What were the best shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018? Our critics choose their favourites
Mistero Buffo – Underbelly
This monologue was Dario Fo’s party piece for around 30 years, so it takes guts to pick up Fo’s baton and serious talent to do it well. Thank God for Julian Spooner. One of the artistic directors of the ever-inventive company Rhum and Clay, Spooner gives a virtuoso performance ranging from incredible clown skills to deeply moving rage at the uncaring nature of authority figures.
Underground Railroad Game – Traverse Theatre
Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard’s show was everything it sounded like it would be: clever, funny, uncomfortable, and pretty extreme. Not just an astonishing bit of satire, but a devastating history lesson on the legacy of racism in the US.
The Basement Tapes – Summerhall
This makes the list because it’s the show that took me most by surprise. I didn’t really know anything about it going in, but it turned out to be a really sharp, brilliantly creepy, indelibly haunting thing. Starting out as a comedy and ending in pure horror, the show, from New Zealand-based company Zanetti Productions, used sound and light and the dank basement space at Summerhall to get completely under my skin.
What Girls Are Made Of – Traverse Theatre
Cora Bissett’s autobiographical account of her life as the lead singer of 1990s indie band Darlingheart promised great things. She delivered, and then some, in a piece of gig theatre that drew power from the spirit of Patti Smith and tackled the tough issue of her father’s dementia and death. Daring, moving and celebratory.
My Left/Right Foot – The Musical – Assembly Roxy
Robert Softley-Gale has forged a career in making shows that have disability at their core, latterly with the ever-inventive Birds of Paradise theatre company. In My Left/Right Foot, he and his collaborators have created a piece of musical theatre that retains all his campaigning and political nous, while delivering a joyous night out.
The Myth of the Singular Moment – Summerhall
In a contemplative and quiet fusion of traditional music and spoken narrative, Jim Harbourne and Kirsty Eila McIntyre twisted a trio of tales together about the nature of possibility. It’s the sort of play that has a quiet intensity that leaves you returning to it, time and again.
Square Go – Roundabout @ Summerhall
Gary McNair has had an excellent Edinburgh. After the Cuts, about a future without the NHS, managed to be both tender and terrifying at the same time, but it’s Square Go, his two-handed comedy co-written with Kieran Hurley, that’s been the biggest joy. Directed by Finn Den Hertog, it was hilariously funny throughout, and deeply insightful about adolescent masculinity to boot.
Luke Wright, Poet Laureate – Bar Bados
After two galvanising verse plays, Bungay-based Wright has returned to his roots with a straight-up hour of performance poetry. And what an hour. It’s delivered superbly, by turns personal and political, then brilliantly weaves the two together in a tear-jerking final poem. A poet at the top of his game.
Trojan Horse – Summerhall
Verbatim theatre doesn’t come much better than this. Writer and director Matt Woodhead and co-writer Helen Monks have made a fluid, fascinating piece of theatre that deftly handles several different storylines and delves deep into issues of prejudice and identity in contemporary Britain. Inventively staged, absorbingly intelligent and vitally important stuff.
What Girls Are Made Of – Traverse Theatre
Staged as a piece of euphoric autobiographical gig theatre, it’s not formally adventurous but it’s brilliantly performed, and Cora Bissett is a storyteller of real skill. As she talks about being an artist and a woman, the emotional and creative compromises of growing older and the loss of a parent, it’s hard not to be moved.
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True – Underbelly
Based on the transcripts of a 17th-century rape trial, Breach Theatre has created a powerful and moving piece of theatre, underscored by anger. Potently performed and directed with care it’s an eloquent production about issues of consent, art and power.
Everything Not Saved – Summerhall
Dublin’s Malaprop Theatre returned to the fringe with this satisfying and fascinatingly layered theatre-essay on the relationship between memory and history. It was an intricately performed piece with a striking final scene that will stay with me.
Timpson: The Musical – C Venues
I was taken by Timpson: The Musical’s energy and sheer, unadulterated madness. To work, you need discipline – and Gigglemug Theatre has it in spades in a show with impressive lighting, sound design and thoughtfully conceived props. It certainly put a smile on my face in the first week and hopefully the company will continue to finesse this kind of absurdist musical comedy.
Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard – theSpace at Jurys Inn
This was a pick about potential. Shonagh Murray’s evocative score complemented the essence of Robert Burns’ poetry, while her lyrics captured the fire with which both Jean Armour and Nancy Maclehose loved him. At face value, this is a musical with massive Scots appeal, but its empowering message is universal.
Dandy Darkly’s All Aboard! – Underbelly
If Dandy Darkly is considered a master of queer storytelling, then All Aboard! is possibly his magnum opus. Darkly paints vivid pictures with words that keep us on the edge of our seats. There are waves of humour followed by flashes of horror and, before long, what started as a kids’ story, trimmed with glitter, becomes a searing indictment of the rise of the far-right in America and beyond.
The Artist – Assembly Roxy
Physical theatre performer Thom Monckton’s solo show about a hapless painter dallying around in his atelier made use of a bold, bright theatrical palette. There were fruit-based flights of fancy accompanied by fizzing lights, deftly drawn-out canvas calamities and some brilliantly malleable facial expressions. Nothing sagged in this show, an hour of clever and charming clowning.
Giselle – Dancebase
The first ever full-length ballet to be staged at Dance Base, Ludovico Ondievela’s reworking of Giselle as a contemporary tale of teenage homicide and ghoulish horror proved an atmospheric hit for this petite but powerful company. It had strong and lyrical lead performances, inventive choreography and nimble set design. Perhaps the first ballet to make use of a police procedural section, this Giselle made for a bold and engaging re-imagining of a Romantic classic.
May I Speak About Dance – Summerhall
May I Speak About Dance is odd, strangely shaped and occasionally baffling, but is also full of fascination, originality and curious charm. A lot of it is due to choreographer Boaz Barkan’s casual and charismatic persona. He jauntily skewers the off-putting pretensions of the form and its connoisseurs, the intellectual one-upmanship so often involved in talking about dance (or any art for that matter).