For those of you out of the loop, Edinburgh just finished up being the world's centre of art and culture for most of the month of August.
This happens every year for about three weeks during the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. Legendary among the performance community, the festival is a great opportunity to see everything you can possibly imagine in the world of live entertainment. Popdust was at the festival and had the time to see a decent dose of what the Fringe had to offer. Obviously, no one can see everything, and this list (presented in no particular order) is subjective, but here are a few highlights, from the relative unknowns to international hits.
1. Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast
Better known by its acronym RHLSTP (pronounced Ruh-huh-luh-stuh-puh), the podcast is hosted by comedian Richard Herring as he interviews comedians performing at the Fringe. He does so using a trademark blend of sincerity, childish schoolboy humor, genuine insight, and an almost Andy Kaufman-esque disregard for his own public image. Despite his pretense of incompetence, Herring is actually a rather good host, with a knack for getting answers you would never expect out of guests. He usually manages this by asking questions no one in their right mind would ever ask. His recordings at the Fringe are available online via all standard podcasting apps; it's a worthy listen year-round, especially if you are a fan of British stand-up.
2. Maggie Lalley - Cold Blooded Witch: The Sex Musical
Maggie Lalley's show takes you through her teenage life as a "witch." In these escapades, drawn from twisted and bizarre real-life-experiences, she deals with emotional abuse, overwhelming infatuation, copious sex, and possibly being married to a certain teen actor. She's candid and raunchy, and the show would be ridiculous if it were not also true. As such, it is endearingly open and refreshingly funny.
3. Just These Please - Suitable
Similar to many sketch shows at the Fringe, Just These Please trade in on their online reputation, having had a YouTube hit earlier this year with a musical sketch about ordering coffee whilst being Irish. Their full show does not disappoint, featuring sketches reminiscent of John Finnemore and other modern comedy greats. With an hour's worth of solid-gold material, you scarcely ever stop laughing in this plucky comedy adventure. Highlights include slow-burn reveals regarding The Grand Old Duke of York, a recurring wordless sketch involving clapping along to the Friends theme, and a very polite discussion of orgies: five-star comedy.
4. Whose Line Is It Anyway?
The ubiquitous short-form improv troupe returned to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer in triumphant form. Featuring veteran members of the British and American cast and hosted by Clive Anderson, the show was exactly what you would expect it to be: short and sweet game-based improv performed to an impeccably high standard.
5. 44 Inch Chest
Presented by Out of Bounds Theatre, this Guy Ritchie-esque play follows a gaggle of tough London criminals in a back room deciding what to do with an unwelcome interloper. Snappy dialogue and gritty action underscore what is, at its core, a surprisingly sensitive story dealing with fallout from toxic masculinity. With its fair share of laughs and a slew of striking (and sometimes slightly disturbing) visuals, this work shows a lot of promise for the up-and-coming company.
6. Jamie Loftus - Boss Whom Is a Girl
When people tell you about the Fringe, you hear about shows like this and assume that they are the fantasies of an overactive imagination. Confrontationally weird in content, but held in place by infallibly good comic writing and performance, this is a show you cannot stop talking about after the curtain falls. Loftus plays a fictional female CEO giving a talk about feminism in business to an audience in various states of woke empowerment and bewilderment. In it, she espouses the benefits of her medically unsustainable daily routine, how she definitely did not cause a genocide of DJs, and argues with an increasingly sentient smart-home device.
7. Erth's Dinosaur Zoo
This is something for all the children (and adults) who love dinosaurs. Erth's Dinosaur Zoo is just a lovely wholesome time. A miraculously patient and funny man with a wonderfully soothing Australian accent walks about the stage for an hour introducing young people to dinosaurs. These dinosaurs are staggeringly well-realized puppets operated by top-notch puppeteers. They feature several well-loved favorites and a couple you may not have heard of. Charming, fun, and informative, this is one of the few shows at the Fringe that ends with you getting a selfie with a triceratops.
8. Connie Wookey - Denied
A one woman show of exceptional calibre, Wookey tells her true-life stories about a near death experience at the hands of a certain Canadian airline, facing down the American immigration system, and just generally processing life and its madness. It is adroitly funny, featuring off-the-wall song parodies, lethal comic insight and character work, and down-to-earth storytelling that feels unforced and unpretentious. Wookey is a genuine talent, and her show is an absolute gem.
9. Jimmy McGhie - Ba (Hons)
McGhie comes off as something of a British Joel McHale. He's cutting and playful in his crowd work but never unwilling to poke fun at himself. His show is an hour of incredibly solid stand-up and audience banter, performed by a man who clearly knows how to work an audience. He covers exploits in dating, class perception, and family dysfunction. Perhaps not the most boundary breaking show at the Fringe, but it's an excellent example of a well-honed comic doing what he does best.
10. Synesthesia - The Musical
A touching one-woman show created by Jillian Vitko, which explores her life through the lense of her synesthesia, a medical phenomena which causes senses to cross-pollinate with one another. Simply presented with one woman and a guitar, it is an hour of songs and confessional storytelling that leaves you feeling melancholic yet hopeful. Her processing of relationships through colors and how this has affected her interactions with romantic partners, family, and more is well-communicated and warmly relatable. It's a welcoming show that pulls back the veil on a condition not widely understood, as explained through the conduit of one person's life.
11. Moon Walk
Moon Walk is a touching story about the ramifications of male loneliness and emotional disengagement. Two young men living together and in need of each other's friendship are unable to connect until a female roommate joins their home and helps break down the barriers between them. It's a deftly written play full of goofy charm and messaging that more people could stand to hear. Sprutt Theater makes an excellent Fringe debut with strong actors, intelligent plot twists, and an ending that will leave you wondering.
12. Godley on The Fringe
Janey Godley is a legend of Scottish stand-up. Google her now and you will find video after video of her being astoundingly forthright, articulate, and empathic on subjects ranging from class inequality to political injustice, whilst also being bluntly funny in a way that produces nothing short of respiration-compromising laughter. Her show is classic stand-up, mixed in with a section of live "voiceovers" wherein she overdubs videos from the news and more. It is all desperately funny, and Godley commands your attention from the moment you walk in the room. Literally: Her free show was consistently sold out, so from the moment the audience entered they needed to be told where to sit. Godley naturally took this task upon herself, and it is as funny to witness as anything else in the show.
13. Men With Coconuts
Men With Coconuts is a musical improv show in the finest long-form tradition. If you're familiar with UCB-style montages, you know how a show like this works. The performers get a suggestion, they build vignettes from it, it's underscored musically on piano, and occasionally flourishes into song. This is a solid crew of improvisers, and their work exemplifies that.
Part lecture, part performance art, this Finnish piece deep-dives into the world of female ejaculation by way of one woman's quest to achieve it. Eerily scientific at times, uncomfortably personal at others, but all cleanly presented in a format that is at once welcoming and confrontational. You'll learn, you'll laugh…you'll feel a little weird, but you leave with a renewed fascination in human sensuality and the female (and other applicably gendered) body's experience with sex.
15. Ew Girl You Nasty
Katharyn Henson is something else. The term "shock comic" has such a bombastic, male connotation to it that to use it to describe Henson seems somehow wrong. Her stand-up is shocking but only for the fact that her life is shocking. Her presentation of her own experiences doing meth, eating dog food, and working in a sex dungeon are brilliantly underplayed and matter-of-fact. She then uses this false sense of security to side-swipe her audience and filter in brilliant comic observation after brilliant comic observation. You won't see many comics like Henson at the Fringe or anywhere else.
16. Are You Alice: A New Wonderland Tale
Described by author Neil Gaiman as a "haunting oneiric journey" and by punk musician Amanda Palmer as an "explosion of whimsy and color," this new reworking of Alice in Wonderland has people talking. Mixing dance, live music, re-purposed Lewis Carroll text, and a cast of seven female/non-binary actors all rotating roles in this dreamlike production, it's a trip down the rabbit-hole like you haven't seen before. Removed from now cliched trappings of Disney, Burton, and even its original context, Permafrost Theatre Collective took the classic tale and created something truly curious.
Of course, this list is far from complete. No single writer, or even publication, could come close to covering all of the impossibly diverse shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Many of them already have outlets for further viewing. Others do not and could use the support of interested patrons. Either way, every single one of the shows listed above had something to offer that set it apart and demanded crowds sit down and bear witness.