With August fast approaching, we asked our top team of Edinburgh Fringe critics to each choose the three shows they are most looking forward to seeing at this year’s festival: from juggling Bob Dylan to Scottish witch hunters, from Su Pollard to Michael Barrymore
KillyMuck – Underbelly, 18.25
Writer and director Kat Woods has fierce form at the Fringe, with 2014’s Belfast Boy winning The Stage Award for actor Declan Perring. Her latest piece – which she’s written and directs – looks at a housing estate built on a paupers graveyard in 1970s Ireland, and how people from low-income backgrounds are constantly stereotyped and degraded by the media and society in general. It’s based on some of her own experiences, and will be brilliant.
The Underground Railroad Game – Traverse Theatre, times vary
Off-Broadway theatre Ars Nova has been making some of the finest work in the US recently, and its alumni include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Annie Baker and Rachel Chavkin (who directed Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 there). It is bringing a searing show about slavery to the Edinburgh Fringe, created by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard. It’s based on a game Sheppard’s teachers made him play at school, which involved students splitting into Confederates and Unionists and trying to steal slaves – represented by black dolls – past each other. It will be ferocious and deeply uncomfortable, but – sadly – never more necessary.
No Kids – Pleasance Courtyard, 15.40
During the past few years, the artistic directors of Ad Infinitum, George Mann and Nir Paldi, who are also partners, have taken it in turns to make shows for the company. So one year you’ll get Ballad of the Burning Star, a drag cabaret show telling the history of Israel, and the next a show like Light, a wordless sci-fi saga about surveillance. But this year they are teaming up. No Kids looks at their decision as a couple whether to have children, and how society looks at same-sex parents. Based on the company’s past work, this looks set to be unmissable.
What Girls Are Made Of – Traverse Theatre, times vary
Cora Bissett has a fascinating string of work under her belt as a director, writer and performer: from Roadkill to the original production of Midsummer. She now turns to her own life for inspiration in an autobiographical work that tells of her teenage career as singer with Fife band Darlingheart, who briefly made it big – and came crashing down all the harder for the heights it achieved. The chemistry of working with Orla O’Loughlin at the Traverse seems the perfect crucible in which to forge a great and timely production.
Blackout – Summerhall, 16.20
Conceived and written by Mark Jeary, Blackout is, in part, a response to his own battle with alcoholism. He goes further though, in a verbatim text which examines common attitudes to alcoholism and alcoholics to argue just how outdated they are, while showing how much other elements such as gender impact on alcoholism and those it effects.
Heaven Burns – Assembly Roxy, 14.35
Playwright and director Jen McGregor turns to issues of gender politics and religious fundamentalism in this year’s Assembly Roxy Theatre Award-winning script. McGregor uses as her source material the true story of Christian Caddell, a woman who falsified her identity and passed herself off as John Dixon – a notoriously harsh witch-pricker who operated in rural Morayshire in the 1660s. This is powerful fuel and I am really looking forward to seeing what McGregor makes of it.
Ulster American – Traverse Theatre, times vary
There are few funnier playwrights working in Britain right now than Belfast-born David Ireland. From Cyprus Avenue, and its story of a demented Unionist believing his baby daughter to be Gerry Adams, to The End Of Hope, which turned a Tinder hook-up into a tempestuous argument, his work is savagely, bruisingly witty, deliciously tar-black, with a keen sense of the absurd. Think Martin McDonagh, with a sharper socio-political edge. His new play, Ulster American, exploring issues of Irish identity in the rehearsal room, is part of the Traverse’s programme. Expect to laugh and wince in equal measure.
One Life Stand – Roundabout @ Summerhall, 21.45
Middle Child Theatre’s gig-theatre production of Luke Barnes’ All We Ever Wanted Was Everything was the best shows at last year’s festival – an exuberant, apocalyptic story of two dissatisfied millennials stuffed full of tunes and euphoria (it’s back this year, for a short run, by the way). The company’s new show, written by Eve Nicol with music from James Frewer and Glaswegian duo Honeyblood, is a late-night search for intimacy, exploring the loneliness lurking behind the screens of modern-day dating apps. It heads to Edinburgh after appearing in Hull and at Latitude.
Lights Over Tesco Car Park – Pleasance Dome, 10.50
Formed by students at Oxford University and now a New Diorama Graduate Emerging Company (always a mark of quality), Poltergeist Theatre is making a name for itself as witty, wacky theatremakers with an electric, experimental edge. Its show xx, which used a randomising algorithm to write a different love story every night, was well reviewed at the 2016 festival, but it’s this latest piece – a docu-comedy for the post-truth generation about alien abductions – that has really turned heads, winning the Samuel French New Play Award at this year’s National Student Drama Festival.
Everything Not Saved – Summerhall, 17.50
Irish company Malaprop Theatre makes playful, verbally dexterous work that responds to the way the world is changing – how to live and love in the digital age – Black Catfish Musketeer was a romcom about the complexities of online dating, and about communication more generally, while Love+ explored the subjects of sex and AI. Its new show Everything Not Saved is an exploration of memory.
Sticks and Stones/Island Town – Roundabout @ Summerhall, 11.30, 14.30
Written by BAFTA-nominee Vinay Patel and Simon Longman (Sparks, Gundog), and presented by new writing company Paines Plough as part of its Roundabout season, Sticks and Stones explores what happens when a joke goes awry in the age of social media, while Island Town examines small town life and three friends aching for freedom.
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True – Underbelly, 14.50
Fringe First-winners Breach – the company behind Tank – continues to use documentary techniques to create fiercely intelligent work that interrogates the ways in which stories get told. New show It’s True, It’s True, It’s True uses the 1612 trial of Italian artist Agostino Tassi for the rape of the painter Artemisia Gentileschi to explore how much society has changed during the intervening centuries.
Harpy – Underbelly, 16.00
I’ve been a big fan of Su Pollard ever since Hi-de-Hi. Not simply for her indefatigable energy and often overlooked talent as a vocalist, but also for her championing of gay rights. Pollard is a patron of the Above The Stag Theatre and this new play Harpy – rather surprisingly – represents her Edinburgh Fringe debut. They’ll be laughs I’m sure but Philip Meeks’ new play is serious drama and I sense that it will further cement Pollard’s versatility as a performer.
My Kind Of Michael – Summerhall, 19.30
I enjoyed Nick Cassenbaum’s exploration of the world of the schvitz in his self-penned Bubble Schmeisis. This year the theatremaker turns his hand to the troubled legend that is Michael Barrymore. Cassenbaum is a consummate storyteller using music and gentle comedy to create his own version of Barrymore’s well-publicised rise and fall. Created by Nick Cassenbaum and Danny Braverman, My Kind of Michael has been developed with the Yard and features music by Andy Kelly.
Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard – theSpace@Jurys Inn, 14.10
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a crucible for new musical theatre talent. Although you may only see work in its most raw state, the talent and diversity is often astounding. Fearless Players are a fresh, female-led collective nurtured at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Armour is a home-grown musical theatre piece that imagines a conversation between Robert Burns’ widow Jean Armour and his mistress Nancy Maclehose. With book, music and lyrics by Shonagh Murray, Armour offers an alternative slant to the work of the Scottish Bard.
Ballet Ireland: Giselle – Dancebase, 20.45
With its themes of betrayal and redemption, Giselle has a narrative strength and dramatic richness that many ballet classics lack. Whether it’s set in feudal Rhineland or an anonymous post-industrial landscape (like Akram Khan’s recent version for English National Ballet), it’s a story that bears re-imagining and re-telling. I’m really interested to see how former Royal Ballet dancer-turned-choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela deploys a small company to take the tale into the 21st century. His previous work ‘Cassandra’ shows that he’s not afraid of translating difficult subjects like psychosis into movement, so how will he handle Giselle’s famous ‘mad’ scene?
8 Songs – Assembly Roxy, 16.40
Gandini Juggling go way beyond balls. It’s a collaborative, curious company with a great track record at exploring intricate theatrical intersections with other art forms, whether that’s ballet, contemporary dance or Bharatanatyam, as in last year’s Sigma. One of its offerings this year is 8 Songs, something of a musical and visual adventure that uses juggling to map the rhythms and structures of classic tracks by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground and David Bowie. Uniting the forces of circus and Dylan circa whenever (apart from 1978) sounds like a winning combo to me.
Wrongheaded – Dancebase, 13.30
Liz Roche Company’s Wrongheaded is centred around the arguments about abortion and choice in contemporary Ireland. It promises a political urgency and specificity that’s often absent from contemporary dance. How can the bodily language of dance convey, challenge and interrupt these fraught notions about women’s bodies? What role will male bodies play?