The best of the Edinburgh Fringe – our critics’ picks
The 70th Edinburgh Festival Fringe is almost upon us. The Stage team will be there for the duration. We are already packing our waterproofs and colour coding our spreadsheets. Below, our team of reviewers choose the shows they are most looking forward to.
Frogman – Traverse at Codebase, various times
Curious Directive, double Fringe First-winning company and the maker of cerebral, multi-layered devised work including Pioneer and Your Last Breath, return to the fringe with a new piece, Frogman, billed as a ‘supernatural thriller’ about a missing child and designed to be experienced via VR headsets. I have no idea how or if this will work, but I am intrigued. It’s part of the Traverse programme, though performed off-site.
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything – Summerhall, 20.45
Hull-based company Middle Child excels in gig-theatre. Weekend Rockstars was a great late-night show with a surprisingly resonant emotional core. Its new show, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, seen earlier in the year in Hull, features a story spanning three decades and a singing asteroid. It’s playing Paines Plough’s Roundabout space.
Jelly Beans – Pleasance Courtyard, 15.15
Kuleshov, Stuart Slade and Dan Pick’s production company, was responsible for two of the most memorable bits of new writing in recent years: Slade’s brutal comedy of trauma and the emotional aftermath of an act of terrorism, BU21, and the more low-key but still distinctive Cans. Pick’s debut play Jelly Beans – seen briefly in London at Theatre503 – is a one-person play about a man on the edge.
The Last Queen of Scotland – Underbelly, Cowgate, 18:50
Dundee Rep has been consistently strong in plays exploring Dundee’s hidden heritage. Jemima Levick, previously artistic director of the Rep and now at Stellar Quines, directs Dundee playwright Jaimini Jethwa’s untold story of the Ugandan-Asian community in exile after Idi Amin’s expulsion in 1972. With Patricia Panther on the sounds, the resources of the National Theatre of Scotland behind it and a strong Dundonian voice in the writing, this promises a sophisticated and thrilling, multi-layered telling of recent history.
1917: A Phantasmagoria – Sweet Holyrood, 16:15
Michael Daviot has been bringing his own shows to the fringe since 1999 and has a history of providing strong if whimsical alternative takes – often with a weather eye for the macabre or the grotesque. For his fourth solo show, he looks back a century to 1917, but moves away from the trench warfare that has been the focus of First World War memorials. Looking at the world his mother was born into, when there were lynchings in Tennessee and the Paris premiere of Parade, he ponders how much and how little has changed in the intervening century.
Eve – Traverse Theatre, various times
Having had the huge pleasure of interviewing Jo Clifford for The Stage, it will be a real thrill to hear her new solo show for the National Theatre of Scotland. The show is one of a pair of plays at the Traverse (the other is Adam) looking at transgender issues. Clifford was raised as a boy, when she knew all along that was wrong; she is a father, a grandmother and, this year, was recognised as one of 2017’s 10 “outstanding women in Scotland”. Eve is her telling of her story, no doubt with her gentle, passionate voice, co-written and with music by Chris Goode.
Frankie Vah – Underbelly, Cowgate, 21.20
What I Learned from Johnny Bevan – which turned heads at the 2015 fringe and returns briefly this year – was Bungay-based poet Luke Wright’s first one-man verse play, depicting one man’s gradual disillusionment with New Labour. Frankie Vah, his second, travels further back in time – pitching the riotous story of a rock’n’roll poet against the turbulent backdrop of the 1987 election: drugs, booze, love, jealousy, Kinnock, Thatcher. Told through Wright’s fizzing, feisty poetry, it’s a stylish and stirring political piece that was brilliant at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and will be again in Edinburgh.
The Damned United – Pleasance Courtyard, 17.00
Tom Hooper’s big-screen adaptation of The Damned United is great (it had a screenplay by Peter Morgan after all), but it didn’t capture the darkness and psychological depth of David Peace’s novel. Telling the story of Brian Clough’s troubled, 44-day tenure managing Leeds United Football Club in 1974, Peace’s book was as much a gripping study of flawed genius and dependent male relationships as it was a tale about football. This stage version, written by Anders Lustgarten and staged by Leeds-based radical theatre company Red Ladder, reportedly captured those nuances when it ran at the West Yorkshire Playhouse last year, and hopefully this slightly shortened reboot will do, too.
Letters to Morrissey – Traverse Theatre, various times
Traverse Theatre associate artist Gary McNair has been one of the most exciting voices at the Edinburgh Fringe in recent years. 2012’s Born to Run explored one woman’s anxiety by putting her on a treadmill, 2014’s Donald Robertson Is Not a Stand-Up Comedian ingeniously delved into the darker side of comedy, and 2015’s A Gambler’s Guide to Dying was a simple, personal act of storytelling about death and luck and a whole lot more. This year, McNair has two shows, verbatim piece Locker Room Talk and Letters to Morrissey, a piece examining idolatry, fame and growing up, all through letters written to The Smiths’ mercurial frontman in the late 1990s. They’ll both be worth catching.
The Soft Subject (A Love Story) – Assembly Hall, 16.25
Chris Woodley’s Next Lesson about teaching at an urban school during the Clause 28 era was a strong ensemble piece. This new one-man show is more autobiographical, so I’m interested to see how this versatile performer operates solo.
Typhoid Mary – C Venues, 12.05
The life of “Typhoid Mary” Mallon is a great subject for musical treatment. It’s a fascinating slice of early New York history and couldn’t be further away in tone from The Odyssey, a previous piece from book, music and lyric writer Geoff Page.
Chill Habibi – Summerhall, 21.30
There’s a hell of a lot of cabaret happening at the Edinburgh Fringe. This offering at arguably the most diverse venue in town promises the best that Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Morocco and Scotland have to offer.
Sigma – Assembly Hall, 13.30
The Gandini jugglers have extreme sock-knocking-off potential. The last London show by Gandini Juggling, Smashed, combined awe-inspiring and often lyrical feats of juggling with comical and cruel scenes of discomfort inspired by Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal. Sigma promises another exploration of dance form, this time classical Indian Bharatanatyam dance. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the jugglers and solo dancer investigate the rhythmic and percussive parallels of their two disciplines, and how they draw upon Bharatanatyam’s formal structures and expressive qualities – no doubt there will be virtuosic displays and plenty of wit from this clever, curious company and its collaborators.
Coppelia – Assembly George Square Gardens, 15.00
Hopefully this circus reinvention of the classical ballet will draw audiences into the surreal creepiness that lurks just beneath the source material’s fairytale surface. It is after all the story of an isolated and angry old man who’s obsessed with a life-sized doll of his own creation – the idea of a male-fashioned mechanical woman who embodies some idealised form of femininity seems a particularly pertinent one today. There’s no better medium than circus to explore the uncanniness and fragility of human and superhuman bodies.
Border Tales – Summerhall, 14.40
Dance is a form that often deals in the fantastical, and its ability to engage with political realities is often overlooked in favour of more lightweight or abstract subject matter. But Protein Dance’s Border Tales looks to be a potentially poignant and satirical exploration of the weightiest issues of our time – the plight of migrants and multiculturalism in Brexit-blighted Britain. The best dance is a universal language that can transcend verbal divides, so I’m really intrigued to see how choreographer Luca Silvestrini translates the real-life stories of immigrants and refugees into movement and music.