Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2018! Updated Daily!

Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2018! Updated Daily!

The To Do List team is once again spending August gallivanting around Edinburgh, seeking out the finest fringe frolics of 2018…

So, without further unnecessary ado, here are OUR EDINBURGH FRINGE 2018 REVIEWS – check back for updates!

★★★★★★ Six | Underbelly, George Square | Aug 11-12, 14-27 | Times Vary | £9-£18.5

Showstopping hilarious feminist musical raises the roof!

On paper, this beyond cheesy musical idea should be destined to fail – but a combination of inspired tongue-in-cheek, millennial-friendly writing and hype-worthy performances leave you thinking Six can be nothing but a stonking great hit! It’s totally critic-proof in the vein of We Will Rock You or Mamma Mia, and is bound to be a word-of-mouth sensation.

The deceptively simple premise – of retelling the salacious stories of the six wives of Henry VIII through a pop concert – will leave you grinning uncontrollably. The pitch-perfect performances of the sassy and ridiculously well-cast six are not to be underestimated, and each performer is given their time to shine. The musical styles echo the best of Girls Aloud, Beyonce and Rihanna with ‘beats so sick they’ll give you gout’, whipping up the crowd into a veritable frenzy.

Jarneia Richard-Noel shines as the religious Catherine of Aragon, Millie O’Connell channels Spiceworld’s quirky humour as Anne Boleyn, Natalie Paris is pure gold as Henry’s true love Jane Seymour, Alexia McIntosh is so funny as the not-too-hard-done-by (given the context) Anne of Cleves, Aimie Atkinson (In the Heights) is a brill Katherine Howard and Maiya Quansah-Breed’s professional debut as Catherine Parr proves she is worthy of surviving Henry VIII!

Musical highlights for us include the hilarious techno mash up ‘House of Holbein’, the wake-up call opening ‘Six’ and the banging remix of Greensleeves in ‘Ex Wives’. Leave your inhibitions at the door and let your head go to this onslaught of feel good vibes. The lazer-sharp choreography, live stadium style lighting, plus live band make the pop hooks bounce around the venue.

We fear the show’s next tour stop the Arts Theatre in London will not be big enough to contain all of the screams! Be warned you will be singing these earworms days later. This is a history lesson unlike any other. RD

★★★★★ A Generous Lover | Summerhall | Aug 7-12, 14-19, 21-26 | 16:10 | £10

An astounding Weimar-style cabaret theatre tale about caring for a loved one who has bipolar disorder.

Transdrogenous (our word, we like it) flame-haired cabaret star LaJohnJoseph creates a masterpiece of tightly woven and sensitive narrative and divine musical moments.

From the outset a show about someone struggling to deal with their partner’s bipolar disorder doesn’t sound laugh-a-minute, but LaJohnJoseph’s performance brings out the humour of the beautifully drawn kitchen sink characters in the story, and adds a touch of Greek tragic lyricism. From the claw-handed inpatient at a mental hospital to a long-suffering (and very funny) patient’s wife, the torture of being locked up in the underworld of l’ospedal (a mental health institution) is brutally laid bare.

LaJohnJoseph’s heartfelt, poetic, autobiographical tale of love and loss in Liverpool resonates with a enraptured audience. The added flamboyant theatricality and camp humour a la Katherine Hepburn lifts the audience from the tearjerking moments. After each spoken section there is a musical interlude, and this is where the performance truly channels the emotional timbre of the story. With sensitive and courageously bare unplugged versions of songs such as Dionne Warwick’s ‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose?’, and ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ by Kate Bush, the performance ascends to something ethereal, magical and unforgettable.

This exquisite show deserves to win awards at the fringe and go onto bigger things. Unmissable! RD

★★★★★ Electrolyte | Pleasance Dome | Aug 11-12, 14-27 | 17:30 | £7-£12

A pulsating rock-n-roll love story.

The idea of gig-theatre seems to be a little overused and cringeworthy these days, but Wildcard’s epic show manages to prove that it’s a genre that should be championed.

Jessie is sick of her life in Leeds and longs for something new. She finds inspiration with the folk-rave sound of Allie Touch and follows her to London. Olivia Sweeney’s emotional, manic and unstoppable performance as Jessie is totally mind-blowing, and she deserves a Fringe First (hint hint!).

Front woman and music creator Maimuna Memon is phenomenal as Allie and would give Ed Sheehan a run for his money with her catchy yet fresh sounding, dance-indie arrangements.

The rest of the company are overwhelmingly talented, taking their cues from the hit-worthy score and infusing their dry northern humour into every scene.

This gig-theatre experience may be exhausting, but leaves you feeling electric. Don’t miss! RD

★★★★★ It’s True, It’s True, It’s True | Underbelly, Cowgate | Aug 11-12, 14-26 | 14:50 | £7-£12

A killer classical herstory for our times.

An unexpected theatrical stomper awaits in the caves of Underbelly Cowgate. From the outset, the extravagantly long Italian names of the protagonists may be a bit alienating, and remind you of a school history lesson… But bear with it and you’re in for something truly bone-shaking!

The courtroom drama is turned on its head as the show examines the 1612 trial of Agostino Tassi, who was accused of rape by talented young artist Artemisia Gentileschi.

Kathryn Bond (aka Kat Bond comedian), Sophie Steer (divinely androgynous) and Ellice Stevens (a Helen of Troy type) are a skilled ensemble cast who bring a riot girl approach to the 17th century values.

The accused and his protectors are expertly satirised in their evasion of the truth, performances exuding David Cameron-esque slimy overconfidence. The courtroom scenes become almost carnivalesque, and sardonically depict male power and privilege that transcends the historical setting.

This hitherto untold story of female justice applies tropes of Xray Spex-style rebellion to a classical story that might have felt distant and irrelevant if not for the skilled performances of the cast and the masterful direction.

Breach Theatre have consistently broken the mould and this show deserves to take them to a whole new audience. RD

★★★★★ Lazy Susan: Forgive Me, Mother! | Assembly George Square Theatre – The Box | Aug 5-13, 15-27 | 16:20 | £9.50-£10.50

Supremely silly and outrageously funny, Lazy Susan are a sketch duo on the verge of greatness.

We were first tipped off to the wonderful brilliance of Lazy Susan by the Spectacular Spectrum of Now gang, who sent the sublimely silly Smell Investigators sketch our way. Since then, Lazy Susan have been steadily climbing the comedy ladder, popping up on TV and Radio and bagging a Edinburgh Comedy Award Best Newcomer along the way.

This year, they’re literally packing out Assembly’s Box  in George Square – the show began with a  capacity audience and somehow even managed to squeeze a few more in, a sign surely that the duo could easily fill a bigger space. The Box works just nicely, though, for this kind of conversational sketch comedy, which relies as much on intimacy as it does on big reveals. Combining a surreal, wry sensibility with a just-the-right-side-of-too-meta overarching narrative, Celeste Dring and Freya Parker engage with their captivated audience right from the off. There are no false starts, and no bum notes – except for my own bum, that is, forced to balance between two uneven benches in a muggy, slightly too intimate corner!

It’s commonly known that heat doesn’t suit comedy performances – audiences are often more likely to nod off than split their sides if the auditorium veers towards sauna-like conditions. It’s a real sign of the strength of the material, and the magnetism, enthusiasm and conviction of the performances, that Lazy Susan have the audience enraptured throughout. This hour of clever, imaginative sketch comedy deserves a full house every night of the Fringe – just take a fan and don’t plan on any man- (or woman-) spreading! SW

★★★★★ Mawaan Rizwan: Juice | Pleasance Dome | Aug 6-12, 14-27 | 17:30 | £6-£10.50

Sweet, silly, saucy, sassy and stupendously funny – Mawaan Rizwan’s Juice is a thirst-quenching joy-ride of a stand-up set.

Alright, so it took us three years – since featuring Rizwan in a London To Do List back in 2015, captivated by his blurb: ‘a fucked up concoction of stand-up, dance, clowning, eggs, popcorn, Mongolian throat singing, laundry pegs and some free booze’ – to finally follow our own advice and catch him live and kicking. And boy, was it worth the wait!

Mawaan Rizwan knows he’s funny, but he peddles an endearing line in self-deprecation which never topples over into self-flagellation. Instead, there’s a knowing glint in his eye as he brings the audience onboard and relates the tale of his career so far, reflecting on the parallel scene-steeling antics of his family.

Comedians talking about themselves can be a bit of a bore – and talking about how they became a comedian even more so. But Rizwan has that knack of bringing the room together and nurturing an atmosphere that all at once feels like ‘An Audience With…’ and a one-to-one chat.

So too, stories about comedians families can feel hackneyed, or exploitative, or just so last century. But again, Rizwan is up to the task, his cheeky smile, wide eyes and energetic bouncing-around casting aside any thought that you’re ‘just another audience’, instead making you feel like you’ve made his day just by turning up. The enthusiasm is infectious, the honesty endearing, the musical interludes zany and fun, and the storytelling hilarious.

There’s something of Donald Glover in his eyes and that butter-wouldn’t-melt-(but-it-would) smile, and a fleeting glimpse of Simon Amstell in his use of sarcasm – neither comparisons a suggestion that his act is derivative, rather extremely high compliments.

Comedy sets often make you laugh a lot, and occasionally that laughter stays with you after the show. Juice is a show about being yourself and being comfortable in your own skin, but also about the value of family and – for a few minutes – the wonder that is mango chutney! You’ll leave lighter, happier, and maybe with the urge to call your mum (or go buy some chutney)! SW

★★★★★ Power Play: Funeral Flowers | Pleasance Pop-Up: Power Play HQ | Aug 6, 8-13, 15-20, 22-25 | 14:30 | £12

Emma Dennis-Edwards is astonishing in this definition of important, powerful theatre.

Emma Dennis-Edwards, the writer and solo-performer who carries Funeral Flowers through its 50 affecting, heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting minutes, is a revelation! As Angelique, a 17 year old who dreams of becoming a florist and escaping her complicated upbringing, Dennis-Edwards in never less than captivating. Leading her audience around the Power Play flat (an Edinburgh flat which plays host to four new plays written and created by women), she relates a devastating story of youth tortuously traversing trials of adolescence alien, hopefully, to most theatre audiences.

Challenging issues relating to rape, the care system and gang violence are tackled head-on – this is certainly no fairytale coming-of-age story. Despite the darkness, though, Dennis-Edwards invests Angelique with such warmth, hope and core strength in the face of adversity, that it is the true beauty of humanity that ultimately wins through. Impassioned, urgent storytelling like this deserves a big audience. SW

★★★★★ Trojan Horse | Summerhall | Aug 6-12, 14-26 | 15:15 | £5-£12

A magnificent, vital piece of contemporary theatre which leaves the heart pounding and the mind racing.

There’s no reason why difficult, challenging subjects shouldn’t also make for the most thrilling theatrical experiences – and LUNG, the company behind E15, The 56 and Chilcot, have form. In Trojan Horse, they excel themselves.

70 minutes flash by as a supremely talented and engaging cast relate the story of the Trojan Horse scandal which shocked the country back in 2014. It would be easy to imagine a low-tech, small-cast play about the perceived rising threat of Islamist extremisim in Birmingham schools as a dry, humourless, play-it-safe affair. But LUNG are having none of it.

Based on the real-life testimonies of those at the heart of the government inquiry which ensued from a (widely accepted to be fake) leaked letter detailing attempts by Islamists to wrest control of a Birmingham school, Trojan Horse exposes the facts and stares them in the face, whilst also stepping away from the teachers and governors to examine the effect on the people that really matter: the children.

Blushes aren’t spared – there is no good or bad dichotomy. Great teachers turn out to have troublesome views, proud parents have unreasonable standards, and under-performing head teachers may or may not be lashing out at the easiest targets. And all the while, the schoolchildren are trying to find their way in the world, studying hard or bunking off, falling in love and striving for independence.

Trojan Horse is a story about politicisation of education, cultural misunderstanding, institutional bias, and unbalanced media representation. But above all else, it is a story about humanity, about people getting along with people, about what it really means to be British, and about asking the question: “Is the Trojan Horse itself the Trojan Horse?’  SW

★★★★★ Yana Alana – Between the Cracks | Assembly Checkpoint | Aug 11-12, 14-19, 21-26 | 20:00 | £10-£13

A ravishing, ribald, in-yer-face cabaret triumph – surely the least forgettable show at this years Fringe!

If you’ve never encountered Yana Alana before, you’re in for a mighty surprise – whatever you expect will be defied. Combining stylish cabaret, first-class clowning, risqué comedy, a world-class voice and one audacious ‘outfit’, Yana Alana may just be the diva to rule them all!

Artfully treading  the line of engaging with her audience without ever making them feel on edge, Yana Alana moves between epic songs, edgy humour, and surprisingly subtle storytelling wrapped up in what appears to be a supremely committed character performance. Yes, there’s something of the Dame Edna/Madge relationship going on between Alana and her keyboard player Louise, and it’s tempting to make a comparison to a mash-up of Jayde Adams and Meow Meow, but it would be throughly unfair to suggest that Yana Alana is in any way derivative. Indeed, if there’s a message in ‘Between The Cracks’ (the show title isn’t ‘just’ a pun on Alana’s appearance), it’s about being true to your own unique self – and Yana Alana is definitely a unique, beautiful and majestic stage presence.

It would be impossible to pick out just one highlight – it’s truly a show full of highlights – but particular mention must go to Alana’s incredible skill at putting those lucky audience members invited to join in on stage completely at ease, and also to her incredible rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’. It is frankly sickening just how (multi-)talented Yana Alana is – and a complete joy watching those skills laid bare on stage before your very eyes. SW

★★★★½ Cassie Atkinson – Swan Songs | Waverley Bar | Aug 10-15, 17-22, 24-26 | 13:15 | FREE

A twisted musical-comedy hit.

Cassie Atkinson’s satanic Blue Peter presenter is armed with a xylophone and a wry smile, ready to deliver the lesson for today: don’t borrow a jumper without asking!

Cassie channels the best of Victoria Wood and powers through an hour of dark comedy storytelling through song. The songs echo the feeling of Roald Dahl’s twist-in-the-tale stories, and always go that bit darker than you’re prepared for. The delivery is impeccable and Cassie embodies her characters completely.

The show just missed the five star mark as it felt like there could have been a few more gags in some of the songs – to make it a balls-to-the-wall comedy show – but then, maybe that’s just not Cassie Atkinson’s style.

All in all, a wonderfully weird hour by a ‘future national treasure’ (quoting ourselves, how meta!). RD

★★★★½ Egg | Summerhall | Aug 9-12, 14-19, 21-26 | 18:15 | £5-£12

Gut-wrenching narrative-driven circus spectacle depicting the painful truth behind IVF.

Think circus is all shiny costumes and clowns?

Egg made us think again and reevaluate what circus can make you feel. Sarah Bebe Holmes takes us on an emotional rollercoaster through a mix of incredibly daring stunts – including hanging naked in a water-filled plastic bag and then bursting out of the membrane.

The story is based on Holmes’ real and devastating experience of donating eggs to a friend for IVF treatment. The circus elements follow breathtaking monologues, and employ pioneering new apparatus – like a mess of plastic hoses – to create some truly jaw-dropping aerial work.

Paper Doll Militia’s personal journey through the underrepresented traumatic realities of IVF treatment, for the donor as well as the recipient, leaves a lasting impression, both visually and emotionally. RD

★★★★½ Emma Sidi: Faces of Grace | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 10-24, 26 | 20:30 | £6-£10

Top-class character comedy from a comedian at the top of her game.

Emma Sidi gives a masterclass in sharp, tightly-packaged, and (most importantly) hilarious character comedy in this fine hour at the Pleasance Courtyard. Regenerating Dr Who-style in front of our very eyes, each of Sidi’s smartly observed and fully committed characters are greeted with a bright flash – and a bright flash sums up Sidi perfectly well.

Whether she’s channeling the impossibly upbeat Britta of the intentionally-wandering-accent, a Love Island reject coming the terms with some pretty demoralising feedback from the producers, or an astrology obsessive out to prove why nobody likes a Virgo, Sidi completely disappears into every character – whilst also pulling off the tricky task of bringing the audience along with her from one character to the next.

Sidi makes this kind of character comedy look easy, when it’s anything but – there’s plenty of evidence elsewhere on the fringe to show just how tricky this kind of show can be to pull off. But with confidence that never teeters over into arrogance, Sidi is a bright flash of undeniable comedy talent due some big-time attention. SW

★★★★½ The Delightful Sausage: Regeneration Game | Monkey Barrel | Aug 9-26 | 12:00 | £5

Impressive Northern character comedy duo.

The Delightful Sausage live in the same universe as Mighty Boosh and Adam Buxton, but crucially they oooze Northern warmth that these posh boys can’t quite muster!

The premise is that the audience are villagers in the hamlet of Icklewick, at a residents meeting working on a strategy to become the next City of Culture. Cue hilarious gags, a pretty slide show and a cavalcade of silly situations.

So far, so what? Well, what makes this sausage so tasty is the oddball pair’s mutual trust and this leads to some surprising spontaneous moments without feeling like cheesy ‘improv’. The relationship between Chris Cantrill and Amy Gledhill (The Delightful Sausage) reminds us of Diane Morgan and Joe Wilkinson in their duo ‘Two Episodes Of Mash’.

These two have the chemistry and surreal ideas to go very far. Mystic Meg would predict at least a TV pilot for E4 or BBC3. RD

★★★★½ Zoo | Assembly George Square Studios – Four | Aug 5-12, 14-19, 21-26 | 11:00 | £9.50-£11.50

Lily Bevan and Lorna Beckett are a winning combination in this bitter-sweet, heartfelt and inspirational story based on a real life events. And it’s funny too!

In 2015, Lily Bevan’s ‘Pheasant Plucker’ – tucked away in what was then the Underbelly Med Quad – was one of our surprise highlights of the Fringe. A delightfully quirky one woman show about (amongst other things) losing a falcon, Bevan’s debut didn’t just show promise – it was an immediate declaration of undeniable talent: for comic writing, character comedy, and captivating performance.

For 2018, Bevan has written a two-hander starring herself and Lorna Beckett as friends from opposite sides of the Atlantic, both in love with their jobs: Bevan’s Bonnie a zookeeper in Miami, Beckett’s Carol a bat specialist in Yorkshire.

Brought together by a chance meeting at a conference cafeteria, Bonnie and Carol form an unbreakable bond of friendship threatened only when a freak storm approaches Bonnie’s zoo.

Bevan’s writing inventively moves the action from Miami to Yorkshire and back again, bringing the two disparate locations – and the chalk and cheese personalities of the protagonists – together in a way that feels immediately comfortable and comforting. There is something so genuine about the relationships and emotions on display, and perhaps as a result, the laughs – gentle, warm, embracing – come easily.

There’s a sting in the tail, which adds poignancy to proceedings and perhaps leaves as many questions unanswered as answered. But Bevan and Beckett bring levity and humanity even to the darkest of moments, and it is the power of love and friendship that ultimately wins the day. SW

★★★★ Alex Edelman: Just for Us | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 6-26 | 20:00 | £10-£14

A lot more than just ‘dumb jokes’.

Alex Edelman opens by telling us that he normally just tells ‘dumb jokes’ – but this show is much more than that. Edelman’s comedy is a mixture of well observed comedy storytelling and a spattering of more standalone jokes. He touches on some relatively deep subjects but manages to keep the show pretty easy going by being a bit of an everyman and keeping everything quite close to the edge of political. The situations he describes are auspiciously full of an irony, which seems almost too perfect – but we still do get the sense that these are actual things that have happened for Edelman. He infiltrates a meeting of white nationalists, playing down his Judaism and playing up his white privilege in the show’s most pertinent section. He may not be playing to a room full of the fellow Jews from Boston who he states to be his audience, but the audience are certainly onside, won over by his perfect blend of somewhat charming and somewhat awkward. This is really solid comedy – funny, sometimes surprising and enjoyable to watch. LE

★★★★ Andrea Spisto: Miss Venezuela | Just The Tonic at The Mash House | Aug 6-12, 14-26 | 22:10 | £7

Spisto is a supremely engaging and assured presence in this colourful celebration of liberation.

Andrea Spisto is Miss Venezuela, practising her looks and moves for the Miss Universe competition. But this is no mere beauty pageant – there’s much more to Miss Venezuela than her looks and comportment.

Unpacking what it means to be beautiful and a woman in the 21st century, Spisto channels Shakira, Frida Kahlo and other inspirations, whilst dipping into surreal flights of fantasy – one hilarious show-stopping segment features an electric fan, another sees Spisto play an impromptu game of spin the bottle resulting in an intense make-out session with herself! In fact, learning to love oneself and to care less about what other people want you to be seems to be the strongest takeaway message here, and it remains a timely message.

Spisto is determined to bring the audience along with her on the journey to liberating, if not a country, then certainly herself and her body. The clowning, dancing and singing are all superb, and Spisto’s calm and reassuring presence remains unruffled even when dealing with a few slightly over-excited audience members. SW

★★★★ Awakening | Underbelly, Bristo Square | Aug 16-27 | 14:35 | £10-£11

One woman show with finely balanced black humour.

Awakening is a one-woman show in which Kirsty Osmon bring us Cassie, a 26-year old who wakes up on her birthday in an unknown front garden and tries to piece together the night before.

Osmon plays Cassie brilliantly, a complex character who feels very real. Her journey through the day sees her flipping between past experiences of the last year, as well as her encounters that day. Osmon portrays the other characters in her story effectively and distinctly, with assistance from the myriad of props that form her set – an archway of what initially seems to be random mess that frames the playing space.

The props, set and costume add to the show, but the use of sound effects is not so strong – although they have a brash and colourful feel to them, the sound effects are at times a little too jarring. But the sound of Cassie’s ex boyfriend’s voice is intrinsic to show – the one character Osmon doesn’t play herself, we hear him only in Cassie’s memory.

The show is fast paced and humorous, with the dark side of the story showing just enough to leave a slight discomfort, but not enough to feel completely sombre. It is very well written and the character of Cassie is easy to identify with, as she struggles to see herself and her place in time. LE

★★★★ Century Song | ZOO Southside | Aug 10-14, 16-18 | 15:00 | £12-£14

A visually stunning contemporary opera of emotion.

Century Song from Canadian company Volcano mixes transcendental vocals from Neema Bickersteth and beautiful projection design from fettFilm.

The show moves away from an opera of narrative to an odyssey of emotion and jaw dropping visuals, which score the wordless vocal pieces which span a century.

Bickersteth’s voice is electric and her skillful control will leave you with goosebumps. The beguiling 3D plains created in the visuals are truly out of this world. A section where the camera gradually zooms out, revealing multiple characters and illuminating the untold stories of Black women from different decades all syncing together rhythmically, is a triumph.

The show may be a little abstract for those who like traditional opera, but if you give in to the music and light show you will be rewarded with a truly bewitching experience. Altogether, Century Song is a remarkable feat of operatic spectacle. RD

★★★★ Class | Traverse Theatre | Aug 5, 7-12, 14-19, 21-26 | Times Vary | £20.50

A moving and well observed piece which moves beyond the classroom.

Class is described as ‘a new play about learning difficulties: in school, in life, wherever’, and with education as a springboard the range of subject matter addressed is wide. Spanning families, relationships, societal class, potential and disappointment, Class is well written. It is unexpectedly powerful, starting as a seemingly mundane parent-teacher meeting and turning into something much more acute.

The narrative switches between timelines and the performers adapt excellently, with both Stephen Jones and Sarah Morris seamlessly transitioning between adult and child characters. The distinction is clear and their performances in both timelines, along with Will O’Connell’s, are brilliantly detailed showing a high level of observation, which makes it easy for us to accept them in both situations. Stephen Jones is particularly strong in his roles as both Brian and his son Jayden. The lighting and set design are simple and effective, gently supporting the strength of the writing. The pace is good and the balance of humour and poignancy is effective.

The only slight niggle is with the likelihood of the turn of events towards the end of the piece. However, this is well worth a watch, be you teacher, parent or neither of the above. LE

★★★★ Don’t Kill Your Darlings | ZOO Charteris | Aug 9-26 | 13:15 | £10

Oddball physical comedy theatre from Norway.

Ingvild Haugstand is the queen of goofy comedy and an hour in her presence is a delight.

Haugstad tells her quirky, romcom-style story to an audience of slightly bemused punters. Physical gags and Terrence and Philip (South Park) style fart antics abound in the light-hearted visual storytelling. Haugstad’s constantly mischievous face and a bit of theatrical magic make the performance a must for those who love silly comedy.

The pace could have been a little quicker, and there weren’t many ‘tears of a clown’ moments to bring some balance to the screwball comedy. But overall, Don’t Kill Your Darlings is a delightfully strange and bewildering bouffon. RD

★★★★ Freeman | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 11-27 | 17:00 | £8-£11

Emotional play with an important message.

Freeman is a hard-hitting piece of work. Starting with William Freeman, a black man wrongly accused and imprisoned, and subsequently beaten to the point of madness, the show addresses the history of people of colour who have been pushed over the edge by their treatment at the hands of society and the authorities. The effect of racism on mental health is undeniable, with so many stories resulting in suicide – there are several examples of this that we see in Freeman. We also learn of the story of Daniel M’Naghten – the first man to be found not guilty for reasons of insanity.

The message is there: people of colour are stereotyped, abused, accused and arrested everywhere you turn. And of course this has an impact. It is a strong message and that is what is fuelling the work. However the structure of the show occasionally lets the messaging down, jumping around with some sections seeming slightly unnecessary, whilst some connections are missed. The inclusion of M’Naghten’s story did not seem completely well placed.

The company work well together though, and use physical theatre and some visual trickery very nicely. Most performances are very strong, particularly the portrayal of Freeman, and that of David Oluwale. The show is having a big impact, which was reflected by the standing ovation that will no doubt be repeated. LE

★★★★ Ladykiller | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 11-12, 15-27 | 13:00 | £6.50-£11

A bloody brilliant hymn to the dark side of a zero hours worker…

Hannah McClean’s psychopath in the one-woman bloodbath ‘Ladykiller’ is an offbeat celebration of cathartic revenge.

Much like the fodder in John Water’s seminal horror comedy ‘Serial Mom’, this chambermaid’s unfortunate victim could be seen as deserving it. This brand of depraved narrative from writer Madeline Gould really challenges the audience’s moral compass.

McClean holds the audience rapt throughout this twisted tale of a killer’s motivations and beliefs, and sheds light on the uncomfortable truth: just how easy it is to empathise with this murderer.

The moral of the tale is  revealed in the half-joking warning to ‘be nice to people in customer service’, and perhaps ‘Ladykiller’ could do with a little more content around this theme. On the whole, though,  the writing is on point and for those with a sick sense of humour, Ladykiller is a must-see. RD

★★★★ Lucky Stiff | Paradise in Augustines | Aug 10-11 | 11:30 | £15

A dead delightful old-fashioned musical farce.

This 1988 forgotten classic by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Seussical) has been dusted off and vividly brought back to life by BB Productions. The story is a Hollywood-style caper following the fortunes of Harry Witherspoon, who tries to secure inheritance of a long lost uncle’s multi-million dollar fortune by taking the corpse on a last jolly to Monte Carlo!

The cast clearly love the material, and the cheeky performances – especially those of Emma Carver as a gun-toting moll and Sophie Spencer as a geeky rival coffin chaser with a heart – lend the production real heart.

The farcical elements are rife, from silly chase scenes to witty musical numbers in dodgy accents. Of the latter, ‘Speaking French’, playfully performed by Gemma Campbell, is a real ear worm!

A special shout-out, too, to the incredibly still and devoted performance of Ray Higgs who plays dead Uncle Anthony i.e. the stiff. Kudos to him for playing this thankless yet absolutely vital role with such aplomb.

At 1 hour 45 minutes, Lucky Stiff is quite long for the fringe, and is ambitious to stage in the time, but ultimately the company keep the show moving quickly enough to avoid the audience drifting off. The staging and production is pretty lo-fi but in a lovable way, with two ladies in tabards doing much of the heavy lifting between scenes.

The big downer on this roller coaster is the sound quality – the cast really need mics to make sure the audience can hear every word, especially when singing with live accompaniment which at times threatened to overwhelm the lyrics.

All in all though, Lucky Stiff is a charming treat and a great way to start your day at the fringe – and a rare opportunity to see a great, lost musical on the stage. RD

★★★★ No Kids | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 11-12, 14-20, 22-27 | 15:40 | £6.50-£13.50

Ad Infinitum present a funny yet insightful glimpse into one of the biggest decisions in the lives of Artistic Directors Nir Paldi and George Mann.

To have kids, or not? That is the simple yet fundamentally crucial question faced by real-life partners Paldi & Mann. No Kids is meta-theatre at its most accessible – consummate performances from the two draw the audience in to a retelling of their decision process, which is at once a flash-back to discussions they’ve had, a window into the process of making the show, and seemingly a real-time, in-the-moment acknowledgement that the discussion isn’t yet over.

Though at face value No Kids is about the question of parenthood as it presents itself to a gay couple, this is a play for anyone thinking about having children. The pro’s and con’s of bringing a new life into the world are set out, sometimes factually, often humorously, and mostly to the tune of one Madonna song or another. Some of the nitty gritty is overlooked, but No Kids is at its best when it pokes fun at the way prospective parents tend to dwell on either the very best of very worst possible futures, naive to the fact that much of parenthood is about dealing with the mundane. Of course, there’s beauty in the mundanity – but if you can’t see that, perhaps you’re not ready yet…

As thought-provoking theatre goes, No Kids isn’t going to change the world, but it does shine a light on a perennial issue that young (or not so young) adults of all persuasions will inevitably confront at some point – and does so in an engaging, occasionally hilarious, and never less than honest way.  SW

★★★★ Paul Foot: Image Conscious | Underbelly, Cowgate | Aug 10-12, 14-26 | 19:00 | £10.50-£12.50

A weird and wonderful mind.

What do soft shelled crabs, the royal family, masterchef, orgies and snooker players of the 1980s have in common? They all play an important role in Paul Foot’s latest show Image Conscious. A seeming stream-of-consciousness babbling, it’s actually a very well constructed show. Foot’s unique physicality adds to the humour, as he stalks across the stage from audience member to audience member, getting right up close and personal to one ’53-year old woman’ in particular (sitting in the front row is not for the faint-hearted). He is a unique comedic force. His smile as he pauses after each punchline is perfectly timed to allow everything to sink in… and whilst seeming pleased with himself, Foot never seems arrogant, only happy to be sharing his jokes. Once you get on board with this very particular style of comedy, you’ll find it hard not to laugh out loud. LE

★★★★ Tabarnak | Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows | Aug 11-12, 14-19, 21-25 | 19:00 | £17.50-£19.50

A riotous celestial cirque!

The Québecois bearded circus wonders return with the follow up to barnstorming hit Barbu, with their tongue in cheek spin on catholic values.

The huge Circus Hub stage is strewn with retro Canadian icons including hockey sticks and snow shoes. This is soon dismantled to get to the real business of the show including nail-biting roller-skating antics, Chinese pole (on shoulders), water bowl poi-style twirling and some of the best swing work. We guarantee you won’t see acts as inventive as this at another fringe circus show!

There is a clear bond of family in the troupe (their mini-me’s even appear for the curtain call) and this shines through in their cheeky expressions and supportive attitude towards each other. Stand-outs for us were the whip cracking fierce percussionist Josianne Laporte and the hulking greatness of Antoine Carabinier Lépine.

The show didn’t quite deserve its 70 minute time slot, and took a while to get going with a little too much theatrical filler. So with a bit of trimming it could be even better, as the circus stunts themselves are so impressive. All in all, though, this celestial and at times diabolic show of circus skill is a must-see for Cirque Alfonse newbies and fans alike. RD

★★★★ Theatre Uncut: Women on Power | Traverse Theatre | Aug 13 | 10:00

A gutsy platform for new short political plays.

A 10am start is not usually the best way to guarantee an audience but as usual Traverse Theatre defies convention and the downstairs is packed with industry types and fringe-goers.

Enthusiastic MC and co-artistic director Emma Callander explains that Theatre Uncut is an organisation commissioning and providing rights-free access to political plays online. The plays themselves can be performed by anyone during the rights-free period.

The format of this showcase is 3 x 10 minute plays, this year themed around women on power. Performances on 6th August included eye-opening insights into Muslim tokenism from Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, a mediation on erotic violence by playwright Cordelia Lynn and a cutting search for female safe space in Niellah Arboine’s Safe.

A Q&A with the performers and artistic director of the Traverse Orla O’Loughlin provided an in-depth insight into changing narrative norms in the 21st century.

Overall a worthy outing for these plays and something Traverse Theatre should champion more: new work, which breaks the mould, in a short, accessible format to appeal to a wider audience than their dead cert membership crowd. RD

★★★★ Tina T’urner Tea Lady and Friends | Frankenstein Pub | Aug 11-12, 14-19, 21-27 | 14:30 | FREE

A tea-rrific belly laugh of a hit!

Comedian Tracey Collins showcases memorable and hilarious characters in this hour of kitsch crowd-pleasing comedy in the eery basement of Frankenstein’s (yay, it has a bar inside!).

At first the premise of Tina Turner retiring as a tea lady in Yorkshire may be a stretch for the imagination, but the attention to detail in Collins’ pun-tastic creation proves otherwise and will leave you in hysterics (unless you’re dead inside).

New characters Milk Jagger and Audrey Heartburn aren’t quite up to the power of Tina’s unstoppable energy, but still have some hilarious moments.

Our only critique would be the time taken for costume changes, covered by some vintage tv adverts on a screen. The show would get another half a star if these were quickened or the changes done on stage, as the ad breaks can be a bit of a buzzkill.

Nevertheless, the comedy is anarchic, silly and great fun for all ages. RD

★★★½ Revelations | Summerhall | Aug 5, 7-12, 14-19, 21-26 | 17:40 | £9-£10

The third piece in a trilogy that began with 2016’s Team Viking, Revelations is a welcome return to the world of Sarah, Emma, Tom and James.

The follow-up to 2016’s ‘Team Viking’, 2017’s ‘A Hundred Different Words for Love’, was one of our Fringe highlights last year – a heartbreaking yet hilarious and uplifting story of boy-meets-girl.

2018 sees James Rowland returning with the third chapter, featuring many of the same characters: here, his best friend Sarah and her wife Emma are planning a family, and turn to James for some help…

Whilst Rowland’s storytelling remains engaging and bursting with enthusiasm, and whilst it is a pleasure to return to the company of Sarah and Emma and – in flashback – Tom, there’s something here that wasn’t there before: a feeling of reaching for a story to fit the format. So where ‘A Hundred Different Words…’ felt genuine and organic, like a story a friend might relate over a couple of glasses of wine, ‘Revelations’ feels like it’s been pieced together just to round off the story.

That’s not to say that the story this time around isn’t at times beautiful, at times moving, and – many times – downright hilarious. And Rowland’s performance is once again a revelation in itself, quite literally towards the end. But there’s something almost imperceptible here that doesn’t quite ring true, a sense – never completely missing before, but more easily ignored – that the audience is being manipulated to care about something that might not be quite as true as made out.

Theatre is full of manipulations of course – it’s is almost entirely dependent upon them. But the trick is to not let the audience feel manipulated or misled. Rowland opens ‘Revelations’ with a nice ‘bit’ that feels genuine, but which later (and, as evidenced in the script) turns out to be a not-so-subtle bit of fibbing. All well and good, perhaps, to lay the foundations for the climactic reveal, but it can leave a slight – if almost undetectable – taste of bitterness in the mouth. SW

★★★½ Silence | Pleasance at EICC | Aug 11-19, 21-26 | Times Vary | £13-£15

An explosive outdoor spectacle lacking a little clarity.

If you like death, fire and apocalyptic visions of the future, Polish theatre company Teatr Biuro Podrozy’s ‘Silence’ is for you.

Far from silent, this show features a booming oppressive soundscape, invoking the haunting and somewhat distressing experiences of victims of the Bosnian War.

From ominous menacing militia on motorbikes to fiery angels of death on stilts, the show’s overpowering imagery – from creepy mannequins representing victim children to a bus in flames – is very unusual and makes for a different fringe night out.

The allegorical story of these victims of evil was a little hard to follow and there could have been more voiceover narrative after the initial audio introduction.

The show’s strength ultimately lies in the dizzying parade of spectacular dystopian images, and the commitment with which the talented cast portray them. RD

★★★½ Stuart Bowden: Our Molecules | Underbelly, Bristo Square | Aug 6-12, 14-19, 21-26 | 18:50 | £10.50-£11.50

Goofy storytelling for fans of off-beat humour.

Stuart Bowden has a very specific kind of humour. His show format is a kind of stuttering, surreal, storytelling and for the most part succeeds in being awkwardly and oddly funny. It’s not exactly laugh-out-loud, raucous laughter – it’s more a kind of continuous smirk with a bit of a chuckle thrown in from time to time for most of us (although there are some in the audience who are clearly tickled throughout).

The loose premise of the show is the story of Natalie (Bowden), an alien who lands on earth looking for lost love, and probably looking to wipe out humanity. There is a lot of meandering off topic, quite a few strategic pauses… and some songs. The show did seem to lose focus a tad at times, and  not in the way it was probably designed to. Bowden’s self satisfaction is occasionally a bit too present – however this is, on the whole, a silly and enjoyable hour. LE

★★★½ The Last Straw | Summerhall | Aug 1-12, 14-19, 21-26 | 15:00 | £5-£12

Performance art legends try to make sense of it all.

A song to the mind-f#ck of now from a skilful duo of performance maestros, never acting just being. If you’ve not heard about People Show, look them up – they have a huge body of groundbreaking work spanning over 50 years.

Show #130 meanders through disjointed narratives of the mundane post-postmodern experience and ultimately tackles the extreme political themes of our age. The stage is a sea of shredded paper and a door cuts the space diagonally into two.

The delicacy of Gareth Brierley and Fiona Creese’s performance is not to be underestimated and there is not a moment where your attention will drift from their enigmatic speeches about a cataclysm of fake news, disasters and buzz words. RD

★★★ On The Exhale | Traverse Theatre | Aug 5, 7-12, 14-19, 21-26 | Times Vary | £20.50

A different angle for a play addressing gun violence.

On the Exhale moves to an unexpected place for a show about the grief caused by gun violence.
Polly Frame’s solid performance in this one-hander shows a mother traumatised by a shooting in which she has lost her son. She has all the intensity you would expect for someone finding themselves in this most tragic of situations. However, over the course of the play the character becomes surprisingly obsessed with guns herself and the show’s focus shifts. Whilst this is an interesting turn of events, it seems somewhat improbable and slightly skews the previous sense of direct and honest trauma.

The fluorescent tube lighting which forms the show’s set, laid out on the floor in a manner which reflects the description of the bodies – strewn throughout the crime scene – is powerful, and the aesthetic of the piece is very strong. However, the overall impact of the play leaves us somewhere oddly between feeling moved and a feeling of detachment. Intense and unrelenting, yes. Successful… partially. LE

★★★ The Egg Is A Lonely Hunter | Summerhall | Aug 5-12, 14-26 | 14:45 | £6-£10

A beautifully poetic solo show which, despite some fantastic turns of phrase, doesn’t quite hold the attention.

Suffice to say, I wanted to like this show more. Hannah Mamalis is an engaging, honest writer/performer, and The Egg Is A Lonely Hunter is a melodic, conversational one-hander which, through occasional flights of fancy and a loose adherence to boundary between dream and reality, tells an at-times fascinating tale. As a tight half-hour, this could very well have been a Fringe stand-out – but, at an hour, there’s a sense of something beautiful spread too thinly.

Don’t get me wrong – this is never a dull show, and surreal and starling one-liners arrive often enough to keep the audience on-board. But, for this reviewer, only just. There were moments when the monologue became just a comforting soundtrack to a little mind-wander – perhaps symptomatic as much of the mid-afternoon time-slot as anything wrong with the pacing or script. A strange on then – certainly not dissatisfying, but neither leaving the impression that might be expected. SW

★★½ Bryony Twydle: Flamingo | Underbelly, Bristo Square | Aug 5-14, 16-27 | 20:30 | £6.50-£10

A solid enough debut hour, with some fine moments – if a little rushed.

Bryony Twydle will bring better hours than this to future Fringe’s, but – at risk of damning with faint praise – Flamingo is a solid and, for the most part, consistent foundation for what should be an exciting future.

Twydle has already appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Sketchorama and E!’s The Royals, so she’s definitely got something – and, in a cramped room in Underbelly’s Bristo Square (formerly the Med Quad), she unpacks her box in interconnected characters to an audience that is never bored but is possibly left wanting for a few bigger laughs.

There are some keen observations in Twydle’s characters – not least the interactions between a mother and son who both want for the love they deserve, she from her cheating (in more ways than one) husband, he from his image-obsessed mother. Elsewhere, there’s a rather dated QVC skit, and a frankly bizarre segment about a would-be Hollywood star who can only laugh (and found fame in a series of apple sauce adverts). The former is funny enough, and works as an opening sketch to ease the audience in; the latter is a surreal curve-ball which just feels dropped in from another show.

But it all just about hangs together, and the narrative arc – while running out of steam towards the end – keeps the show moving along. Twydle never seems completely at ease, but never flounders either. One suspects this run will only improve and, come the end of August, it wouldn’t be surprising if this becomes a four star show. SW

★★½ Gyles Brandreth: Break a Leg! | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 11-12, 14-26 | Times Vary | £16-£19

A witty but flawed tribute to theatre luvvies from the ex-(Tory)MP.

Actor, lovable celebrity and voice of Tena incontinence pants, Gyles Brandreth presents an hour of meandering theatre anecdotes.

Though occasionally hilarious, Brandreth’s witty stories of Larry Olivier and the like estrange a little, as one starts to feel a little resentful of the old boys network through which Brandreth meets all the stars he namechecks.

Sadly, the key funny moments are not unfamiliar to this reviewer having seen the same material on Brandreths appearance on Sunday Brunch – which was a little disappointing as the stories seemed to be ad libbed on that occasion. Perhaps as a result, Brandreth seemed to phone it in a little during this performance.

To increase our star rating there needed to be much more comedy material, and perhaps simply Brandreth enlightening the audience with some off-the-cuff backstage gossip or readings from his book of theatrical quotations.

Overall if you love Gyles Brandreth it’s worth a punt – but otherwise you might not forgive the lack of original material. RD

★★ Another One | Summerhall | Aug 9-10, 14-19, 21-26 | 10:00 | £8-£10

A slightly frustrating mime-driven curiosity.

A male and a female character in furry hats test the limits of repetition in this baffling hour of physical theatre.

There are some promising parts, particularly the musicality of actions including slaps, card dealing and pottering about the stage, with the female performer devilishly asking whether the male wants ‘another one?’. The rhythmic elements – including slamming one character against a wall – do test the audience’s patience, but there is something strange and beautiful in the weirdness.

Sometimes these odd interactions between the offbeat twosome pay off, but more often than not they feel a little dragged out – Another One would be a more impressive experience as a much shorter, sharper shock to the system. RD

★★ Hamilton (Lewis) | Assembly George Square Studios – One | Aug 5-7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-26 | 21:30 | £9.50-£10.50

Occasionally on-the-money, but more often than not failing to live up to the title.

Oh, the hopes were so high for this one. IT all seemed so perfect – a mash-up of the hit musical Hamilton with the life story of the other famous Hamilton. Lewis. What could possibly go wrong?

The problem is, when you come up with a title first (as the performers admit at the end of the show), the pressure is really on to spread the high-concept ‘joke’ across a full hour. Unfortunately, ‘Hamilton (Lewis)’ mostly fails to meet this challenge.

There are moments, some of them quite splendid. The casting of a woman in the role of Lewis Hamilton is a clever play on the masculinity of Formula One, and the portrayal of Fernando Alonso pretty much steals every scene. Alas, the musical element never quite hits the spot when taking on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece, and the ‘plot’ – such as it is – quickly wears thin. A minor gripe, too, may be had with a loose grasp on the facts of Lewis Hamilton’s career – factual inaccuracies are forgivable if they’re setting u pa joke or a plot-point, but not if they just appear careless.

There are game performances from a talented cast, and some good vocals – and there’s always a chance, with a 9:30pm slot, that this may find its audience. SW

★★ My Land | Assembly Roxy | Aug 11-12, 14-19, 21-26 | 20:10 | £12-£14

Hungarian circus mavericks leave you feeling a little cold.

After loving the sultry, erotic thrills of ‘Paris de Nuit’ in Edinburgh last year and going all the way to Hungary to see the philosophical wonderment of the ‘Naked Clown’, our expectations couldn’t have been higher.

Sadly ‘My Land’, as visually interesting as it is, just isn’t as engaging. Perhaps it’s the younger expressionless cast, the abstract set pieces or the lack of any real interaction with the audience. The show feels like it has borrowed its bare staging of sand, light and full length mirrors from the world of contemporary dance rather than circus.

The pace is languorous and perhaps chimes true with the devastating world of border conflicts. The performers – five male and one female – are not lacking skill but it is excitement and magnetism that they just do not have. At times, My Land feels like watching a set of world-class, driven gymnasts rather than theatrical performers who can really extract emotion from an audience.

The show barely strays from contortion and acrobatics, with only two other circus skills showcased: juggling and a ladder act. The music is brash and takes its influences from Ukranian folk but never quite lifts the flat performances on stage.

Overall a sense of underwhelming gloom surrounded the piece which could have been so emotional and poignant. RD


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

About 

I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like: nice pubs, film marathons, not doing real marathons, bad comedy, plays/musicals with shorter second halves, and the Oxford comma.