Heading to Edinburgh this August? Here’s what to see at the Scottish capital’s annual Fringe Festival of theatre and comedy
For the month of August, Scotland’s capital transforms into a riot of comedy shows, creative theatre pieces and genre-bending performances: the Edinburgh Fringe. With almost every corner of the city converted into a stage, it can be overwhelming to plan a trip to this legendary festival. Revellers range from locals and die-hard comedy fans to theatre nerds and TV execs on the hunt for exciting new voices, but for each and every visitor the thrill is in discovering something fresh and unexpected that just might go on to become the next ‘big’ thing. Here’s what I’m excited to see when I’m there.
I want to see this show based on the set alone: a lurid pink kitchenette with chintzy details, it’s giving off major Heavenly Creatures vibes. If that wasn’t enough to sway me, there’s also the fact that the playwright, Meghan Tyler, is mentored by David Ireland, whose show Cyprus Avenue was a subversive masterpiece with a sold-out run at the Royal Court. Set in Northern Ireland during the late 80s, Crocodile Fever is a black comedy about two sisters – one rebellious, the other pious – who come together to punish their abusive father. An addiction to horror movies – not to mention living through the violence of the Troubles – has given the siblings a bit of a bloodlust, and I’m intrigued by the amount of gore being referenced in early reviews. Every trip to the Fringe needs a sisterhood horror-comedy with serious spine, right?
Lung, the company behind this pressing and political tearjerker, have made a name for themselves producing verbatim theatre with a social angle. Matt Woodhead’s script for Who Cares was adapted from conversations with young carers and support staff in Salford, and traces the stories of three children whose lives have been profoundly impacted by austerity measures which attack the support they rely on to look after their parents.
3. Crystal Rasmussen presents The Bible 2 (Plus a Cure for Shame, Violence, Betrayal and Athlete's Foot) at Underbelly, Cowgate
I loved Crystal Rasmussen’s debut memoir The Diary of a Drag Queen when it was published earlier this year. On top of their funny and distinctive voice, I fell hard for Rasmussen’s unabashed commitment to honesty and stamping out shame. The non-binary writer is like a queer, Lancastrian Brené Brown (if Brené Brown was also really vocal about anal sex) so I’m excited to see Rasmussen bring their same raw energy, positivity and playfulness to a live show.
Richard Gadd won the Edinburgh Comedy award back in 2016 and is a veteran comedian at the Fringe, but his latest piece, Baby Reindeer – an hour-long monologue exploring trauma, obsession and the limits of personal responsibility – sees him moving into the theatre strand of the festival’s programme. The source material for this autobiographical play is Gadd’s harrowing experience with an older female stalker, who for years made his life difficult by hounding him with emails, showing up at his home and disrupting his life. It looks to be an unsettling, candid and memorable piece of theatre.
I missed Tallulah Brown’s previous play Songlines at last year’s Fringe, a lauded coming-of-age musical set along the Suffolk coastline, but I’ve since heard enough about this young writer to make sure her new drama is a priority in my Fringe schedule. Set in a small town in Alaska (based on Newtok, which this summer will become the first village to be officially relocated due to climate change) the drama follows siblings Margaret and Stanley in timelines ten years apart. Older sister Margaret tells an eight-year-old Stanley that it’s his fault the ice is melting; a decade later irreversible damage has been done to their hometown, and possibly their relationship too.
Making her Edinburgh debut this year is London-based comedian Sophie Duker, who co-hosts the podcast GrownUpLand and founded Wacky Racists, a comedy club night which platforms performers of colour. Her hour-long show takes its name from Sara Baartman (known as the ‘Hottentot Venus’), an enslaved African woman who was brought to Georgian London from the Cape Colony and exhibited at freakshows. Weaving together the personal and political, Venus is tipped as a funny and impactful autobiographical show exploring black identity.
Performance artist Bryony Kimmings’ inventive, hybrid show is quickly garnering five star reviews. Described by some as a feminist musical and others as a kind of art installation, I’m not sure what to expect from this piece of experimental theatre, but I know I need to see it. Combining songs, storytelling, visual effects and what appears to be a not insignificant amount of glitter, I’m a Phoenix Bitch is billed as a deeply personal narrative about recovering from trauma.
Written by Charly Clive (who had a star-making turn in Channel 4’s Pure earlier this year) and her comedy partner Ellen Robertson, this drama follows a brother and sister who have radically different ideas about how to spend the evening. Since it’s her last night at home before heading off to university, Andie and her friends have planned the house party of the summer (with an enforced ban on any talk of their imminent exam results). Percy, on the other hand, is furious, because the evening marks an important event in the celestial calendar: the Perseids meteor shower. It’s billed as a coming-of-age drama about “finding your way in uncertain times” and sounds funny and sweet in equal measure.
True Crime is an emerging theme at this year’s Fringe, with a number of shows either inspired by real-life murder cases or riffing on our seemingly insatiable appetite for gruesome true stories. Dance theatre piece The Afflicted draws on tropes of documentaries, horror films and true-crime podcasts as it tells the story of a small town whose teenage inhabitants become afflicted with a strange, hysteria-like disease.
I saw this comedy show last year at Soho Theatre, so I’ve really no need to see it again: except it’s brilliant and I cannot resist going to laugh at New Zealand native Rose Matafeo’s genius once more. Matafeo won last year’s comedy award for Horndog, about the perils of being a heterosexual woman in the modern day (“it’s like trying to recommend a restaurant that’s given you food poisoning eight times!”), and I’m sure this will be a triumphant return to the festival.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe is on until August 26, 2019.