So, we did it! We saw 125 shows between 5th – 29th August and the standard was extraordinarily high. I also learned a lot about planning for a Fringe month rather than a Fringe week. For a Fringe week, you can be confident about packing as much into it as you possible can – you can always sleep on the train coming home. For a month however, you can get a burnout if you try to do too much. We found that we cancelled many of our late night shows because we were just too tired to do them justice; and we discovered that if I left too many gaps throughout the day (for meals, drinks, shopping etc) then you lose the adrenaline rush and it’s harder to pick up the enthusiasm again. This is particularly important from, say, 9pm onwards. But I am well prepared to plan next year’s Fringe already, and am ready to avoid the pitfalls I fell into this year!
But let’s look at these shows again. We saw 53 productions that you could loosely call “plays” and 18 of them were 5* status. We saw 52 shows that you could list as “comedy”, and of these 23 merited 5* – that’s a massive proportion! Additionally, 2 of the 4 dance productions we saw were 5*, 3 of the 6 Spoken Word events were 5* and, on a slightly lower proportion, 3 of the 11 “other” shows (cabaret, circus, magic, etc) gained 5* from me. At the moment, I’m finding it hard to identify my favourite, or even my favourite(s) from all these 5* productions, so let’s do a quick run-down of them, in the order that we saw them, and my on-the-spot reactions on the night:
The Mistake – It’s not often that a play leaves you almost lost for words. The Mistake is a heartstopping, blistering piece of theatre, telling the story of how atomic power was developed and misused to devastating effect. Michael Mears and Emiko Ishii create a cast of characters who either caused or suffered from the 1945 attacks on Japan, using just a few props with amazing inventiveness. Vital viewing for everyone.
Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen – Here’s another “false testimony”- type play given a brilliant tour de force performance by Samuel Barnett who has a huge number of words to remember! You can’t know what to believe and what not to believe as he pieces together the various stages of his relationship with “The American”. Both funny and occasionally ghastly, the play holds your attention throughout; and Mr Barnett is on fabulous form.
About Money – A splendid way to start the day with a very thought provoking, and brilliantly written play about poverty and responsibility amongst young people and the things they make you do. Great performances, especially from the amazing child actor Lois Hagerty. Touching and moving; it’s incredible how using just two chairs and wearing two red caps can say so much.
Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London – An extraordinary story, well told, with great vocal characterisations and a wonderful sense of humour. It’s also very informative; for example, I didn’t know FDR had polio, nor that Eleanor Roosevelt played such an important role in the declaration of human rights – still a hot topic today. An assured and very enjoyable history lesson!
Please Feel Free to Share – A liar gets addicted to lying by attending various self-help sessions pretending she is out of control. Very clever writing, matched by a very convincing performance. It’s also very thought provoking. Loved it!
Conflict in Court – If you liked Crown Court (if you’re old enough) you’ll love this. A fascinating court case, beautifully realised, full of great interaction – and when the final truth came out the whole audience gasped! Plus you get a free pie and a pint and they were both delicious. Absolutely brilliant – really loved it!
Boy – This is such an inventive way of telling an extraordinary story. Two amazingly good actors do a really strong script justice. Very moving, very sad, but also loads of humour. Never have soft toys played such a relevant role in serious drama. Just what you’d expect from the team who produced Us/Them. First class indeed.
An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe – The story is kept secret in the promotional material and it’s important it stays that way. Suffice to say there are many twists to Stuart’s tale. But it’s blisteringly well told and there’s a fantastic performance by Michael Parker as Stuart. Only a tiny venue, so book early!
Dorian – Well, there’s dramatic and there’s dramatic, but this is super-dramatic! Incredibly intense, Dorian is a powerful, strongly-building adaptation that has you on the edge of your seat. I’d go so far to say this is a better adaptation of Wilde’s original than Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray. Some excellent performances, brilliant stagecraft – the fight scenes are superb – all topped off with a stunning lighting and sound design. A mini-masterpiece!
Dog/Actor – A true masterclass in acting from Stephen Smith in this Berkoff double bill. Berkoff’s superb writing demands excellent characterisations, and that’s exactly what Mr Smith delivers by the truckload. He’s also amazing with the physical theatre – in “Dog” particularly you really got a sense of the powerful and aggressive Roy. An enthralling show!
A Shoddy Detective and the Art of Deception – They may call themselves Shoddy Theatre, but there’s nothing shoddy about this brilliant piece of nonsensical, physical theatre, packed with terrifically ludicrous scenes, hilarious characterisations, knockabout humour and superb stage fighting! Loved every minute of it.
Death of an Author – A very clever premise, excellent performances, extremely well written, and surprisingly moving. Lots to think about – and truly intriguing for literature buffs! I shan’t reveal who murdered the author…. but no jury would convict! I also liked how the detective did a spot of mansplaining!
Words Without Consent – Verbatim text of women in interviews combined with politicians’ comments on the role of women in society and the dangers faced daily from men. Extremely well staged, great use of video projections and two first rate performances. Take note of the trigger warnings; many of the things said in this production shake you to the core. A thrilling, appalling and vital work.
Candy – Brilliant storytelling, both in Tim Fraser’s riveting play and Michael Waller’s spellbinding performance. At first, I thought the content of the play was going to position itself as some kind of analogy or symbol. But then I quickly decided it wasn’t that, it was just a straightforward story about a man falling in love with his mate, but only when Billy presents himself as Candy. Fascinating, thought-provoking, at times hilarious, at times deeply sad. We absolutely loved it.
Eh Up Me Old Flowers – An excellent portrayal of Charlie Williams, by Tony Marshall; and the play itself is full of great storytelling, and ultimately is remarkably moving. You don’t have to remember Charlie Williams from the 70s, but it helps if you do! The play posed fascinating questions about whether Williams was complicit in spreading racism, or did he pave the way for the likes of Lenny Henry or Gary Wilmot? I was really surprised to find I had a tear in my eye at the end. Way better than you might possibly expect!!
Wilf – That rare thing – a comedy that is extraordinarily creative in its subject matter, confronts headfirst disturbing issues like domestic abuse and mental illness, and is also jaw-achingly funny. Beautifully staged and performed by Michael Dylan, Irene Allan and Neil John Gibson, there’s no way this play won’t have a life beyond the Fringe. Absolutely magnificent!
Closure – Mrs Chrisparkle and I constituted the full audience! Yes, only two people in but the cast threw themselves into a great performance of a brilliant play, with very serious, challenging material, and a fabulous twist. A good old fashioned thriller, based on sexual violence. Read the trigger warnings first. We talked about it for ages afterwards! Riveting!
No Place Like Home – Gripping tale, spellbindingly told, with superb use of video graphics that truly helped the story along. Marvellous acting – great characterisations. A feast of creativity, I’m so glad we didn’t miss this!
Colossal (Patrick McPherson) – I predict another massive word of mouth success for Patrick’s latest creation. Incredibly beautiful writing reminds you of the hip hop rhythms of Hamilton, whilst telling his own very individual story of love and deception. So many brilliant callbacks, so many surprises. Patrick turns his likeable persona inside out and challenges the audience to stick with him. And we sure do. Technically brilliant too with a terrific sound and lighting plot, which also play their part. A complete winner.
Ben Clover: Best Newcomer – The evening ended with a great show from Ben Clover, who included anti-vaxxers, Prince Andrew and Boris Johnson in his material and it all landed perfectly. The show contained an early contender for best line of the Fringe; I won’t spoil it for you but we were still chuckling about it back at the apartment. He delivers his routine with apparently effortless ease, although I’m sure most of it scrupulously hand-crafted. A fantastic show, highly recommended.
Mark Thomas: Black and White – Why have I never seen Mr Thomas before? Most definitely a no-Conservative zone, he dishes out brilliant political observations nineteen to the dozen and absolutely left me wanting more. He also has some memorable Barry Cryer and Bernard Cribbins jokes, God bless their souls. I had no idea I’d be singing my favourite music hall song, The boy I love is up in the gallery, by Marie Lloyd. Just a fab hour.
Hal Cruttenden: It’s Best You Hear it From Me – Crammed with callbacks, this is a beautifully constructed, very personal and very impressive show, with great audience interaction; probably the best I’ve ever seen Mr Cruttenden. Perhaps he should have more marriage breakdowns, it would be great for his career!
Mary Bourke: The Brutal Truth – On terrific form, the legendary Ms B talks cancel culture, Britain’s Got Talent as well as giving us a massive trauma dump (her words) that she turns to comedy gold. Peppa Pig also comes in for the treatment she so richly deserves. Absolutely brilliant.
Abigoliah Schamaun: Legally Cheeky – Abigoliah shares the ghastly story of her visa crisis with all her trademark upbeat optimism even though at times it’s a truly sad story. She has an amazing ability to see sunshine in the rain and she conveys her joyous observations with delightful ease. Fantastic!
Tarot: Cautionary Tales – What a find! Sketch comedy is alive and well and living Beside the Pleasance Courtyard! Tarot are three immensely likeable idiots who have put together just the funniest hour of nonsense. Every night they pick a member of the audience to count the number of laughs (and make other suitable notes) and, you guessed it, it was me. I counted 217 laughs but I definitely missed a few – well, you have to keep these people on their toes after all. Favourite sketches included the Elvis Impersonator and the Never Have I Ever game. Ecstatically funny!
Your Dad’s Mum – Your Dad’s Mum is a nightmarish comic creation; a social night out, with a grim compère stuck in the 70s and a woeful but feminist assistant who together take us through some deliciously lamentable games and quizzes. And it’s all absolutely brilliant! Once you get the joke – that he’s deliberately awful and she’s trying to do the best she can to make up for it – it works a treat. As the catastrophes pile up, the audience creases up! The audience hurled themselves into the fun and played along with everything that Pat and Cherrie-Ann threw at them. Just don’t ask her to do her Christmas Tree routine. Loved it!
Marcus Brigstocke: Absolute Shower – Another show where the subject of stupid people comes up! Marcus Brigstocke is on brilliant form, an hour full of political satire and happy lockdown memories. I particularly loved his observation about consent issues for single people today. Extremely funny, always a pleasure.
Nina Gilligan: Late Developer – Nina specialises in finding fantastic new material on familiar subjects, like the Menopause, sex, relationships and so on. She has a fantastic delivery style, leading you in gently and then hitting you with a killer punchline. An excellent discovery! Loved the pigeon and Chris Whitty material – I’ll say no more.
Garry Starr: Greece Lightning – I sometimes wonder how funny Garry Starr could be if he wasn’t quite so inhibited. That’s a joke, by the way – there is no one on stage who leaps over all the boundaries as much as Garry Elizabeth Starr. Once again the hammy thespian brings us a no-holds barred hour of unmitigated silliness which has to be seen to be believed. Don’t think that by avoiding the front row you won’t get involved (although if you do sit in the front row you might well see much more than you had bargained for!) Utter brilliance.
Troy Hawke: Sigmund Troy’d – Effortless characterisation, the mischievous Milo McCabe has formed a brilliant, creative set of material for Troy based on a random tweet that caught his imagination. With scrabble values, psychotherapy, magic numbers, shop greetings and pizza dedications, this is an extraordinarily detailed flight of fantasy. I know that by sitting in the front we were asking for it – and we got it. But so did many others! Fabulously funny!
Shamilton – How would this troupe create a hiphop musical about a character chosen by the audience? Brilliant performance and improv with the inspired audience choice of Paddington Bear!! Absolutely hilarious. The Browns needed sexual counselling, and The Queen was called on to prevent Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman from demolishing their house. Completely nuts and completely wonderful!
Dr Hammond’s Covid Inquiry – Dr Phil presents an excellent comedy lecture, packed with fascinating facts and opinions, jokes and observations – it’s almost as though Covid has never gone away (winking emoji). It’s also interesting to share your own covid experiences and beliefs with other audience members. Very enjoyable!
Joe Wells: I Am Autistic – Always one of our favourite comedians, Joe is on fantastic form with a show that gives rise to pretty much non stop laughter, mainly about autism – and yes I know it sounds unlikely. He’s a truly gifted comedian, with a beautifully crafted set, and there’s no better way to start your Fringe day!
Pear (Patrick and Hugo McPherson) – “Are there twins in the audience, oh oh, oh oh, are there any twins in?” 🎵 🎵 I guarantee you’ll be singing that for ages.
Patrick and Hugo do an amazing double act, with a nicely structured, incredibly silly, beautifully funny show, with perfect callbacks and audience interaction. You don’t stop beaming from start to finish! Is there nothing these McPhersons can’t do?!
Robin Morgan: Snip Snip Bitch (WIP) – Robin is even slicker and funnier now than he was when we saw him in Leicester a couple of years ago! There’s no real narrative thread to his act, it’s just observations and memories and quirkinesses, all of which somehow combine together to create a very satisfying whole. He’s so very likeable and persuasive; you end up letting your guard down and telling him things you’d normally keep under your hat. Absolutely brilliant!
Foil Arms and Hog: Hogwash – At first we wondered if Foil Arms and Hog had reached their pinnacle, and were beginning to lose their way a little. A very long get-to-know the audience introduction (vital for later material) followed by a too-long sketch based on a ghost story experience, meant that half the show had already gone before we started getting into the really good material, but rest assured it’s as good as ever. I loved the suitcases on the carousel, and the long lost reunions were inspired. Three genuinely hilarious guys – you don’t get better sketch comedy.
Nish Kumar: Your Power, Your Control – Nish Kumar comes across as a naturally funny guy but also an angry one; years of racism have taken its toll on his mental health, and he shares some of that journey with us – and you get the feeling that the journey is far from over. But it’s not all doom and gloom – in fact it’s 98% hilarious observations about politics, terrible gigs and how much he loves Ricky Gervais and Jimmy Carr*. An occasionally bruising (and aggressive!) watch, but always rewarding. *not strictly true.
Sooz Kempner: Playstation – Very funny – I thought we might be at a disadvantage knowing nothing about computer games, but Sooz used them as a springboard for lots of other brilliant material, all based on that natural unwillingness to grow up. Extremely funny and inventive, and excellent use of pre-recorded material. Our first time seeing Sooz Kempner, but definitely not our last.
Colin Hoult: The Death of Anna Mann – Perhaps this really is the death of Anna Mann? Whatever Colin Hoult gives her an amazing send-off in this brilliant retrospective of her lives, loves and careers. Turned out very emotional in the end! One of the best comedy shows ever.
Spank! You and Goodnight – The last ever Spank! was the source of a lot of genuine emotion. We’ve loved this show over the past 8 years and it’s brought so much happiness to so many people. A wonderful last night final line up; brilliant acts who all made the night very special.
Just These Please: Honestly No Pressure Either Way – Fast, slick and very very funny! Lovely silly sketches – I loved the one that featured Greyfriars Bobby – all performed to a high standard. What’s not to like?
Hamlet: Ian McKellen and the Edinburgh Festival Ballet – Ignore those 2* reviews. They clearly don’t understand the concept of Ballet. This is a stunning piece, superb choreography, meticulously danced, that tells the story of Hamlet clearly and thoroughly. The Prince of Denmark is split into two: one, the vocal nervous wreck played by McKellen, the other, the man who moves, played by an extraordinary dancer. I particularly loved Ophelia’s dances, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a delight. Fabulous lighting and sound too. My toes curled with pleasure throughout!
Ballet Freedom of Kyiv – Audience reviews online were about 75-25 in favour of this show, but those who didn’t like it *really* didn’t like it! We thought it was terrific; inventive, dynamic choreography, danced with joy and skill, frequently very tongue in cheek, lots of dark humour and even a few instances of audience participation (and don’t think by not sitting in the front you’re safe – you’re not!) Invasion by a hostile neighbour was tastefully suggested in a few of the dances. I was very disappointed at the amount of photography and videoing from audience members, which was extremely disrespectful of both the performers and other audience members. But we loved the show!
Iain Dale: All Talk with Rory Stewart – Both Iain Dale and Rory Stewart were both on good form. Amongst the revelations was the fact that they both went for the Conservative nomination to stand for the constituency of Bracknell. Rory told some awful stories about Johnson that were ostensibly funny but just showed what an utter disgrace the PM is. Good questions, fascinating answers, and a surprisingly entertaining hour.
Iain Dale: All Talk with Keir Starmer – Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith both grilled Keir Starmer and I must say I was very impressed with the Labour Leader, much more than I expected to be. You can see he’s a thoughtful, intelligent man, he listens in full to the question then gives a most considered answer to it. I don’t think he suits the world of quick off the cuff comments; he’s much more the measured, detailed, considered kind of politician.
In Conversation with… Devi Sridhar – Not entirely sure what I was expecting from Devi Sridhar, but this conversation with sports journalist Graham Spiers revealed her motivations for becoming a public health expert, her background, her opinions on a wide range of subjects and also much of the private person behind the headlines. She’s a natural at the Q&A, and it was a fascinating hour.
Rouge – Sets the bar for all the shows in this genre. Stunning to watch, decadent in the extreme, incredible acrobatics and a silly, adult sense of humour. No more to say!
Adults Only Magic Show – Sam and Justin have put together some amazing magic and framed it within this “adult only” naughty presentation, to the delight of everyone. Very funny, very naughty and very incredible! Not a clue as to how any of it was done.
An Evening Without Kate Bush – I didn’t really know what to expect from this show, but you come away from it with a spring in your step and gladness in your heart, as Sarah-Louise Young beguiles you into the world of Kate Bush fandom, presents some of her best loved songs in ways you have never seen before, and makes you desperate to go back to your old LPs before the night is out. She also does a pretty amazing vocal impersonation! Very inclusive and hugely enjoyable.
So, an amazing Fringe – we loved every minute. And who will receive the coveted Chrisparkle Edinburgh awards? We’ll have to wait until the committee sits and deliberates next January!