assembly George Square Studios

Scrabble experts and Alzheimer’s give this show it’s poignancy.

This is a show about Alzheimer’s. Except it’s not about Alzheimer’s. It’s about Austin. Who has Alzheimer’s. The show is his story, a story which is being told because, due to the disease, it seemed pertinent to tell it. What’s nice about this show is that the disease is ever-present but it does not take over.

Austin is a scrabble player, a scrabble champion in fact. Dylan Cole’s portrayal of him is a pretty typical take on a nerd with social difficulties, possibly on the spectrum. This feels a little awkward at first, a little stock. But as time goes on we can see how committed Cole is to the character and it feels less overdone.

The writing is good and the way that scrabble is used in the script and on the stage is clever. The way that the disease becomes evident in Austin, slowly and not pointedly, is handled really well and the repeating phrases are emphasised just the right amount. The switch in tone for the shows final part seems almost a bit too sudden, but perhaps this is reflective of the disease. I’m not sorry to say that I have not had the first experience which would allow me to know. LE

★★★½ Edison | ZOO Southside | Aug 6-27 | 17:45 | £10

A mind-bending trip of a show.

Befitting the head-scratching (not in a bad way) nature of this show, Edison is, of course, the oft-overlooked story of Nikola Tesla – the man whose groundbreaking inventions shaped the world we live in. The title reflects the reality that Tesla has been somewhat sidelined in the the public understanding of the history of science, overshadowed by one Thomas Alva Edison.

The focus is on the way that Edison took advantage of Tesla’s scientific advances and claimed all of the credit for himself. The representation of this, however, is far from a straightforwardly literal retelling. Suffice to say there are streams and streams of golden ribbon, a pigeon-headed woman, and other suitably bonkers theatrical devices that take this otherwise fairly dry (though undeniably interesting) subject matter and create a psychedelic soap opera.

It’s not all plain sailing – things take a little while to get going, which can be problematic in a one hour show, and there’s the smidgen of a sense that some of the more imaginative aspects are a little ‘chucked in’. But playwright Joshua Logan Walker deserves credit for creating a timely and challenging reappraisal of the Edison/Tesla relationship, and the cast of performers are never less than committed. SW

★★★½ Finding Nana | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 20-28 | 15:30 | £10.50 – £12.50

Well-written piece that shows both the personal and universal.

Finding Nana is a well-written semi-autobiographical show from Jane Upton. It follows Jane’s loss of her grandmother – her Nana. We are shown memories of Nana, as well as Jane’s reactions to her death.

Phoebe Frances Brown gives a performance full of a frenetic kind of energy, almost unrelenting for the hour-long show. Her commitment to the role is commendable but, the characterisation felt sometimes a little jarring.

The show managed to conjure up a great sense of the unseen Nana and the list that Jane makes when she is trying to make sure she doesn’t forget her is lovely. The show addresses that almost universal subject of grief and loss and so is hugely relatable. And whilst the specifics of Nana are vital, that common feeling of loss is also key. LE

★★★½ Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist | ZOO | Aug 8-28 | 20:05 | £10 – £12

A mind-bending trip of a show.

This really felt like a show of two (uneven) halves – two-thirds of the way through, and it was in 4-5 star territory: a funny, brave, honest and insightful glimpse into the way that many people find sex, why they do it, and what exactly happens during some of those encounters. Not mere titilation, Five Encounters – or rather, performer Sam Ward – establishes a safe, inclusive environment for discussing, quite explicitly, the who-does-what’s of anonymous Craigslist hook-up’s.

It’s entertaining, eye-opening, perspective-widening stuff, and the interactive elements of the show – audience members repeating some of Sam’s lines into a microphone, or feeding him grapes, or answering questions about themselves – are done in such a way that pretty much anyone would be happy and willing to participate.

The problem, though, is that when Sam broadens things out beyond his own personal experience and reaches for a more overreaching theme to pull everything together, the whole thing just falls a little flat. So the final third, which should/could be a triumphant celebration of sexual liberation, or a cautionary tale about getting what you wish for, something in-between or something else entirely, instead feels like an attempt to make some grand philosophical claim about the nature of love that just doesn’t stick. There’s some full-frontal nudity (of which there seems to be less at this year’s Fringe) that doesn’t feel necessary, and a hint toward questions of consent that goes unexplored, both of which might suggest that this might be a piece still searching for its final shape and form. A tighter last 20 minutes would do absolutely no harm. SW

★★★½ Mark Thomas: A Show That Gambles on the Future | Summerhall | Aug 15-18, 20-27 | 18:00 | £15

You can never go too wrong with Mark Thomas.

Mark Thomas’s latest show is called A Show That Gambles on the Future. The premise is that Thomas will take suggestions for bets to be placed about the world, and between him and the audience they will decide which bet will be actually placed in real life (by taking donations at the end).

The idea is good and this sense of collaboration from the people in the room is nice. A lot of the suggestions are political and this isn’t surprising given the state of the world and the nature of the audience. Many such suggestions provoke material on the issue raised and often this works well, with Thomas’s energy and passion in full force. However, the other key aspect of the shows is Thomas’s references to his family and childhood and these, while anecdotally interesting, and not without humour, feel a bit forced. The rehearsed nature of the family material, meeting the more improvised material inspired by the audience, feels different – the two things don’t quite weave together and it leaves the show as a whole feeling a little confused. That said, it is a very entertaining hour with a lot of laughs and the betting element means the show differs from the normal stand-up format. LE

★★★½ Out | Underbelly, Cowgate | Aug 12-13 | 22:40 | £10

A thought-provoking piece of contemporary performance art which deserves a more sympathetic venue and time slot.

Out starts with two performers on stage as we walk in, dancing energetically to dancehall music turned up loud and this continues once the houselights go down. One performer presents as male and one female and they are wearing near identical, pretty scanty costumes, drawing our attention to the differences and similarities between the two as they dance. The movement is high energy, lacking in finesse but oozing sexuality. We are watching what could just be two people dancing on a night out, but out of context – it is only when spoken words begin to splice into the sound that the tone changes slightly and, whilst perhaps only implied, the movement itself seems to get sadder.

As we hear the voice of a preacher preaching against homosexuality and the lighting changes, the piece gains intensity and the subject matter is evident. Here the looped words and repetitive movement become compelling before switching back to dancehall prancing.

The last section of the show sees performers Rachael Young and Dwayne Antony peel oranges in silence for what seems like a lifetime. I could have watched this for hours – it’s mesmorising – but not so the whole of the audience. One audience member seems to find most boring/confusing/pointless all the things I find most interesting. But that’s art isn’t it? And this piece definitely has that contemporary dance kind of vibe to a degree that maybe not everyone was getting; which can be infuriating for some people and this person was definitely one of them.

The piece felt almost like three or four parts stuck together. I found myself wondering if this was intended, and what it might mean about how it feels to be those two people in the worlds they inhabit. And I personally would rather be wondering and questioning a piece, rather than watching an average performance of straightforward narrative theatre any day. But then I like live art. Perhaps if the venue or time of the show were different the whole audience might have been more on board with it, as I’m not convinced Underbelly late at night is quite right. Who knows though. I’m glad I saw it anyway. LE

★★★½ Peter & Bambi Heaven: When Love Becomes Magic | Assembly George Square Gardens | Aug 6-13, 15-27 | 20:35 | £12 – £13

A misfiring hit – 30 minutes of comedy cabaret gold with a tad too much padding.

Asher Treleaven and Gypsy Wood return for another outing as “deluded dancing love magicians” Peter & Bambi. As with their 2016 show, there are definitely moments where you feel that Treleaven & Wood are really on to something – serious cabaret magicians are just SO ripe for spoofing, and the potential seems huge.

Unfortunately, where the 2016 show fell just one show-stopping finale short of comedy cabaret perfection, When Love Becomes Magic feels like half a step backward. The flimsy tricks seem too obvious, the ‘accidental’ nudity now becoming almost tedious, and the oddball relationship between Peter & Bambi now less fascinating and more frustrating.

Nevertheless, the performers are good enough to ensure there are plenty of laughs, and things are never boring – it just feels a little stretched-thin. There’s probably an unmissable 30 minute show here – and when Treleavan & Wood do strike gold, it’s (cliche alert) sidesplittingly hilarious –  but with a running time of an hour, there just doesn’t seem to be enough content. Grumble, grumble, grumble then, but undeniably this is not a terrible fringe experience, nor even just an average one. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is the feeling that there’s it could be better. SW

★★★½ The Road That Wasn’t There | Assembly Roxy | Aug 8-13, 15-20, 22-27 | 14:35 | £10 – £11

A well crafted show telling a tale of another world.

The Road That Wasn’t There is a tale within a tale. We meet Gabriel first, and it is not until he goes to visit his eccentric mother Maggie that she tells the story of her experience of the road. The show perhaps takes a little while to get going because of this, but all in all it is helpful in setting the scene and easing us into the idea of the magical world which Maggie has visited in her youth.

Whilst shadow puppetry is present throughout, giving indications of people and places present in different countries, worlds or times, it is not until Maggie  begins her story that the rod puppets appear, representing young Maggie herself and the colourful (metaphoically speaking – they are white as snow!) characters she meets. The puppets themselves are well made and expressively operated, especially by Elle Wootton (operating Maggie). The shadow puppetry is slightly more hit and miss, with some scenes feeling a little sparse, but with all the puppets involved and the clear work that has gone into the show, this is not a real criticism. The set itself is lovely and cleverly uses the maps that Maggie has been collecting, as a projection screen for the shadow puppetry.

There is a touch of the Tim Burton about this show which is never a bad thing in our book and the show seems a hit with the very varied audience. All in all its nice to be whisked away into a bit of fantasy for a while, even when we’re grown ups. LE

★★★½ Sam Simmons A-K | Assembly George Square Studios | Aug 23-27 | 21:40 | £9.50 – £12.50

Typical Simmons abstract humour, if slightly less focussed than expected.

This show contains the usual Sam Simmons berating the audience for not getting on board. And quite a lot of it. Every show of his seems to rely on this a little more.

The other material in the show is mostly good, and always abstract and surreal as we have come to expect from Simmons. There are some sections however, that really don’t seem to have the majority of the audience on board.

Simmons has had a baby girl this year. Quite a bit of this show is about this and there are some great moments that don’t follow the usual ‘comedian does material about their new baby’ script, but we couldn’t help but wonder if Simmons hadn’t had a small person taking up a great deal of his time this year, if the show might have been different.

It’s a good hour, and worth a watch, especially if you haven’t seen Simmons before. He’s still an experience. LE

★★★½ Sara Schaefer: Little White Box | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 15-28 | 19:00 | £9.50 – £12.50

Decent debut hour from this American tv comic.

Sara Schaefer starts her show by apologising. She is American, and… well, Trump.

It’s a good start, but what follows is a little slow moving. Schaefer’s tone is either flat and monotone, or very deadpan. It’s hard to get a gauge on. The night we are there she isn’t well, complaining of a sore throat before having to do a bit in her set where she screams. It’s her first Edinburgh Fringe – she berates the people that came up with the idea, for what they do to comedians. So perhaps the missing pace is somewhat due to illness – we will give her the benefit of the doubt.

A lot of the set is very interesting and the audience are fully absorbed and listening eagerly. Schaefer’s stories are relatable and when she describes things that are very specifically American we can still envisage exactly what she is talking about. However, I would say that the hour is more interesting than it is hilarious. Not an hour wasted by any means, but don’t go expecting a laugh a minute, go expecting an engaging hour with funny moments. LE

★★★½ Snap | Assembly George Square Theatre | Aug 15-20, 22-28 | 15:00 | £12 – £14

Slick and captivating magic which would benefit from a smaller stage.

Snap is an undeniably entertaining and “wow”-inducing show, melding magic with live art performance to create an hour of impressively performed shadowgraphy, video mapping, mime, comedy and more.

Kids should be entertained throughout, and adults won’t get bored either – although the size of the venue means that those nearer the front will have a substantially more rewarding experience. Further back, the lack of intimacy and sheer size of the room gives the stage – and the performers on it – a distant, disconnected feeling. Some of the more intricate tricks suffer most, and you sometimes feel as though you’re watching the worlds greatest show on a mini TV from across a large room.

That’s not to say that you won’t still be impressed by the professionalism of the talented performers, or by the spectacular colours and terrific, seamless stage trickery. It’s just that you might wish you were in a much smaller venue, sitting up closer, resting your jaw on the floor. SW

★★★½ The End, the End, the End… | Venue 13 | Aug 15-20, 22-26 | 17:30 | £10

PoMo pandemonium reaches fever pitch.

Californian collective CalArts Festival Theatre are presenting 3 shows at the elusive Venue 13 this year.

The show is wonderfully disjointed, fusing the frenetic energy of the seven performers from around the globe with policitical propaganda, pop-culture references and giddy movement.

What did it all mean? Who knows? Who cares? This thrill ride is worth a watch for the quality of performances within the ensemble, reminding us of Brooklyn pioneers The TEAM.

A little more cohesion or framing would have made this mind-melt a little easier to palette, but overall the production offers enjoyable theatrical gusto. RD

★★★ A Charlie Montague Mystery: The Man with the Twisted Hip | theSpace @ Surgeons Hall | Aug 19-26 | 17:05 | £8

Comedian Tom Taylor presents a witty Wodehousian-style murder mystery, playing all the parts himself. Accents and demeanour distinguish the typically outlandish characters: it’s a bit like the episode of Frasier (Ham Radio) in which Niles performs multiple role in a radio play after his brother annoys the trained voice artist so much that he quits. In this show, the pared-down presentation is a deliberate choice – perhaps a risky one. It makes practical sense, of course, as putting a show on at the Fringe is expensive, making small casts or one man shows attractive propositions. For the audience, however, it can be confusing as concentration is needed to keep a hold on who’s speaking – but it’s worth the effort.

Taylor uses his unusual performance style to add an extra layer of comedy: when he needs to cough, he has one character blame another for waiting until it was his line to do so. At times, this self-referential style is bizarre, like listening to someone overcome by delirium who has just read the entire works of Agatha Christie. The performance might need a bit of polishing, but Taylor clearly enjoys the experience of experimenting with the comedy genre, and his enthusiasm is infectious. One to watch. LN

★★★ Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams | Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows | Aug 12-13, 15-20, 22-26 | 15:00 | £13.50 – £15.50

An impressive if mainstream foray into African circus.

This pulse-pounding extravaganza of pioneering Ethiopian circus really is a firecracker. From the outset there is a raw energy in the room from the two main acrobatic troupes. The first all-male group dazzled in the opening act, throwing the two youngest members improbably high into the air.

The other acts owed a lot to the Chinese circus tradition including spinning carpets, and extreme contortion mainly performed by the female troupe. These ladies are the most flexible we’ve ever seen, pulling and twisting so far that we occasionally had to look away!

The Ethiopian soundtrack pumped up the daytime family audience into a frenzy and the show left us feeling alive. There just needs to be a bit more variation, and perhaps a few new – or more inventive – tricks and skills. RD

★★★ Laura Davis – Cake in the Rain | Underbelly Med Quad | Aug 12-13, 15-28 | 20:10 | £9.50 – £10.50

This is a pretty well-structured and well-written show with some nice call backs, although it seemed Davis might not have mastered it quite yet memory wise, which was a bit surprising for day five of the Fringe.

Cake in the Rain showcases an observational, reflective  kind of comedy with a air of bitterness  – which is fine with us – and there are some great moments.

There are feminist vibes to the show. We liked her explanation of her flyer – just wrists, no face anymore. It’s interesting, though, that she has kept this part of her identity – her femininity – out of the flyer but kept it in the show. Perhaps the flyer thing didn’t work in her favour in the end, maybe she targeted her audience wrongly, because Davis seemed to hate her audience the night we were there, and dealt with it pretty badly. At first we wanted to believe this was all part of the act, Sam Simons style, but sadly it did not come across like this. She seemed to hate pretty much every minute she was on stage – the jokes about millennials and such like were maybe not quite right for the larger than expected number of middle aged people in the audience to be fair, but the way she reacted made those of us who had been enjoying it find it harder to continue to do so.

However, trying really hard to ignore being told off, the show was not without charm. Most of the time Davis was likeable and had character, she was expressive and watchable. Moments of note include the progressive rapist bit…! The vibe was generally a touch scathing of the world, but Davis also claimed to love it and seemed to really mean it. We’re not sure how to feel going away from that, but that’s not always a bad thing.

We might have gone for 3.5 stars, but were expressly told during the show how difficult half stars are for graphic design reasons. So, 3 it is. LE

★★★ Lilith: The Jungle Girl | Traverse Theatre | Aug 15-20, 22-27 | Times Vary | £19.50

Madcap 70s camp in this impossibly queer My Fair Lady

Writhing around naked in pink mud – this is the life for the month of August for Ash Flanders in Lilith: The Jungle Girl at the Traverse Theatre. This is truly Edinburgh at it’s weirdest.

The action takes place as Lilith, a primitive Tarzan-type raised by lions, is captured and brought to be experimented on in 1800s Holland. The kitschy lion projections, oddball comedy and terrible accents are a little vexing to begin with but you gradually become one with Sisters’ Grimm’s modus operandi.

There are some strong zany moments from Candy Bowers – from our fringe fave Hot Brown Honey – as a nutty professor, and his/her lovelorn colleague Travers played by Genevieve Giuffre.

Gender is royally skewered in this mix of Carry On meets 50s monster B-movie, but we leave a little cold and don’t quite get the point of it all. RD

★★★ The Marriage of Kim K | C venues – C | Aug 4-8, 10-15, 17-22, 24-28 | 21:50 | £11.50 – £13.50

A slightly flat popera mixing Mozart and Kim K

The Marriage of Kim K is a popera, whipping opera and musical theatre into a sometimes slightly confused melange. Don’t get me wrong, on paper this bonkers idea of a Kardashian musical mixed with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is an offbeat marriage made in heaven, but in reality it’s a little hard to fathom.

The 70 minute show charts the story of an opera writer and his Kim K obsessed wife in the ultimate battle of the sexes; for the TV remote. This main story is spliced with two other warring couples, with power-pop High School Musical style songs from Kim and husband Kris Humphries (remember him?) and accessibly delivered opera courtesy of Rosina and Count Almaviva.

Despite gorgeous, committed opera singing from the Mozart third of the stage, it’s all a bit shambolic at times. Saying that, the arrangements of strings, singing and backing track sounded great and the idea of a string quartet at the fringe is a triumph.

The quality of singing was also a boon, but the show needs to choose a focus around one of these couples, and a clear decision as to whether it is a comedy – if so, it needs more guaranteed laughs.

Overall a slightly garbled song sheet, but filled with promise none the less. RD

★★★ Me and My Bee | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 9-14, 16-28 | 11:45 | £9 – £10

A great subject matter and a show with potential – but it just feels a bit forced

Upon entering the space, we were apprehensive. ‘A political party, disguised as a party party disguised as a show’ is the tagline, but we hadn’t taken in the ‘party party’ bit beforehand – and suddenly, audience interaction loomed. And unfortunately, that apprehension was not greatly soothed.

ThisEgg’s Josie and Greta do a lot of beating around the bush and circling around the crux of the show for maybe the first third, and the performance style and/or characters – heavy on sarcasm, somewhat self-satisfying and verging on patronising, could be seen as obnoxious. Although in fairness, some of the audience did seem to enjoy this humour.

It is only really when they get to the bee (Joe) and its story that the show has any weight at all, and here we do learn a few choice facts and this actually huge and pressing issue is somewhat addressed.

There are some nice moments and the actual story that is eventually told is quite sweet – Joe’s bee character is oddly endearing. Some will be content with what this show has to offer, but all in all we felt it was a shame that the ecological message largely got lost in all the fluff, which didn’t engage the audience in quite the way we assume was the intention.

We will try to plant more seeds though! LE

★★★ Olaf Falafel Presents: The Marmosets of My Mind | Laughing Horse @ City Cafe | Aug 6-14, 16-27 | 16:15 | FREE

This funny falafel wrap needed a bit more chilli sauce.

This reviewer does have a slight fear of the free fringe, of desperate comedians hawking their wares and running to the door at the end to get pound coins.

This show partially justified my fears. A bonkers bonanza of silliness which sadly missed the mark a few times and needed stronger base material as the jokes were repeated almost on a loop.

From the visual gags of a toilet duxaphone version of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street iconic sax solo to the offbeat one-liners on screen, this oddball bearded Swedish comic definitely has something special, but it needs refinement.

Overall, if you have an hour and a pound this falafel is worth getting out of the rain for – but maybe not a surefire hit (yet). RD

★★★ Sigma | Assembly Hall | Aug 15-20, 22-28| 13:30 | £10 – £12

Juggling meets Indian dance in an all-female hypnotic visual treat.

Two jugglers from the legendary Gandini juggling troupe meet two astounding Indian Bharatanatyam dancers, Seeta Patel and Indu Panday.

The show is a visual interpretation of rhythm, every movement precisely showing the detailed patterns of life. Sigma works to a feminist agenda which is powerfully shown through 16 mini pieces.

The projections and visual harmony of the spectacle are deeply engaging but the overall feeling is a little flat – I wanted some more wow moments. The show was at its best a hypnotic blend of precise dance moves with skilful juggling tricks, and at its worst a little confusing and devoid of punch moments.

The Gandini’s can usually be relied upon but this show needs a little more of that Gandini magic to be truly eye-popping. RD

★★★ The Room at the Top of the House | ZOO | Aug 16-28 | 11:40 | £10 – £12

A well-meaning – and well-performed – but ultimately unsatisfying piece of physical theatre addressing mental health.

Towards the end of the excellent Wild Bore at The Traverse, Krishna Istha wonders out loud what will happen when trans issues are no longer in vogue as a subject for the performance arts. Similarly, one wonders if and when mental health will cease to be such a – deservedly, belatedly – hot topic. Zoo Venues alone have several shows at the Fringe this year which touch on mental health issues in some way, in various, imaginative ways.

The Room at the Top of the House is one such show, a piece of expertly choreographed and performed physical theatre which takes as its subject the life of a young man who has taken refuge from the world in the room at the top of his family home. Josh, whilst locking himself away, is fascinated by the outside world, and lives the life of a globetrotter vicariously through his postcard-sending sister.

The subject matter lends itself fairly well to the performance medium, and the cast of performers are on top-form – there is emotional depth here, expertly communicated through movement. Somehow, though, things seem to fall apart towards the end, as if the pressure of wrapping things up within 50 minutes has constrained the natural flow of the story. Loathe as I am stood say it (at the Fringe, anything over an hour can feel excessive), but this show needed more time and space to breathe, and a further half an hour would perhaps have allowed for a more delicately handled final third. As it is, everything feels a little rushed at the end, a little to conveniently resolved, undoing the earlier good work. SW

★★½ Fauna | Assembly Roxy | Aug 12-13, 15-20, 22-27 | 13:30 | £13 – £15

A frustrating hour of solemn circus.

High hopes were a little dashed for this debut hour of circus from a new company formed from such legendary troupes as NoFitState and Circa.

The circus show has very little narrative and character, making for a slow hour devoid of energy. The stripped-back acts and slightly irritating sound design of bird noises (and a voiceover explaining that the show is about fauna) didn’t blow us away.

Acts such as trapeze, hand balancing and acrobatics are stripped back to the basics, accompanied by live – and a little strange – guitar with hundreds of effects pedals.

There were a few moments of redemption, with performer couple Daniel and Rhiannon Cave-Walker bringing some humour, skilful acrobatics and emotion to the proceedings. However, the show doesn’t really go anywhere and would benefit from a bit more direction, character creation and a few genuinely spectacular moments. RD

★★½ Kat Bond: Loo Roll | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 15, 17-28 | 17:45 | £7.50 – £10

We so desperately wanted to get this loo roll stuffed oddity, but sadly we struggled to find the funny. The whole show literally references toilet paper throughout – perhaps we have our knickers in a twist.

Kat Bond is clearly a confident performer keen to portray weird and wonderful characters. Unfortunately, these skits on the whole sadly miss the mark when it comes to delivering a hilarious pay off.

There were definitely some occasional moments of mirth in this debut, including the crowd participation, waving short lengths of the white stuff around like buffoons… but for why?

Overall, then, a little flushtrating (see what we did there?) but Kat Bond has talent and we genuinely look forward to seeing her other guises… RD

★★½ Lists for the End of the World | Summerhall | Aug 4-13, 15-20, 22-27 | 13:45 | £12

A five minute idea stretched to an hour, or an opportunity wasted – either way, a frustrating experience.

“For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been'”. Such is the feeling after spending an hour in the company of fanSHEN’s List for the End of the World, a show which might easily have been condensed down into a series of short interludes as part of a more substantial show, or really exploited to its full potential, delving into the very darkest depths of memory, fantasy, pain and regret.

Instead, Lists… feels pretty throwaway, and rarely hits the spot. There are fleeting moments where the true potential of the concept – performers Shireen Mula, Delme Thomas and Clare Dunn read out crowd-sourced lists such as ‘things I am scared of’ – shines through, as apparently contrasting lists overlap, and there is the occasional hint towards the darker-themed lists that we all keep in our heads. But ultimately, an emotional connection between performer, material and audience is missing.

The show is saved somewhat by the enthusiastic performances, particularly of Thomas and Dunn, the latter of whom has an Olivier-worthy face. It’s just the material – or rather, the management of the material – that needs some work, and indeed this show feels very much like a work in progress. SW

Reviews by Rupert Dannreuther, Laura Edmans, Lucy Nordberg & Stuart Wilson.
Rupert & Stuart


Occasionally the To Do List team are forced to work together.

Rupert likes: free, cheap & offbeat London, especially: cabaret, art, theatre, pop-ups, eating out, quirky films, museums, day trips, social enterprise & much more.

Stuart likes: nice pubs, film marathons, not doing real marathons, bad comedy, plays/musicals with shorter second halves, and the Oxford comma.