Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2019 - Updated Daily

Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2019 – Updated Daily

The To Do List team is once again spending August gallivanting around Edinburgh, seeking out the finest fringe frolics of 2019…

So, without further unnecessary ado, here are OUR EDINBURGH FRINGE 2019 REVIEWS – check back for updates!


★★★★★ Are we not drawn onward to new erA | ZOO Southside | Aug 18, 20-25 | 11:00

A spectacular and searing call to change the world!

Belgian Fringe pioneers Ontroerend Goed prove (if proof were needed) they are not a one trick pony with this powerful visual metaphor around the future of our planet and how humanity can influence this.

Initially frustrating, the performers talk what sounds a little like Flemmish and gradually destroy the stage with plastic bags, factory-style smoke and destroyed trees. The Adam and Eve style beginning is a little trite, and pace relaxed – but the surprises this show holds are worth waiting for!

In the second half of the show, your mind will be blown with the precision of the direction, tongue-in-cheek secret splashes of humour and talent of an absent cast.

Intrigued? Do not miss this thrilling and inspiring call to change our ways which may just blow your mind. RD.

★★★★★ Crocodile Fever | Traverse Theatre | Aug 11, 13-18, 20-25 | Times Vary

A must-see, blood-soaked, woman-fronted shock-horror-comedy!

Northern Ireland nearly gets its own Texas Chainsaw Massacre in this biting tale of the horrors of sisterhood and family values. Meghan Tyler has a hit on her hands with this Lizzie Borden-esque tale of the Devlin sisters’ sibling squabbles and whether revenge ever does pay.

Sublime performances, from Lucianne McEvoy as the not so innocent Allanah and Lisa Dwyer Hogg as bad girl Fianna, combine with killer lines from Meghan Tyler’s twisty turbo-charged writing. McEvoy and Dwyer Hogg’s performances are Mike Leigh-esque in their immersive commitment to the roles. The detail in the Devlin Sisters’ body language and behaviour – from Allanah nervously house-cleaning to how Fianna explodes physically – is an astounding triumph.

A mind-blowing, kitsch flamingo-pink set design from Grace Smart and a smattering of spot-on 80s references inflate a shamelessly fun 90 minutes, which feels like a non-stop rollercoaster of heightened emotion, laughs and occasional cringe.

You are unlikely to find better performances at this year’s fringe festival, so get in the returns queue if you must for this rage-fuelled tale of a dysfunctional family – with a twist in the tail (sic)! RD

★★★★★ Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical | Assembly George Square Gardens | Aug 11-12, 14-25 | 20:30

An inspired cast and irresistible 90s indie pop make this bitchy new musical a runaway Mean Girls-esque hit!

This US musical reincarnation of the saucy 90s movie about posh brat high schoolers coming of age shouldn’t work – but good news, it TOTALLY does and oh boy it’s a fun ride.

Every song, from Meredith Brooks’ Bitch to No Doubt’s Just a Girl, boasts gig-level riot grrrl energy, and they fit perfectly the sweaty summer setting of an elite Manhattan prep school.

The deviance of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ scandalous 1792 novel Les Liaisons dangereuses (on which the story is based, obv) seems to perfectly match the angsty pop of the 90s, with the songs evoking unexpected resonances. From an angsty orchestral cover of The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony to the terrific opener of Placebo’s Every Me and Every You, the songs chosen are begging to be rediscovered.

The best of the British cast seem to be inherited from offbeat hit Heathers the Musical at the Other Palace, and this show would be a perfect fit for that venue. A breakout performance by Dean John-Wilson really stands out, with impressive, pitch-perfect vocals. But this is a dream team of an ensemble, including a very talented central trio of Dominic Andersen as sleazy Sebastian, Rebecca Gilhooey channeling Sarah Michelle Gellar to a tee as Kathryn, and Evelyn Hoskins as the not-so-virginal Cecile Caldwell. Oh, and Sophie Isaacs’ is a delightful scene-stealer as Annette Hargrove, who becomes the bait for the bet between half-siblings Kathryn and Sebastian.

Cruel Intentions is an unstoppable, teen romp you can’t help falling for. Epic tunes, great casting and impeccable performances – a riot! RD

★★★★★ I, AmDram | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 8-11, 13-26 | 14:00

Hannah Maxwell is a comic genius in this tongue in cheek tribute to the misunderstood world of amateur dramatics.

Roll out the barrel for this painfully funny autobiography and cringe-tastic story of am-dram with the Welwyn Thalians Musical and Dramatic Society. Am-dram is crucial to many lives outside of big cities, and acts as a community of slightly unhinged but adorable amateurs and bossy backstage mother monsters.

Hannah Maxwell uses skillful comic timing and magic musical moments, and reveals what it is like to come out in Welwyn Garden City, meditating on whether LGBTQ+ people can ever really feel at home in the sticks. She has the audience in the palm of her hand with a plethora of tricks up her sleeve to entertain and reveal her story.

The icing on the cake for us is a section about the am-dram cliche of a long blackout, where Maxwell makes us laugh until we can’t breathe. The hilarious theatrical and personal anecdotes spill out, from the outrageous behind the scenes personalities to the secret love of this community theatre, lending the show a pathos unlike most musical comedy shows.

Hannah Maxwell is a future star and deserves full houses. She is an outstanding funny woman, a Generation Z Caroline Aherne! RD

★★★★★ Lucy Hopkins: Ceremony of Golden Truth | Heroes & The SpiegelYurt | Aug 18-25 | 21:00

This incomparable and boundary-breaking ritual will cleanse your soul and make you guffaw!

Often misunderstood, Lucy Hopkins is a golden-goddess revelation in this extraordinary power hour of one woman’s improvisation and the healing power of comedy.

Unsure of what to expect upon entering the sacred space of the yurt, the nervous laughter of an apprehensive audience is mimicked by Hopkins. Ten minutes later, the same audience is in the palm of her hand, amid the soul-cleansing ceremony of silliness. 

From playing the audience like a fiddle, making a human backing track to 80s pop hits, to exploring how we think we should act in a spiritual ceremony, the show emancipates us from our bourgeois shackles and establishes a ritual collective finding wonder in the mundane. 

The participation the rite invites is not the kind you usually see in comedy – it is unthreatening and universal. Hopkins’ individual interactions are caring and kind, at the same time as goofy and setting up the next big laugh.

Lucy Hopkins’ comic performance is the best at the fringe and is outstandingly original. Miss this heart-warming rib-tickling ceremony at your peril! RD.

★★★★★ Sophie Duker: Venus | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 10-13, 15-25 | 19:00

A riotous challenge to the straight white male-dominated comedy scene – with twerking.

There’s (quite rightly) no hiding from the big issue that Sophie Duker wants to unpack on the Pleasance Courtyard’s Below stage – it’s still a rare thing to find a black, female comedian at the Fringe, and there’s no way Duker plans to ignore that elephant in the room.

Right from the off, Duker’s routine challenges the audience. “What colour am I?” she asks the audience, delighted that she gets her reply from a white man. It’s good-natured enough, but there’s a vital edge to this confrontational, unapologetic (and why shouldn’t it be?) exploration of what it means and how it feels to be a black woman – a queer woman at that – in a world still dominated by white, heterosexual, cis-gendered men.

The thing about Duker’s comedy, before anyone gets upset about virtue-signalling, or the PC-gone-mad world, is that by talking about things that you won’t hear most comedians talk about, she not only educates her audience in a whole ‘new’ world of comedy but she produces an hour of fresh, non-derivative stand-up. There are killer routines about the disturbing White Saviours of dating apps, and West African aunties with their seemingly all-seeing, all-knowing intelligence network – and Duker even mines dark humour from the sad story of the so-called “Hottentot Venus”, Sara Baartman.

There will be some white men – including some critics – who feel hard-done by here, and perhaps a few others who sympathies with their plight. For those people, there are plenty more shows at the Fringe where they can feel safe and secure in the white hegemony. For everyone else, even just comedy fans who are sick of hearing routines about dodgy prostates or yummy mummy yoga retreats, Venus will be a hilarious, exhilarating hour of intelligent and – dare I say it – woke humour for the 21st century! SW

★★★★★ Spank! | Underbelly Cowgate | Aug 3-25 | 23:55

Spank! never lets us down – there’s no better way to wrap up a day at the Fringe than with this chaotic variety sweatbox of comedy!

It’s now a To Do List tradition to stop by Spank! in the first week of the fringe, and this year we made it on the first night – alongside a sell-out crowd lapping up lager and comedy in equal measures (by the barrel).

Spank! is one of a number of variety nights at the fringe, bringing together acts from across the festival programme. You get what you’d expect – 7-8 acts covering anything from musical comedy to sketch to drag to mainstream standup and beyond – but you also get a singalong, a chance to dance, some good-natured audience interaction, and almost guaranteed nudity!

Of course, with any show where the line-up changes every night, the risk is that you might catch a dud show. But hosts Evan Desmarais and James Loveridge guarantee a good night with their effortless enthusiasm, boundless energy, and determination to make every night at Spank! the best ever!

On our 2019 list, we caught performances by Matt Richardson (Just The Tonic at The Tron, 9pm), Myra Dubois (Underbelly Bristo Square, 3:55pm), Two Hearts (Underbelly Cowgate, 9:30pm), Esther Manito (Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4pm), Rosco McClelland (Monkey Barrell, 4:35pm), Marcel Lucont (Pleasance Courtyard, 10pm) and Michael Odewale (Pleasance Courtyard, 5:30pm). You missed a great night already, don’t miss the next one! SW

★★★★★ Splintered | Bedlam Theatre | Aug 2-12, 14-19, 21-25 | 21:30

A divine dancehall party exposing the lives of womxn who love womxn in the Caribbean.

Pop your booty as your discover a hidden side to the carnival culture and how hard it is to be a womxn who loves women.

This cabaret fiesta channels the best of Caribbean culture but also reveals the worst of homophobia in the colonised world where it is not safe to be gay.

Charlotte Dowding, Sanaa Byfield and Natasha Simone are future stars who deserve go on to big things. Their performances are at once electrifying and hilarious, but also have a informed conscience that comes from their understanding of the real life stories they tell.

From a tongue-in-cheek salute to the musical Chicago, to an inspired movement based skit on the whine culture between women, the trio’s energy is pulsating and contagious. The show moves quickly and the colourful cabaret scenario is perfect for discovering hidden truths about slavery, the Caribbean carnival spirit and the oxymorons around the carnivalesque. Just how can heterosexual men in a tutu be homophobic?

The group is expertly directed by Emily Aboud, who has developed a fast-paced and well-rounded show with many unforgettable moments. This said the show stands for much more than many others dealing with ‘real issues’ at the fringe as it both sees problems with the system but is infused with hope for the future but doesn’t forget our collective responsibility.

Splintered is a must-see for those who care about LGBTQ+ rights around the world and who believe change is possible. RD

★★★★½ Atomic Saloon Show | Assembly George Square Gardens | Aug 18-25 | 22:10

A zany foot-stomping circus spectacular – yeehaw, give us more!

With direction from Spymonkey’s Cal McCrystal (One Man, Two Guvnors, Mighty Boosh, Giffords Circus) and starring the incredible Petra Massey as foul-mouthed ring-mistress Madam Boozy Skunkton, this Spiegelworld big-bucks production is a cavalcade of cowboy cliches blown apart for a new era.

The act that seems to break the ‘La Soiree’ mould is adorable camp singing cowboy (Colin Cahill) with a voice and persona that will melt even the coldest heart.

The all guns blazing ensemble scenes are impressive and make you feel in the heart of the action. Towards the end of the lightning paced hour, McCrystal’s direction comes to a head with a glorious all out brawl, which shows the zany skill of the performers in this epic cowboy rumble.

In terms of fun, America’s Got Talent stars Up and Over It (Peter Harding and Suzanne Cleary) provide their trademark table smashing hand dance, a drunken Riverdance for fans of Flatley, and provide laughs as yokel cousin characters. Hilarious female nuns including ping pong ball juggler Fofo bring the anything-goes atmosphere to fever pitch.

Aliona’s hoops act seems to not quite go big enough but is entertaining alongside the star aerial acts which seem sexually charged, yet perhaps a little traditional and serious for such an otherwise lawless, immersive show.

The main critique, then, is that every act should tell a simple story – not just spectacle – in three minutes.

All in all, a fun saucy night out of circus sensation, that needs a little fine-tuning on the jaw-dropping moments. RD.

★★★★½ Confirmation | Pleasance Dome | Aug 11, 13-26 | 16:10

A spectacularly executed Bowie-esque pop memoir.

Xnthony – aka Anthony Keigher – channels John Grant, Anohni and Erasure to give an emotive disco of despair and defiance.

The performance-maker’s mesmerising hour illuminates hidden queer histories, including coming to terms with attitudes in his hometown Roscommon in Ireland, which voted against same-sex marriage in the 2015 referendum. Confirmation – in Catholicism, the process which allows a baptised person to confirm the promises made on their behalf at baptism – here becomes Xnthony’s rite of passage, exposing his inner yearnings for a different life than the farm at home can offer.

Saly Ó Dúnlaing’s compositions weave this metaphor of acceptance with haunting electro bangers worthy of an album release. Xnthony’s vocal and physical performance is flawless, with the quality of the Emcee from Fosse’s Cabaret: both amusing and a little sinister.

The transitions between scenes seem a little longer than necessary, but ultimately the moments they set up are worth waiting for – good things come to those who wait, after all!

In conclusion, this is a hymn to those who have ever felt estranged from the people around them, and want to live and celebrate life to a revolutionary beat. RD

★★★★½ Njambi McGrath: Accidental Coconut | Just the Tonic @ Marlin’s Wynd | Aug 18-23 | 16:05

Perfectly pitched that relentlessly yet entertainingly dismantles the occasionally rose-tinted view of the UK’s colonial past.

Njambi McGrath is not here to tiptoe around the big issues of race and Euro-centrism. The ethnic imbalance within comedy (at the Fringe, or beyond) still means that when a person of colour delivers a set to a (mostly white) audience, there’s often the totally unreasonable expectation that they should be apologetic about giving voice to a ‘different’ view on life. As it should be, there are no apologies here!

McGrath spares no blushes in unpacking (hilariously, this is stand-up!) Kenyan apartheid and the British colonialism which led to it. Beginning with an explanation of the ‘coconut’ slur, and a dissection of what it really means, McGrath’s hour artfully and effortlessly combines history lesson (the kind you don’t get at school) with comedy masterclass, such that the audience leaves more informed yet with sides aching from laughter.

McGrath as a performer is open and engaging – there would be a danger with this material that things could feel tense and oppositional (although, honestly, there’s definitely a place for that, so…) but Accidental Coconut never feels like an hour in detention – and, having started at full-throttle, never lets the energy drop. A really impressive debut hour. SW.

★★★★½ Sarah Keyworth: Pacific | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 2-12, 14-25 | 17:45

A supremely confident and carefree sophomore show from the 2018 Best Newcomer nominee.

It’s the cliched measure of time well spent that it flies by, and this hour in the company of Sarah Keyworth certainly whizzes past on a wave of smart observation, candid confessional and easygoing charm.

Confrontational, borderline-aggressive comedians often make the biggest splash, but Keyworth has taken little time in establishing herself as one of the must-see comedians at the Fringe. Her second show of the run was sold-out, and no-one left disappointed – least of all a certain audience member whose famous mum almost stole the show (without being there).

Pacific is a tightly packaged hour addressing issues around gender, (toxic) masculinity, sex and relationships – but it is a credit to Keyworth’s winning style and boundless enthusiasm that this doesn’t feel like an ‘issues’ show. Nor do this topics feel crowbarred in – this is a cleverly constructed, balanced and impeccably performed routine that only wants – and this is nit-picking – for a rib-splitting ‘can’t breathe for laughing’ moment. It’ll probably come.

In the meantime, it’s hard to pick out a standout segment from all the gems, but there’s a shower scene that certainly sticks in the memory – and a timely and important climax which calls back to a half-finished story earlier in the set. Insightful stuff, and funny too! SW

★★★★½ Sex Education | Summerhall | Aug 18, 20-25 | 19:10

Sex positive porno-cum-confession.

If you’ve never seen gay cam sex before, the opening 3 minutes of this show will be a shocking revelation. From a sandwich of sin to hilarious porn clips a la Elvira, the show is a porno shocker with a heart.

Sex positive performer Harry Clayton-Wright explores his own history with a view to whether sex education should be more forthcoming from parents. Clayton-Wright’s mum is a voiceover sensation and exposes the British stiff upper lip when it comes to sex. 

The sex-ed message of the show is a little unconvincing, but you can’t help being carried away with the hit songs and startlingly frank revelations. The latter seem refreshingly honest in an age of secret online desires.

Late-night TV needs someone like this to bring back the Julian Clary, Eurotrash-style sexuality of the 90s instead of this perfect Instagram world.

Overall this is a deliciously deviant sex rite which could just make you open up about your sex life. RD.

★★★★½ Tina T’urner Tea Lady and Freaks! | Frankenstein Pub

A tea-rrific character comedy showcasing icons like Tina, Audrey and Ed, ridiculously redefined!

Listen up BBC, Tracey Collins deserves a chat show a la Mrs Merton. Make it happen!

Collins conjures the spirits of the greats, from a doe-eyed, disastrous Audrey Heartburn (read: Hepburn), to a soft-spoken plain Jane, Ed Cheerup (read: Sheeran), and Hilary Devey-style whip-snapping, smart-talking character Fanny Legup.

The star of the show is undeniably Tina T’urner Tea Lady, with her signature Tina Turner remixes about the love of a nice cuppa – but the other characters are gaining momentum, and Audrey Heartburn was pitch-perfect in her ‘chase me chase me’ OTT Hollywood starlet style.

In 12 words: A glorious hour of unabashed laughs from the queen of character comedy. RD.

★★★★ Forbruker | Zoo Playground | Aug 9-10 | 15:25

The ad break becomes the main event in this divinely silly clown spectacle

When did the Fringe get so damn deep. Leave your serious side at the door as Frankie Thompson is here to make you howl. Forbruker brings together the 30 second bite-size adverts we all consume daily and takes them to the extreme, into a surreal world where advertising slogans are true!

Thompson’s imagination is wild and her surprises are worth waiting for through the abrupt pauses. She is a skilful performer who clearly has a bright future in oddball comedy.

Forbruker would make the ultimate bonkers late night TV.

The biggest laughs come from the unexpectedness of how Thompson interprets the adverts she satirises. From a hilarious foam-faced Gillette skit to a riff on how much one should love Marmite, Thompson and her talented voiceover collaborator Elizabeth Parker bring ridiculous truth to power, confronting the corporations who make such outlandish claims.

30 second summary: A completely out of this world and divine escape from the seriousness of the Fringe. RD

★★★★ Monogamy | PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court | Aug 9-26 | 22:30

A new perspective on the challenges facing modern relationships, Sophia Mertins’s new play is as dark as it is revelatory.

Proof that late-night at the Fringe isn’t just about comedy showcases and crazy cabaret (both of which we love of course!), this new two-hander from talented writer and performer Sophia Mertin’s is tucked enticingly into a 10:30pm slot at the super-central (just off the Royal Mile) PQA Venues at Riddle’s Court.

Monogamy is an intense, intimate glimpse of an imperfect relationship coming to an end. Mertins plays Annie to Edi Cardoso’s Alfred – a married couple whose backstory we gradually learn through this tightly written and expertly paced hour. It’s clear right from the off that things aren’t looking good for their future together – there’s a smashed plate on the floor, and Annie returning early from a retreat to find that Alfred isn’t all alone.

Mertins’ script cleverly introduces new nuggets of information at regular intervals, fleshing out the two complicated characters and filling the audience in on who knows what, when they knew, and what might happen next.

It’s powerful, emotional stuff – well written, and excellently performed. There’s a deep understanding of the human condition, and anyone who has been in a relationship will identify with the genuineness of the writing and the acting. We saw Monogamy on its very first night at the fringe, but already Mertins and Cardoso were tuned in – the very few stumbled lines will have been ironed out by the second performance.

In some ways, it’s a petty Monogamy doesn’t have an earlier time slot, before many Fringe-goers have hit the bars – but it’s a reward for the committed theatre lover! SW

★★★★ Pizza Shop Heroes | Summerhall

Definitely one to watch – a reminder of what the arts can aspire to be.

Pizza Shop Heroes probably isn’t the most objectively well-crafted show at the Fringe, if you are judging via the traditions of conventional theatre. However, that’s not really the point, and it doesn’t really matter – this is just a piece of theatre that you should really go and see!

It is made by and about refugees and it is authentic, informative and impactful. The only question for us was around the necessity of including Artistic Director Kate Duffy on stage (a performer acting as a facilitator and not a refugee with a story to tell – although she does have a part in the imagined future story portrayed in the show). But, having not been part of the making process, we can only assume this felt necessary to the piece’s development.

There isn’t a lot to say about this other that if you see it you will be reminded of the aspirations of what the arts can be – what they can develop and support and accomplish, and why they are so important. You will also get to hear the stories of four interesting and inspiring young people, that you will find it hard not to like. LE

★★★★ Taiwan Season: Bout | Summerhall | Aug 13-18, 20-25 | 10:20

A beautifully contemplative dance piece inspired by boxing.

Chang Dance Theatre’s Bout is themed around boxing, but it explores relationships in a wider sense also. Choreographing for three dancers in a performance inspired by a one-on-one sport is an interesting choice and worked very well.

The opening of the piece saw a singular dancer walking around the edge of the performance space. He is then joined by a second dancer, falling exactly into step, who in essence becomes a part of the first body. The third dancer then does the same. This is a strong introduction to the performance and to the idea of the singular within a collective which is touched on throughout the piece.

The movement was sometimes quite literal and at other times more abstract and strangely (perhaps) it was some of the more representational movement that we found more difficult to engage with, as the idea of narrative fell in and out of and through the work. There was some beautifully striking imagery including a gorgeous section involving one dancer walking with another as his shadow.

The dancers are talented and engaging. They work well together and are very watchable. The lighting design and costumes felt slightly limited, and we questioned the value of the suits the dancers wore as a design choice, when they hid so much of the movement we would have loved to see more clearly. However, the simplicity of the design did arguably focus the attention on the performance itself, and the music and sound design worked really nicely with the piece. LE

★★★★ Taiwan Season: Monster | Dance Base | Aug 16-18, 20-21, 23-25 | 17:15

That unique kind of Fringe show that leaves you perplexed but intrigued…

Monster is the kind of show that could leave you thinking about it for days – it is a strange experience for sure! Described as a ‘psychedelic fantasy’ and abstractly addressing time, the self and the monster inside, the show is a dance piece but it is not in any way traditional dance – it even feels almost hallucinatory at times.

The aesthetics are striking and beautiful – we enter a room filled with heavy smoke, and items of set are placed carefully and fastidiously around the playing space. Everything is very careful and very thoughtful: the scene setting, the text scrolling across a captioning unit, the choice of music and the choreography itself – all a blend of naive and casual as well as purposeful and meticulous.

This all results in a performance that is very watchable. Everything seems to have its place and its time in the piece, and the question of time seems very important, the creation and destruction of the set reflecting this amongst other elements. The whole message is not immediately clear, the questions myriad. Who is the the masked character, present on stage? Who is the the main ‘character’? Where lies the Monster? These are just some of questions we may just keep on ruminating on. But that’s ok, because isn’t it quite nice sometimes to have to have more questions than answers? LE

★★★★ The Claim | ROUNDABOUT @ Summerhall | Aug 14-19, 21-25 | 12:50

A well-balanced three hander that finds you laughing and leaves you worrying.

The Claim is a show about language, about refugees and about human relationships. Pretty big topics, but it is not over-intellectual or smug. Clever, yes. Scary, that too. But it doesn’t feel sanctimonious. There is a great humour to the show that cuts through what is in essence a terrifying reality for a multitude of people being scrutinised by the governments of the countries they arrive in – or rather, by the people who work for those governments. And this is what The Claim revolves around – that the people who are in charge of such major, life altering decisions, are just that – just people – and this can lead to all sorts of confusion and apathy.

A typical Roundabout show, the focus is very much on the performance and on the writing, with the design just helping to direct you there. The performances are strong, in particular from Ery Nzaramba who plays Serge, the man trying to make his claim. All three performers do justice to Tim Cowbury’s excellent script, with spot-on timing and the humour coming through at just the right level. All of the characters are completely believable in a way that makes you laugh a little at first, and then sigh – fed up with a world and a country where it’s so difficult to make your voice heard and understood, when your voice is not particularly desirable. LE

★★★★ The Long Pigs | Assembly Roxy | Aug 2-6, 8-11, 13-18, 20-25 | 19:30

I’m not sure what, exactly, I was watching – but somehow, I know it was good!

Three clowns think Boggis, Bunce and Bean – are the stars of this weird and wonderful hour of physical comedy – though, ‘in character’, they play knife-wielding clown-killers morbidly counting up the red noses of clowns that they’ve offed.

As their abattoir jerks into action, there are two problems – a missing red nose, suggesting that there’s a living clown on the loose, and a lurking sense that these aren’t the chaps to maintain standards on a production line…

Before long, there are miniature bikes, oversized hammers hitting heads, seesaws and the like – old-school clownery but given a dark and distressing spin. And then there’s a crucifixion – of course – and a banana makes a surprising arrival, and there must be something in the Roxy air because suddenly there are technicolour, larger -than-life clown suits, tasty deserts… It’s an assault on reality!

Just when you think the darkness is gone, it returns for a twist ending – it seems one of our protagonists has been keeping a secret. Perhaps those knives will come in handy… SW

★★★★ Twin Peaks | Summerhall | Aug 4-11 | 11:30

Mandy Tootill gives an empowering two fingers to cancer in this hilarious tale of the human spirit

Channelling the gross-out NHS comedy of Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt, Mandy Tootill doesn’t hold back in her frank and touching stand-up show. The 60 minute marvel pulls on the heart-strings, addressing one of the biggest ordeals that anyone can face: cancer.

Tootill skilfully dodges audience awkwardness with her infectiously energetic set. Not unlike Victoria Wood or Julie Hesmondhalgh, she uses her frank, likeable and heart-warming ‘northernness’ to make you feel like one of the family.

Rather than just being an issues-based diatribe, the show has a clear progression through the awkward bits of being a woman with breast cancer to finding peace with the disease and moving on post-recovery.

There are belly laughs, tit-ters and some fun musical sections, which all lift the dread of talking about something so dark. 

See this show if you want to see an up and coming star of narrative-led, laugh out loud yet sensitive comedy. RD

★★★★ Who Cares | Summerhall | Aug 13-25 | 18:20

Another great, eye-opening show from LUNG.

Following in a similar vein to the excellent Trojan Horse last year, LUNG’s Who Cares addresses the topic of young carers with brutal honesty as well as consideration.

The show is touching but not excessively sentimental. There are tearjerking moments, but the balance of factual testimony and people’s own stories is well addressed, and we do not feel emotionally manipulated – more exposed to truths that more often than not hidden from us.

Jessica Temple, Lizzie Mounter and Luke Grant all give powerful performances as teenagers who have been carers for varying numbers of years, and the cast work well together, giving the impression of being strongly bonded. Mounter is especially stirring as Nicole, who has acted as a carer to her mother since a small child.

The set and sound design are both very accomplished and add to the dynamic direction. A really well performed and important show which is well worth seeing. LE

★★★ ½ Anuvab Pal: Democracy and Disco Dancing | Assembly George Square Studios | Aug 13-26 | 17:30

A blend of straight-ish stand up and stand up storytelling, Anuvab Pal jokes about democracy and about Britain vs. India, the empire and its impacts, before entering into the main part of the show in which he retells the story of one of his favourite Bollywood films: 1982’s hugely successful Disco Dancer.

Anuvab’s style is conversational and inviting. He is instantly likeable, and his love of a film he knows is flawed offers a great basis for his material. Calling on audience members to represent characters in the film (fear not, with no audience participation), he relays all the ridiculousness and charm of the film – to an audience who have almost without exception never heard of it – with well-pitched incredulity.

It’s hard to know if the show would be as funny – or maybe funnier – for those who have seen the film itself, but for us the laughs, whilst gentle, are constant. LE

★★★ ½ Bible John | Pleasance Courtyard | Aug 18-26 | 15:50

An engaging true-crime deconstruction that survives a gear-change to leave a lasting impression.

Riding the wave of the latest craze for podcasts is surely the True Crime genre – even people who have never listened to a podcast in their life will probably have heard of at least one of My Favorite Murder, Serial or S-Town. And away from podcasting, TV shows like Making A Murderer, The Staircase, and OJ: Made in America have had people gripped on Netflix and beyond. So the timing is surely right for theatre to jump on board.

Bible John, from writer Caitlin McEwan, tackles true crime in a suitably post-modern way: the cast of four (McEwan, Ella McLeod, Laurie Ogden and Lauren Santana – all excellent) play variously a group of women who share a common interest in listening to true crime podcasts; the real-life characters from the actual Bible John case of the 1960s; and themselves, interrogating what it is that has us all hooked to cases like this. It’s all a bit meta, then, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

This is an undeniably engaging and interesting piece, presumably more so for people who are hitherto unaware of the details of the Bible John case – though it’s tempting to think that what you’re actually watching is a dramatisation of a podcast recording, with the layers of theatrical trickery just getting in the way of a good story. There’s a gear-change about two-thirds of the way through – a complete change of scene and mood – from which the narrative arc never really recovers, and an unavoidably anticlimactic ending which reminds one of the end of David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac.

There are some interesting questions raised about why we – and women in particular – are so fascinated by true-crime cases, and it’s hard to disagree with the reasons given. But it’s also hard to see how Bible John has really added anything that a sensitive, straightforward retelling of the original murders and ensuing investigations wouldn’t have. Food for thought, but not quite the finished article. SW.

★★★ ½ Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran | Traverse Theatre | Aug 7-11, 13-18, 20-25 | Various Times

Javaad Alipoor’s revealing and engaging dissection of the rich kids of Instagram loses its way with unnecessary interactivity.

The pre-show instructions aren’t too clear for this new show from the maker of award-winning The Believers Are But Brothers, except that Instagram should be installed and your phone should be kept on. Nevertheless, using the app in the show seems exciting. The octogenarian Traverse members are not the keenest to adopt these instructions, though, and a few walk out in frustration. 

Traverse Theatre really needs to do a cheap ticket lottery programme or something radical to increase the age and ethnic diversity of its audience. It feels like the audience is mainly made up of its affluent members and people who really couldn’t give the experimental concepts within the show a go. This show is perfect for engaging young people who might be theatre-adverse and need a pop-culture hook but they were largely missing from the room.

Rich Kids… finds the less than superficial roots of Instagram posts of #RichKidsofInstagram, a shameless hashtag spewing endless snaps of luxury cars, watches and rich teens behaving badly. This story dissects the history of these obnoxious teens, tracing back to their family’s struggles.

Writer, director and one of the two performers Javaad Alipoor is an inspired down to earth thinker and is charmingly rebellious. He has something vital to say about the Middle East and our perceptions of it. Fellow co-star Peyvand Sadeghian is a thrilling performer who really brings a vibrant cheeky female energy to Alipoor’s Charlie Brooker-esque tone.

The technology-heavy parts of the show are a little flawed as people fumble between Instagram and watching the live show. The elements on our screens don’t really add too much, as what you are looking at on your phone is read on stage. There is something intriguing about using Instagram live video in the theatre but it needs to have a clearer purpose to be truly revealing.

Overall this is a must-see if you’re into Instagram and keen to delve deep into how we have evolved to sharing pictures of unashamed opulence to obscure our objectionable history. RD

★★★½ | Tröll | Summerhall | Aug 2-11 | 12:05

A beautifully realised low-fi fable from Trick of the Light Theatre.

There’s an endearing DIY feel to this imaginatively rendered tale of trölls and trolls – the Scandinavian mythical creatures, and the online hate mongers.

Ralph McCubbin Howell shoulders most of the performing duties whilst doubling as a creative projectionist and puppeteer, whilst Anna Smith controls the rest of the visuals from one side of the stage – it’s a winning combination, merging some impressive computer-controlled imagery with satisfyingly low-tech, shaky-hand shadow work and figurine manipulation.

The story is a little slight, and perhaps more than a little derivative – but the joy of Tröll is in the enactment, and the technical achievement, not to mention McCubbin Howell’s determined, engaging performance. SW

★★★ Collapsible | Assembly Roxy | Aug 18-25 | 13:20

An uneven yet occasionally gripping slice of Fleabag-esque, one-woman confessional.

There’s a huge amount of buzz around this monologue from award-winning writer Margaret Perry, performed with undeniable commitment and intensity by Breffni Holahan – indeed, Holahan is the standout here, grabbing hold of the audience and giving a masterclass in how to fill the stage on your own.

Holahan is Essie: recently unemployed and single, unsure of herself or her future. So far, so Bridget Jones eh? Well, as things progress, any Bridget Jones comparisons vanish, replaced by something darker and less superficial. As Essie attempts to rebuild her life, reflecting – with the help of friends and family – on the qualities that will help her make a new start, we discover that her fragility is not just a recent development. Just as Holahan sits perched atop an isolated column surrounded by dust and rubble, so Essie’s outwardly positive outlook turns out to be resting on shaky foundations.

The staging is arresting – though perhaps a little obvious – but it has a downside of isolating Holahan from the audience. She is limited to sitting on a small platform which doesn’t allow for any grand physical gestures or moments of high-energy. As such, the nuanced writing is not matched by a fully-developed physicality – it feels like imagery won out over allowing the performer space to really express herself and the character. Instead, it all comes down to the delivery of the lines, and it’s hard to know whether it’s Holahan or Perry who might’ve been a little too influenced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag – there are definite segments here which could have come straight from a Fleabag script, and while there a far far worse places to take inspiration, it runs the risk of feeling a tad derivative. SW.

★★★ The Desk | Summerhall | Aug 18, 20-25 | 11:35

Thirty minutes of intoxicating choreography spread too thin across an hour.

There’s no denying that the Reetta Honkakoski Company have brought an incredibly impressive work of choreography to Summerhall this year – The Desk is a times beautiful and balletic, at others intense and impactful. Added to the seemingly endless reserves of energy evidenced by the cast of six – it’s tiring just to think about how much energy goes into the performance – The Desk is undeniably an achievement.

The problem is that, for many audience-members, an hour is just too long – there’s plenty in The Desk to keep even a physical theatre philistine engaged for a solid thirty minutes, but the narrative (and the patience of the viewer) is stretched almost to breaking point at sixty.

Honkakoski and co have compellingly conveyed “the seductive power of discipline, hierarchy, mind control and the search for an ultimate truth” – just with a tad too much repetition and perhaps self-indulgent padding. None of this is to say, however, that there isn’t immense talent on display – performers Karina Degaspari, Honkakoski herself, Sonja Järvisalo, Josefin Karlsson, Liv Nordgren and Freia Stenbäck are never less than excellent, and the sound design of Tuuli Kyttälä deserves special mention. SW.

★★★ Witch Hunt | Pleasance Dome | Aug 18-26 | 17:30

Wonderful witchy women needed a couple more spellbinding laughs.

Embrace your inner bwitch as A&E COMEDY (Abigail and Emma) prove that women who aren’t Phoebe Waller-Bridge (and may have a few more years on her) can be very funny in this Mighty Boosh-esque hour of weirdness.

From witchy witterings to retelling famous fairy tales, the talented twosome take the audience on a surreal journey with an art school feel. From pretty sets to stunning multicolour costumes, the pair have a flair for fashion and a quirky sense of humour.

The overall script is a little slow-moving and channels Into the Woods via Shockheaded Peter. The short sketches are more successful, and nude witch puppets singing a bonkers banger are a hilarious touch. 

Traditional comedy this isn’t, but perhaps the oddness would suit TV with more editing and pace – punchlines aren’t this duo’s forte.

In summary, don’t be afraid to go into the woods with these sinister and silly performers. PS This show has the best poster this year! RD.

★★½ Parakeet | ROUNDABOUT @ Summerhall | Aug 18-19, 21-25 | 17:05

A disappointing but hopeful teenage riot girl musical.

Billed as a Brigitte Aphrodite and Quiet Boy production, the couple quickly step back to take their places as backing musicians and explain that they are merely arts facilitators giving way to the teenage talent they had worked with. Sadly this idea is a little confusing, as if they’re not important they shouldn’t be there. The show’s construction itself is unclear – are the young people themselves the authors, or Aphrodite herself? 

Only afterwards, reading the pamphlet, did we realise that the words come from Aphrodite and not the young people. This is a confusing approach to showcasing young people…

The story is about breaking free from Margate, using the metaphor of the gorgeous green parakeet to symbolise teenagers finding their freedom. The talented trio of spunky frontwoman Michelle Tiwo, geeky Lula Mebrahtu and mad-cap funny Isabel Oliver bring energy to what is quite a basic ‘friends forever’ coming-of-age tale.

Sadly, the sound quality is not impressive in this musical, and potentially great vocals were made to sound pretty average. Parakeet has nothing of the all-encompassing feel of Aphodite’s epic punk musical My Beautiful Black Dog, which thoroughly deserved its five stars.

Overall, the lesson is that if you want to champion the work of young people, step out of the frame and help them (unconditionally) to flourish. RD.

★★½ Pathetic Fallacy | CanadaHub | Aug 9-11, 13-18, 20-25 | 17:00

An engaging, concept-driven weather experiment with an unprepared guest performer doesn’t make for a whirlwind of a show

Experimental theatre maker Anita Rochon gets to grips with our obsession with the weather in this quirky 60 minutes at CanadaHub. 

The central conceit is that a celebrity guest performer – this time offbeat funny-person Zach Zucker – is completely unprepared for the show and doesn’t know what to expect. He emerges ominously from the side of the stage to take Anita’s place, and is then briefed live with performance instructions via unseen TV screens that only he can see. 

So far so clever, but this concept stretched across an hour can be a little frustrating, almost like playing a never-ending game of charades. Zucker deals with the spontaneity of the show with aplomb and warms the audience to him with his skilfully presented physicality and a silent-movie era Marcel Marceau charm.

The show meanders through pub quiz facts about weather phenomena and things you might not know, and some of Rochon’s concerns about our impact on the world’s weather and climate change – the biggest reveal being that one half of The Weather Girls (of It’s Raining Men fame), Marsha Wash, was often not included in the videos for songs that featured her striking vocals at the discretion of marketing people at the record label!

Pathetic Fallacy is something of an oddball at the fringe, with some interesting ideas but not yet the vitality that such a show might promise.

★★½ YUCK Circus | Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows | Aug 18, 20-24 | 16:00

Not enough circus and messy metaphors.

This show from Australia oozes promise but any fans of Ellie Dubois’ hit feminist circus mind-melt No Show will find this hour a little superficial.

The young septet’s Fringe debut is raw and confessional but doesn’t hit many breath-taking climaxes, as a big-top show needs. It feels at times more like daring, contemporary dance autobiography than circus spectacle. Effective mistress of ceremonies Georgia Deguara even admits a lack of circus at one point in the show, but promises more… that doesn’t come. 

In terms of humour, think a gross-out sequence about menstruation and silly moustaches to act like macho men. This does all seem a little patronising to a pretty woke Edinburgh audience.

Standout clown performances from Ella Norton break the seriousness of all black costumes and serious faces. In terms of movement and watchability, Emily MacDonagh’s faces, strength and moves were inspiring and magnetic.

There is no set or fluff to the performance so really the show needed big set pieces to keep the audience enraptured – unfortunately, it never quite gets there. RD.

★★ Friendsical: A Parody Musical About Friends | Assembly Rooms | Aug 11, 13-18, 20-25 | 13:00

A well-performed but ultimately vacuous Friends cash-in the lawyers shouldn’t bother suing over…

OH. MY. GOD. A Friends musical could be the perfect throwback for millennials without a sitcom of their own (we don’t recognise the existence of The Big Bang Theory). However, this back-alley, off-Broadway style musical does not deliver the laughs but instead aims to recreate 10 seasons of Friends in 90 minutes, in a sort of fan-art style. It’s not always clear whether the script borrows word for word from the original episodes or manipulates enough to keep the lawyers away.

Parody needs to be about going to ridiculous extreme for laughs, not just a loving nod to the original comedy. There are lots of angles Friendsical could have taken to examine the more problematic truths about the sitcom, like where are the people of colour or LGBTQ+ characters of importance, and how lucky are these characters to live in this problem-free, technicolour world?

Friendsical exposes the difficulty of parodying a comedy show. How do you make some of the funniest sitcom moments in existence even funnier? The show tries to do tick all the Friends-bingo boxes, but does very little to expose the reasons people love these characters.

Hats off to Anne Vosser for her casting – there is memorable mimicry, mainly from the female cast-members. Ally Retberg’s Phoebe is a stand-out performance, with some hilarious interpretations of the Queen of Quirky’s loveable foibles. Monica was an inspired neurotic doppelganger performance from Sarah Goggin and Rachel (Charlotte Elisabeth Yorke) was captured expertly with all those knowing looks, hair flicks… and nippleography. The cast and audience alike know these characters inside out across 236 episodes, and so there would be no excuse for not getting most of this stuff right.

This show is review-proof as so many love the TV show, but Friends really deserves a better tribute than this. RD

Fringe Review Team

  • RD = Rupert Dannreuther
  • LE = Laura Edmans
  • SW = Stuart Wilson
Rupert, Stuart & Laura

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