Christ, the Edinburgh Fringe is incredible but it’s EXHAUSTING, is it not? I performed there a few years ago when I was still blessed with the energy of youth, but on the other side of 30 I have an exhaustion-triggered cold after three – yes, three! – nights up there as an audience member. All that rushing around, seeing shows, barely sleeping, fuelling the body with booze and junk food… I do not know how those actual artists do it, I really do not!
But anyway, it’s overwhelming how much good shit there is to take in. I feel like you could be in town for the full month and still come away kicking yourself over what you didn’t get round to seeing.
I crammed a tonne of stuff into my 72 hours, and I saw absolutely nothing that was completely, irredeemably shit! Isn’t that great!!? There was one free ~comedy night that I won’t name, which was basically just five male comedians being weird and largely unfunny about sex (how long do you think it took them to veer into gay and transgender jokes? It was MINUTES, reader; MINUTES!), but even that was saved from zero-star failure by the brief appearance of a sex-positive gay comic who made the rest of the audience pleasingly uncomfortable.
Anyway, it’s hard to compare the God Tier stuff because it was all so different, but the show I absolutely, unequivocally had the most fun watching was Frisky and Mannish’s PopLab (7pm, Assembly George Square Gardens). I first saw these two in 2011 and they’ve been my favourite Fringe act ever since, but they’ve been MIA for a while and this new show is a spectacular, wet-your-pants-funny return to form. A mix of cabaret, stand-up comedy and WIGS; they affectionately pick apart contemporary music in a way that’ll leave both pop obsessives (like me) and Real Music aficionados choking on their beers. Genuinely, there was one Cliff Richard gag that almost drowned me. Ed Sheeran, pleasingly, is a big target (there’s a bit involving Agadoo that literally had me in tears); as are Bruno Mars, Rick Astley, and – in a revived and updated version of an old favourite – history’s greatest love songs. Genius, showstopping, whatever else Lady Gaga says in that GIF… PopLab is the one I’d run to see again if I could. Five stars! Ten stars! Every goddamn star!
On the theatre side, I adored Anguis (3pm, Gilded Balloon Teviot) by Sheila Atim; which – in a surprise to absolutely nobody – showed that playwriting is yet another string she can add to her ludicrously well-stocked bow. In this engaging drama, we watch as Cleopatra – yes, that Cleopatra – is interviewed for a podcast; sparking a discussion that spans the misrepresentation of factual events, the state of feminism, and a mobile phone that just doesn’t know how to switch to Silent. The original music is, in keeping with Atim’s track record, absolutely beautiful; as are the script and the performances. Janet Kumah is particularly ace. FIVE BIG OLD STARS for this one too!
Standard:Elite (4:55pm, Bedlam Theatre) is another theatrical treat that I’d one-thousand-percent recommend: I first saw it in London last year, and I’m chuffed that it’s continuing to reach new audiences. Billed as a “theatre game”, it’s an audience-participation-heavy show that avoids the kind of “immersive” things that usually make viewers want to set themselves on fire. An incredibly clever examination of class and privilege, it remains one of the most original shows I’ve ever seen, and I’d really, really recommend catching it. Fuck it, FIVE STARS for this one as well!! (And don’t panic, all the ~IMMERSIVE stuff is voluntary – but you really won’t regret getting stuck in).
One grassroots hidden-gem I saw was The Trial by Inês Sampaio, which sadly has already ended its run at Greenside – but is well worth keeping an eye-out for, lest it be performed again someday. Questioning gender constructions and justice for victims of violence against trans people, it’s a weighty story presented in an engaging, dare I even say fun way thanks to a clever and relentlessly entertaining lead performance.
I must also shout-out Pops (6:35pm, Assembly Roxy); a two-hander about a father and daughter’s battle to connect and forge a relationship despite the difficulties of addiction. I mean Sophie Melville’s in it, and as anybody who saw Iphigenia In Splott at the National a few years ago will know, she’s worth the fucking ticket price alone. I also really enjoyed Splintered (9:30pm, Bedlam Theatre); a clever “cabaret of truths” about Caribbean queer women. Driven by three fabulous performers, it has so many great ideas, including a hilarious spin on one of the GREATEST EVER musical theatre songs.
God there are so many other excellent shows I saw that I haven’t even addressed, but final shout-outs too for Jennifer Tyler: Ready Or Not (12:30pm, Pleasance Courtyard), for anyone who likes their poo songs with a side of poignant emotion; and Naomi McDonald: Copycat (8:50pm, Just The Tonic at the Caves), a free impressionist’s show that involved ‘Cher’ sitting on my dad’s lap, and also features a SPOT-ON Jess Glynne impression.
The Fringe ends this weekend (well, Monday technically) and you really won’t be going wrong if you see literally any of these. Now LET ME REST.