Edinburgh Festival Fringe: top picks
It’s that time of year again and the Edinburgh Fringe is getting into full swing. That period when Scotland’s capital checks out of normality and becomes awash with performers and punters, a sea of shows that begin with theatre and comedy and extend well into the realms of the bizarre.
After beginning its life in 1947 when eight theatre companies gate-crashed the very first Edinburgh International Festival, created to ‘provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit’ in a Europe shattered by the Second World War, the Fringe has grown into a leviathan. But, in theory at least, it retains its founding essence as a creative space where anyone – at least anyone who can afford to get to the city and find a venue – can be listed as a performer.
This year is no different. The city has swollen again, budding comedians are back, attempting to make their names known in a competitive, exploitative arts industry, and, yet again, there’s far too much on offer in the Festival Guide to know where to start.
With that in mind here are a few recommendations for any readers who manage to make it to the world’s largest art festival in 2018.
Sirens: By award-winning Zoo Co, this play explores what might happen if three Greek sirens found themselves transported to Britain, 2018. Sharp, funny and just a little bit cheesy, the three throw off the shackles of several thousand years worth of patriarchal narratives and, eventually, take control of their own story. With great visual story-telling and also touching on race and sexuality, the show is, craftily, captioned and BSL-inclusive. This one does far more than tick all the boxes. 15:35, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance Two. £11, £10 Concessions. Tickets.
Moonlight on Leith: The Fringe is often criticized for pushing out the locals; this play brings them back in, conjuring up a glowing vision of the community of Leith, the port to the North of Edinburgh which has retained its own identity. In support of the Save Leith Walk campaign, which is trying to save local shops from being demolished by developer Drum, it’s a wittily written and narrated piece, full of good lines, intriguing vignettes and complicated characters. The play is, however, let down by its venue and acoustics; international visitors may struggle with the accents. 20:00, Bar Bados Complex, Room 1. Pay What You Want. Unticketed.
The Alternative Comedy Memorial Society: More silly than serious, this post-midnight show features a raucous crowd and some hilarious acts. With seven-minutes slots and a packed line-up it’s also a chance to preview comics performing across the Fringe. Performers change every night; top acts I saw included Alison Spittle and Andy Barr. Full line-ups here. 23:55 till late, Monkey Barrel 1. £7. Tickets.
Status: Like their previous show, which won accolades for its exploration of confirmation bias, this one-man performance by Chris Thorpe and director Rachel Chavkin offers no easy answers in this look at nationality and one man’s attempt to disown his own in the wake of the Brexit vote. Combining spoken word, visuals and musical interludes, the show has magical realist elements and perhaps a few too many digressions but does weave in interesting sub-stories and looks at the privileges that both certain passports and whiteness bring with them – and at how financial capitalism has sought to go beyond nations when it suits it. I won’t give away the ending. 19:55, Summerhall Main Hall. £15, £10 Concessions. Tickets.
Britain, Let's Talk About the Golliwogs: While Samoan James Nokise’s show is neither as funny as you’d hope, nor as focused on Golliwogs as its title suggests, it is nevertheless an interesting exploration of his and his family’s own experience of racism, and a primer on the history of Golliwogs and their pernicious persistence (Enid Blyton, anyone?). But while Nokise says the racial trauma Golliwogs have been used to create outweighs their ‘endearing’ origins, more explanation could have helped avoid the sense that this show is preaching to the converted. 14:30, Fireside Arch III. Pay What You Want. Unticketed.
The Fair Fringe: Not a show as such, but a campaign to improve working conditions for the thousands of employees, across many venues, who keep the show on the road. This alliance of unionists and campaigners, backed by Unite, is trying to tackle an exploitative environment that leaves many paid the minimum wage or less, working long hours with few breaks: the company C Venues, for example, has offered ‘volunteers’ £200 for working the entire fringe, including limited, shared accommodation. Fair Fringe’s report suggests illegal conditions may be commonplace. Please sign their petition to help change this.
Best of the Rest: It was only possible to see a tiny fraction of what the Fringe has to offer in the two days I had there. But shows that look good from across the festival include Luisa Omielan’s Politics for Bitches; Joe Sutherland’s Toxic; Cliff Cardinal’s Huff; La JohnJoseph’s A Generous Lover; and LUNG’s Trojan Horse.