Mark Shenton’s top 10 Edinburgh shows

Clare Lawrence Moody and Sophie Melville in rehearsal for The Divide. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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I’m heading back to Edinburgh this weekend for a five-night visit. Last year I went up for two nights only, saw just six shows over two and a half days, and loved five of them. That’s a higher hit rate than I sometimes achieve by going for longer and seeing much more. So I’ve made a note to myself to enjoy more by seeing less, but also to try to keep as flexible as possible so I can go where my nose takes me.

However, I’ve got a few “anchors” for my time there – things I definitely plan to see – and will plan to build my schedule around. Here they are:

1. The Divide – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh International Festival

Alan Ayckbourn makes a rare departure from premiering his work in Scarborough (where he lives and was formerly artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre). He also isn’t directing his own work for a change, with this two-part play that has already announced a London run at the Old Vic in January. But I can’t wait to see it so will see it in Edinburgh.

2. How to Win Against History at Assembly George Square Gardens – Piccolo Tent

This show was the talk of Edinburgh last year – and earned a five-star review from The Stage’s Natasha Tripney, who dubbed it “a real charmer, sweet and sad, rather odd and very funny”. It’s coming to the Young Vic at the end of November, but I plan to catch it in Edinburgh.

3. The B*easts – Underbelly

Monica Dolan. Photo: Alan Harris

One of my favourite actors is Monica Dolan (interviewed by The Stage recently), and she’s clearly an actor’s actor. When I recently interviewed Romola Garai, she cited her as a major inspiration, telling me: “I was very influenced and inspired by working with Monica Dolan at the RSC. She has a deep and profound love of acting, she loves to do it and as a result is a very positive person to work with.” Now she’s getting rave reviews for her new solo piece at Edinburgh The B*easts, with The Stage dubbing it an “intentionally challenging piece”.

4.  Wank Bank Masterclass – Gilded Balloon

There’s always a fringe title that jumps out of you from the programme, and this year it is Wank Bank Masterclass, in which an Australian artist who funded his stay in New York by offering ‘happy ending’ massages to men that certainly got my attention.  “Be prepared to end up in a hilarious circle jerk with carrots and cucumbers” promises its programme entry. The show won an award for best interactive show at the Adelaide Fringe in 2017.

5. Looking for John – Assembly Hall, Baillie Room

West End actor Tony Timberlake celebrates his obsession with 1976 Olympic ice-skating champion John Curry, now a forgotten hero, whom he attempts to get celebrated again here.

6. Thrill Me – C too at St Columba’s by the Castle

Thrill Me

Stephen Dolginoff’s musical about the Leopold and Loeb story has become something of a fringe staple, a small, intense musical about a sensational story. I need to see this production because it marks the professional debuts of two students I taught at Arts Ed: Ellis Dackombe and Harry Downes.

7. Show Up – Laughing Horse at Counting House

Peter Michael Marino returns to Edinburgh for his third fringe, exploring more autobiographical and improvisational themes. His first, wonderful show Desperately Seeking the Exit told the poignant story behind the failure of the West End musical Desperately Seeking Susan for which he wrote the script for. Now he ups the ante by making a new show every day about his audience, transforming real-life audience experiences into a life story that promises to be different each time. As the publicity material puts it: “You get to control the content, set and sound for this socially anxious show about you.” It’s being staged as part of the increasingly large Free Fringe.  The Stage interview with Marino.

7. Jess and Joe Forever – Traverse Theatre

Nicola Coughlan and Rhys Isaac-Jones in Jess and Joe Forever. Photo David Monteith-Hodge

The Traverse is the fringe hub for new writing. I missed Zoe Cooper’s play when it premiered at the Orange Tree, so now I’m going to try to catch it in Edinburgh instead.

8. Nina: A Story About Me and Nina Simone – Traverse Theatre

I also missed Josette Bushell-Mingo’s celebration of Nina Simone and her own life at the Young Vic, but will catch it now in Edinburgh (where it runs to August 13 only), prior to a tour.

9. Three Tales of Life and Death at Assembly Rooms, Front Room

Broadway playwright and screenwriter Craig Lucas – currently represented in the West End by his book for the musical An American in Paris – offers three stories that include voyeuristic theatre critics, bartenders with too much spirit and mysterious strangers looking for love in the afternoon. The cast features US TV stars Richard Kline (Three’s Company) and Pamela Shaw (Swingers).

10. Sweatshop at Assembly George Square Gardens, Spiegeltent Palais Du Variete

Late night burlesques have become a fringe staple, but this one is hosted by the brilliant Australian crooner Mikelangelo, to offer a production line of of cabaret, circus and party tricks. It starts at 10pm, which is quite sensible.