As this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe draws to a close, The Stage’s team of reviewers pick their favourite productions…
Blending jolting dance, glitching video and distorted sound, this fantastic retelling of a true story about school girls who developed a twitching disease is an astute dissection of true crime as a genre. It’s from new Scottish company Groupwork – expect great things from them.
After years as a comedian, Richard Gadd has moved into theatre with this astonishing debut play about being harassed by a stalker. Gadd’s blow-away performance combined with Jon Brittain’s precise direction make for one of the absolute highlights of the fringe.
Laurence McKeown’s play about a Garda and Royal Ulster Constabulary officer who become friends while patrolling the Irish border during the Troubles contains one of the most powerful moments at the fringe: the two actors, after standing side by side, turn towards each other and shake hands. A profound political image.
Proof that not all musical hits have to be like Six comes in Finn Anderson’s plaintive, folk-infused score for Islander created on stage by just two voices with plenty of looping. The show is set on an island at the edge of Scotland – Bethany Tennick and Kirsty Findlay bring the island’s many residents to life, as they make the big decision of whether to abandon their home and leave for the mainland. Stewart Melton’s book draws on folklore and myth but feels right up to date as it asks what the costs of abandoning the past are.
Scottish-Kenyan storyteller Mara Menzies’ show offers a beautifully weighted set of nested stories for contemporary times. Her craft as both an actress and a storyteller shines through in a captivating tale for an adult audience. Using both her Scottish and Kenyan cultural identity, she puts the legacy of colonialism into a fictitious but personal and local Edinburgh setting – highlighting the insidious creep of hate and fear from the twilight into the mainstream in the process.
Outrageous Australian all-female circus troupe wear their feminism out there in their smeared-on moustaches and socks stuffed down the front of their pants. It’s more than drag acrobatics, however, as they introduce shaggy dog stories about periods and some decidedly pointed routines based around Australian lad drinking culture. The acrobatic routines are properly impressive and even the necessary glam finale has a strongly political undertone to it.
Verbatim company Lung Theatre had a hit in 2018 with Trojan Horse – a show about the alleged radicalisation of students in Birmingham state schools – and they’ve got another this year with Who Cares, which dynamically dissects the pressing problem of unrecognised young carers. Writer-director Matt Woodhead intelligently interweaves three desperately sad real-life stories with movement and music – it’s urgent, impressively crafted stuff that makes you cry at the sheer injustice of it all.
Rhys Slade-Jones is this year’s winner of the Pleasance’s Common Award for artists from disadvantaged backgrounds. His multimedia show is a love letter to the town he grew up in: Treherbert in the Welsh Valleys. Dressed in a snazzy pair of boxer shorts with the Welsh flag emblazoned on them, he amiably lectures the audience on his family, his friends and his community. It’s emotional stuff, endearingly delivered, and it’s got political bite too as he describes the town’s decades-long decline and its recent grassroots revival.
The New Diorama Theatre’s follow-up to 2017’s superb Secret Life of Humans is a compelling docudrama about the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper that puts the police service itself under the microscope. Created by David Byrne, Olivia Hirst and Beth Flintoff, together with a devising cast, it puts women – both the victims and the investigators – to the fore, offering an insightful and plain interesting behind-the-scenes snapshot of a botched investigation.
In Bed With My Brother’s loud anarchic tribute to alternative techno-rock icons the KLF broke boundaries and probably a few ear drums. A genuinely dangerous feeling show full of rage, water pistols, and more naked vigorous raving than is probably advisable, especially if – like one of the performers – you are eight months pregnant.
It seems unfair to spilt up the Queer Houses’ double bill of one-person plays. Played in rep in the same space and with a shared pink-neon aesthetic, each explores facets of gender identity, love and desire. A game-changer in terms of representation and featuring outstanding performances from Teddy Lamb and Mika Johnson.
Meghan Tyler’s play about two sisters confronting their dark past in 1980s Ireland is a brilliant drama-meets-Tarantino bloodbath. It’s intense, violent and very funny. Gareth Nicholls’ uncompromising direction doesn’t shy away from the surreal twists enabling Lucianne McEvoy and Lisa Dwyer Hogg to own their gory vengeance.
Sam Steiner’s delicate new play sees him refining the style in hit show Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons. Steiner uses hesitant and elliptical dialogue to great effect. Ed Madden’s assured direction and the performances of Rosa Robson, Euan Kitson and, in particular, Beth Holmes, as a young tennis ace, spin the rhythms of the text into something captivating and strangely beautiful, and the production contains a couple of moments of sudden, heart-fluttering magic.
For Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole’s irreverent new show, the pair travel to Malta to make a show for Valetta European City of Culture and end up making a piece that touches on UK expat mentality, corruption, and the migrant crisis. Deceptively slapdash and rum-splashed, though actually incredibly well-crafted, it’s their strongest show to date – and it features a bonus appearance from their dog.
Gina Moxley’s intelligent, irreverent show was inspired by Three Approaches to Psychotherapy, a series of films in which an American woman was recorded in conversation with three different psychotherapists. Moxley uses this as the basis for a playful, layered, furiously feminist piece about female desire within the framework of the patriarchy. Moxley’s a winning performer and her penis-peppered show is as smart as it is cathartic. It also delivered the only drone-mounted dick I’ve seen this fringe.
There are so many clever, topical, confident cabaret shows on at the fringe, it’s possible to see nothing but cabaret for the whole month. If you only see one however, make sure it’s Sarah-Louise Young’s homage to the fans of Kate Bush. Intelligently constructed, Young reinvents the tribute act fusing triple-threat comedy with the warmth and wisdom of an old-school vaudevillian.
Nathaniel Hall’s moving personal testimony explores the lasting damage of Section 28. It’s a heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting story about love and acceptance. Designer Irene Jade’s flair is very much part of the fun but the focus is Hall’s confrontational, confessional style that strives to banish the stigma of HIV.
There is lots of technical know-how going into this touching, often hilarious story about three neighbours living in bedsit land. Slap-stick, physical theatre, mime and puppetry all play a part. However creator Pierre Guillois has the sense to ground his dialogue-free tale with very real human emotions, however difficult or ugly they may seem.