Pick of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe
Heading to Edinburgh Fringe this month? Here's our pick of the best comedy, theatre and spoken word to keep you enthralled and entertained.
Heading north for comedy and culture this month? Muddy Sussex editor Debbie Ward is a total Edinburgh Fringe nut, and she’s just back from the first week where she saw a jaw-dropping 22 shows. Here are her Muddy Edinburgh Fringe recommendations from this visit and from previous years that are still running. Have fun up there!
The most prolific ghost singer of all time, Marni Dixon, who died just a couple of years ago, covered for the likes of Deborah Kerr, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Written and performed by Eliza Jackson this excellent one-woman show has the Hollywood backgrounder telling tales of her career and the stars she worked with, interspersed with superb nuanced renditions of hits from My Fair Lady, The King & I, West Side Story, The Sound of Music and more. My musical-hating husband voted this his fave show of the Fringe! Page 32 in the Fringe brochure.
Jack Ruby, you may remember, was the man who gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald, suspect in the JFK shooting. This one-man show picks up with the nightclub owner in jail and for the most part it’s his one-sided conversation with a nightshift guard. Brilliantly acted by Clifford Barry, who has appeared in the likes of Coronation Street and The Crown, and who also wrote the show, the monologue is created from on-the-record comments and testimony. The story and Ruby’s attitude and mental state, twist and turn. A truly compelling hour. This one’s only on till Aug 18 – catch it while you can! p. 404 in the brochure.
Well known in his home country, this Indian comedian is over here to mock us with his take on the British Empire and his observations of modern day relations between us. A polished performance full of big laughs. He’s playing in a small room at a popular venue, so book ahead. Brochure page 67.
I first saw stand-up comic and unlikely hip-hop artist Chris Turner at monthly Sussex comedy night Ha Ha Hassocks, where he brought the house down. As the Brit lives mostly in LA I was keen to catch him again. This unassuming guy can improvise crazy rhymes from random objects, audience quirks and, in this case, things people have written on bananas! In his own words: “if you haven’t seen me before you’re looking at me thinking ‘this is going to be terrible’ – I promise it won’t be.” Amazing stuff. If you love it (you will) also check out Abandoman. p.84
I like to pepper my Fringe time with a few safe bets and Stephen K Amos, one of my fave comedians, was one for this year. This show’s billed as a work in progress for a later tour so as a willing guinea-pig you’ll get to see him a little cheaper than usual and he’ll refer to notes at points but he’s so fantastic at ad-libbing and interacting with the audience the whole thing ends up feeling like a collaboration. He always seems to be enjoying himself, in fact he did an extra 20 mins and hung around in the bar for a chat the night I saw him. He’s also doing a talk show at the Fringe. p. 177
In 1932 a disillusioned actress killed herself by jumping from the Hollywood sign. This one-woman show gives us a would-be star in the 1940s contemplating the same. Through a monologue interspersed with retro songs, she tells us her story. Joanne Hartstone is a soulful singer and her tale has well-researched detail about the Depression, Hollywood’s wartime role, and the dark side of the Golden Age of film, including the casting couch – depressingly topical with the Harvey Weinstein allegations. There are also lighter moments along the way. Brochure page 340.
Young Luke Wright is a brilliant performance poet who often gets into different characters as he reads his work. I’ve seen him several times and he always impresses with the high technical standard of his verse, his self-deprecating humour and his stage presence. I can’t believe he’s not more famous. Brochure page 296.
Never brought to justice, notorious Nazi doctor Mengele finally drowned off a beach in Brazil. This two-person theatre piece, bookended with film from the concentration camps, imagines him being called on to account for his atrocroties in his final hour. It’s short on historical detail but well acted – a philosophical take on how he might have justified his actions. p. 360
One woman plays several parts – including the titular animal – in this rather more heart-warming wartime tale, written by Michael Morpurgo of War Horse fame. A teenager and her mother flee the Dresden bombings with a baby elephant from the zoo in tow, helping a supposed enemy along the way. Well acted and not too challenging in it’s content, this would particularly suit older children and teens.
Always worth seeing, this free exhibition moves around and is currently in Edinburgh for the Fringe. Some photos are beautiful, some harrowing, some quirkily thought-provoking – like an American bald eagle picking through bins in Alaska. The bonus is it’s in the striking Scottish Parliament building so you can take a peek at the chamber (expect airport-style bag scanners). It’ll also be in London in Nov. See p. 225. Planes, Trains and Automobiles in the lovely Scottish National Portrait Gallery is also worth a look if you’re nearby, and I hear good things about Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop, in the National Museum.
I saw this Scottish Jazz and Blues singer doing this show a couple of years ago at the Fringe and she was one of my highlights that year. Gorgeous voice, relaxed vibe, and interesting background on the original artists and material she’s covering. It’s on on selected dates, as is her other show. p. 228. in the Fringe brochure.
One of the professional surprises of the Free Fringe (meaning donations as you leave). Confident Aussie comic Adam Vincent is a writer for The Last Leg. He moved with his young family from Melbourne to Bedford and he’s not happy. It’s in a small basement room so get there a bit early for one of the more comfortable seats. Not for the easily offended. p 57 in the brochure.
This likeable Brighton comic is a good bet if you prefer your comedy on the gentler side. The starting point is the ‘apathetic atheist’ being faced with his wife training to be a vicar. He also covers a cruise from hell and a crazy showdown in a Poundland. Good stories and the bonus of a room with air-con amid the Fringe sweatboxes. He’s also reprising his charming show Ten Films With My Dad . p. 59
I’m not a big fan of character comedy but I loved the recent TV series Lee and Dean in which Anna Morris starred and this is an accomplished romp by her through several personas including a budget cruise line host and an uptight bride. The audience were whooping appreciation by the end. It’s part of the Free Fringe, so pay by donation. p.66
I love these guys, even though they once hit me in the head with a flying tomato! This is a mash-up of several of their previous shows which involves off-beat sketches, inter-group rivalry… and a naked baker. They’re only on till the 19th. p. 73.
I missed The Unknown Soldier and In Loyal Company due to booking screw ups – both are war dramas with great reviews. Nish Kumar has a work in progress show for just a fiver (though it’s on returns only already) and Phill Jupitus is doing two Free Fringe shows besides a ticketed one. Arthur Smith has a show about his father’s time as a Colditz POW which sounds interesting. I saw Lost Voice Guy do a gig upstairs in a pub a couple of years back… he’s since won Britain’s Got Talent and people were getting selfies in Edinburgh, though his show is looking like returns only. For pot luck, The Stand – which has several venues in one street – is always a good bet for decent comedy.
Got children with you? Heaps of kids shows on of course, but for hanging out in between, try the Kidzone at Pleasance Courtyard with art pods, toys and, on certain days, magicians and the like; the free craft room in City Art Centre; and the lovely National Museum of Scotland which includes natural history, science, fashion and err Dolly the cloned sheep – now stuffed and revolving on a plinth.