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What are the best shows of the Edinburgh Fringe 2017?

Selina Thompson in Salt. Photo: Richard Davenport Selina Thompson in Salt. Photo: Richard Davenport
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As the Edinburgh Festival Fringe hits its halfway point – and with more than 130 shows already reviewed – we asked our team of expert critics to name just the two best shows they’ve seen this year. Here are their picks…

Natasha Tripney

Aoife Spratt in BlackCatfishMusketeer
Aoife Spratt in BlackCatfishMusketeer

Salt – Northern Stage at Summerhall, 14.30

The fringe is full of shows that feel born of personal experiences and private pain. It is a festival of exorcism. Salt is one of these pieces and yet it transcends that. Selina Thompson’s exploration of the history of the transatlantic slave route, the psychological and emotional legacy of slavery, and what it is to be part of a diaspora, is both a personal journey and a piece of deeply political theatre. She breaks off from telling her story to smash a rock of salt into pieces. She ensures you carry a piece of that pain away with you.

BlackCatfishMusketeer – Summerhall, 19.10

Irish company Malaprop Theatre reinvigorate the romcom with a gloriously articulate show about dating in the age of Tinder that’s incredibly smart about intimacy and digital technology. Dylan Coburn Gray’s intricate play finds a lovely, lo-fi way of representing digital interaction and Catherine Russell and Ste Murray handle the rapid-fire dialogue with great skill, conveying a sense of closeness and connection between two people who have yet to meet in person and yet already know each other.

Fergus Morgan

Secret Life of Humans at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh. Photo: David Monteith Hodge
Secret Life of Humans. Photo: David Monteith Hodge

Secret Life of Humans – Pleasance Courtyard, 18.30

David Byrne has collided a 500-page non-fiction book – Yuval Harari’s Sapiens – with the troubled life of TV academic Jacob Brunowski and crammed the result into a kaleidoscopic hour-long show, smartly infusing it with drama and drive as well. It’s a compelling show, shot through with humour, superbly performed and tackling the weightiest of issues with the lightness of a feather. Not only that, Byrne’s collaborative staging is also breathtaking. Projections, soundscapes and stage magic combine with exquisite, symphonic elegance. Characters appear from nowhere, people walk on walls and boundaries – actual and mental – simply fall away.

The Believers Are But Brothers – Northern Stage at Summerhall, 12.45 

Javaad Alipoor’s intelligent, interactive show takes place on stage, on the internet and on your very own smartphone. Half lecture, half tripartite narrative, Alipoor’s show uses video projections, newsreel footage and a Whatsapp group chat – into which the audience has been added – to explore the dark world of online radicalisation. Isis, 4chan, Trump, Brexit, Gamergate – it’s all here, deconstructed and discussed, and it’s all covered in disconcerting detail. Alipoor flips the stone, exposing the festering, fetid, digital creepy-crawlies lurking only a few clicks away.

Anna Winter

Ursula Martinez and Zoe Coombs Marr in Wild Bore. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge
Ursula Martinez and Zoe Coombs Marr in Wild Bore. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge

Transit – Assembly Hall, 18.00

Transit, by Canadian company Flip FabriQue, is a circus show with soul. Without tweeness or self-indulgence, it explores the friendship between the performers and the realities of their lives as travelling acrobatic artists, with all the personal sacrifice and realistic thoughts of retirement before 30 that such a vocation demands. But it’s also a massively enjoyable celebration of their preternatural skill and technique, a blend of phenomenal physical control and raucous energy in which bodies defy the pedestrian laws of gravity. For someone who can barely throw or catch, it’s an awe-inspiring thrill.

Wild Bore – Traverse Theatre, times vary

The eagerly awaited Wild Bore didn’t disappoint. Instead, it assaults convention with a trio of talking bare arses and a trestle table. Lashings of Nutella, sweetcorn and a splattered pork platter help to bring the fraught relationship between critic and artist to the stage in recalcitrant style. Written and performed with glee by Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott, it’s both smutty and serious. Extracts from real reviews reveal some of the ludicrous and sexist ways in which the women’s artistic agency has been dismissed or denied in past productions. Wild Bore, with its rowdy transgressions and layers of comedy meta-ness, cleverly disrupts the often po-faced and self-satisfied habits of critical discourse, questioning the whole business of theatre, how we consume and process it.

Paul Vale

Matthew Floyd Jones in Richard Carpenter is Close to You

Richard Carpenter is Close to You – Underbelly, 17.20

Cabaret is rife on the fringe, so it’s always interesting to see something that’s just a little bit left-of-centre. Matthew Floyd Jones, once part of the Frisky and Mannish duo, has taken the life and career of Richard Carpenter, brother to the late and better known Karen, and re-imagined it as a piece of ‘morality cabaret’. The pastiche musical numbers are meticulously constructed, as you might expect from the talented writer/musician, but the bittersweet comedy narrative is priceless. Eventually, Carpenter finds redemption in self-acceptance and while making us laugh, Jones surreptitiously underscores the mental health themes that are shaping the fringe this year.

Buried – C Too, 14,45

The things that stay with you at the fringe are not necessarily the most accomplished works, but demonstrate an aspect of acting, writing or direction that makes a lasting impression. Buried is a case in point. While the book is problematic, stumbling in terms of tone and structure, the original score by Cordelia O’Driscoll is one of the best that I’ve heard on the fringe so far. Complemented by rich arrangements, O’Driscoll’s music and lyrics effortlessly drive the narrative while sounding wholly contemporary. Female musical theatre writers may be scarce in the West End, but they are creating fascinating work on the fringe.

Thom Didbin

Cast of The Fall. Photo: Fahiem Stellenboom
Cast of The Fall. Photo: Fahiem Stellenboom

Is This a Dagger? The Story of Macbeth – Scottish Storytelling Centre, 15.00

You might think you know the Scottish Play, but you probably don’t, not until you have seen Andy Cannon with this show for an audience of over-eights. He tells Macbeth’s story with utmost brilliance while digging out the relationships that lie behind it, putting the battles and feuds in the context of the society for which it was first performed. And then, just for fun, he places it in its political setting as a play written specifically for King James VI and I and designed to bolster his hold in the English court.

The Fall – Assembly Hall, 18.15

The first show I saw at the fringe this year still resonates and remains the one to which all others can only aspire. The young company has a vibrancy and the show combines singing and dancing with a hard-fought and deeply political story. Set at the University of Cape Town in 2015, the play tells of the student struggle to have a statue of Cecil John Rhodes removed. But in these performers’ telling, this story has a universal relevance that will be recognised by those who were student activists in their youth, or who are fighting oppression today.

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