Shows to watch at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017

With less than two weeks to go until the Edinburgh Festival Fringe officially kicks off, we at Edinburgh49 have put our heads together to present our pick of shows we think are well worth a watch this year, including a few that may not have been picked up by the mainstream media – yet! Our list features lots of new work, returning work, personal favourites and ones to watch out for in the future. Enjoy!

Bright Young Things

Over the years we’ve seen some wonderful performances from young companies and performers, and it’s great to see them continuing to develop and produce work. I can’t start this section without first mentioning Stiff and Kitsch’s By All Accounts Two Normal Girls, so named after a comment I made about them in my 4* review of their debut show last year. I really enjoyed that production and have an inkling their second outing will be even better. Similarly, 201 Dance company, who we championed after seeing their blistering 5* Smother two years ago, are back with new work Skin, which looks set to be another powerful piece charting one boy’s journey through gender transition.

My joint-favourite show of the Fringe in 2015 was Luke Wright’s debut verse play What I Learned From Johnny Bevan (which went on to win A LOT of awards), and this very talented young man is bringing both that and his second, Frankie Vah, to this year’s Fringe. We expect these to be very hot tickets so grab them while you can!

Back, for good!

My other joint-favourite show of 2015 was Doris, Dolly, and the Dressing Room Divas, which is also making a very welcome return to the Fringe this year after its previous sell-out success. Another 5* favourite of ours from 2015 was The BookBinder by New Zealand company Trick of the Light and it’s great to see them back again this year with their enchanting family piece The Road That Wasn’t There.

My personal favourite show from 2014 is also returning: Thrill Me is a gripping musical based on the true story of the infamous Leopold and Loeb, and has a fresh new cast for 2017’s Edinburgh run. Its previous stars have since become leading west end names, so this could be a very good chance to have a “we saw them before they were famous” moment.

Local talent

As an Edinburgh-based publication, we know the local arts scene very well, and we’re looking forward to some great home-grown work. We’ve never seen a bad show by Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group (their 5* production of Spring Awakening in 2016 was really special), and they’re back again this year with the Sondheim classic Company. Disclosure Group, headed up by Robert Lucas, have been bubbling away for a wee while and are finally about to unleash not one but three world premiere musicals this Fringe. Expect catchy tunes and challenging points of view in Porn, Suicide and X.

A special mention also to Edinburgh People’s Theatre, who are celebrating their 60th consecutive Fringe with comedy Wedding Fever, which if their recent production of The Diary of Anne Frank is anything to go by, will be produced to a very high quality.

Just good theatre

Eleanor’s Story is a fascinating staged memoir about an American girl in Hitler’s Germany, and, sticking to the WW2 theme, Chamberlain: Peace in Our Time is an exploration of the man who led us into it. The artists amongst you will no doubt appreciate The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (directed by Emma Rice), while fans of Ol’ Blue Eyes will be sure to enjoy Sinatra and Me – Again!, featuring the award-winning Richard Shelton.

There’s plenty of Shakespeare on offer (as always) though we think the highlight of these is the glorious return of the award-winning Richard III (A One-Woman Show) from the all-female pairing of director Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir and actor Emily Carding. Another all-female success story returning to the Fringe this year is Lucy Porter’s The Fair Intellectual Club, which I very much enjoyed in 2012; while Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken’s debut verbatim piece, Jane Doe, covering the subject of rape on US college campuses is also one to look out for.

For the little ones

There’s been something of an explosion in popularity in recent years of shows for families, some of which we’ve covered already. However for younger children, we think the best of the bunch include: perennial Fringe favourite The Amazing Bubble Man; a charming interpretation of David Walliams’ The First Hippo on the Moon; a magical, musical adaptation of the classic picture book The Gruffalo’s Child, and the imitable Hairy Maclary.

An international flavour

The Fringe is renowned for bringing artists from around the world to share their work here, and we’re always excited to be entertained and educated by those from far-flung places. Chill Habibi is a laid-back cabaret combining Middle Eastern and Scottish Voices, China Goes Pop! is set to be a visual feast of circus and physical theatre from (you guessed it) China, while Un Pojo Royo looks set to be a dazzling showcase of Argentinian contemporary dance. Oleg Denisov will be providing some alternative Russian comedy with a unique take on Putin’s leadership, while Otto and Astrid’s Eurosmash! looks set to encompass all our favourite things about Berlin in a rather mad hour of pop tunes.

And for something a little bit different…

We love the Fringe as there’s always something mad just around the corner, or voices you can hear that you wouldn’t normally come across. Our selection for those looking for something a little bit different this year includes: Breaking Black by Njambi McGrath, which explores mixed-race identity in post-Brexit Britain; The OS Map Fan Club (what’s not to love about a play about maps?); Guardians of Imperfection, which sees two disabled Dutch comedians discuss the need to be “perfect”; and The Gardener, which explores partner loss combined with the joys of gardening. Alternatively, how about an insight into an Absurdist Belgian Fleamarket or taking part in a 250-hour tabletop role-playing game?

There’s so much to experience at the Fringe, we hope you get to enjoy as much of it as we do!

I, Elizabeth (Assembly Roxy, Aug 7-9, 12-16, 19-23, 26-31 : 11:45 : 1hr 15mins)

I, Elizabeth at Edinburgh Fringe Festival Banner

“Vaughn’s command of the stage is utterly iron-fisted.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

The two hardest things as an actor, at least in my experience, are to memorise your lines and then make to them appear spontaneous and real. To do so without ever losing energy, alone and over a period of a straight hour is nothing short of astounding – and, a feat which Rebecca Vaughn pulls off as Queen Elizabeth nearly effortlessly.
I, Elizabeth is a monologue act pieced together from the Tudor Queen’s assorted letters, poems and private correspondence, and offers a glimpse into the chaotic and rich emotional life behind one of England’s most memorable rulers as presented by the Queen herself.

Vaughn’s character work is undeniably slick: she channels both regality and humility so realistically and so honestly that, even watching from the front, I often forgot I was watching an act at all. And even more impressive was her talent at making irregular, Tudor-style cadence not only make sense to a modern audience, but do it so well that it becomes compelling and, when she wants it to, genuinely funny. Unlike her character’s sometimes shaky political life, Vaughn’s command of the stage is utterly iron-fisted.

But Vaughn’s considerable talent cannot suspend reality by itself, and was aided by a very talented makeup and costume team; the result being a costume with such substance and attention to detail that it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a high-budget period drama. However, just as Vaughn portrayed a partly flawed monarch, so did her performance. Occasionally her emotional energy bordered on the melodramatic, and her tight emotional u-turns sometimes meant that gaps of monologue were lost as the volume increased. And perhaps I’m simply not smart enough to understand it, but some of the tech decisions- particularly a strange, electrical jolting sound to punctuate the monologue – seemed utterly out of place in what was otherwise a very faithful historical recreation, and sometimes completely broke the show’s atmosphere.

Despite these shortcomings, the rest of the show was nothing short of regal. Vaughn should be praised for her unmistakeable dedication to character work. Short of necromancy, it seems she is the woman to call for bringing the long dead back to complex, compelling life.

 

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 7 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Very Grey Matter of Edward Blank (Assembly Roxy, 7 – 31 Aug : 17.35 : 55mins)

https://s3.amazonaws.com/assembly_production/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/The-Very-Grey-Matter-of-Edward-Blank-square.jpg

“A potential creative masterpiece whose shortcomings locked it into simply being “alright””

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

I’m a firm believer that the human mind is one of the most complicated and amazing pieces of organic engineering the world has ever seen. Therefore, a witty, entertaining show exploring its contents is like my personal holy grail; and whilst I nearly found it in The Very Grey Matter of Edward Blank, it fell excruciatingly short of something which could have been incredible.

The show tells the story of its titular, reclusive protagonist as he struggles with his own ill mind in a desperate attempt to identify a voice on an old tape; both helped and hindered by his inner voices, who clown and joke their way through his surprisingly dark existence. A nuanced and creative genius, Blank’s goal takes him into the often nonsensical depths of his own sick psyche, and his inner voices are all along for the ride.

To start with, members of the team whose job relies on hardly noticing their work: a huge congratulations to the set and team, who succeeded in creating an on-stage apartment which was not only visually pleasing, but also functioned very cleverly in some of the most simple yet effective visual trickery I’ve seen in a long time. And similar kudos must go to the costume and makeup which went into the creation of the simultaneously ghoulish and comic “Mister Boo-bag” (whose mime work was worth every second).

With regards to the acting talent on show, Edward Blank’s mad, clowning inner characters all had flashes of utter comic genius, and showed a cohesion in their onstage chemistry which many theatre companies could take lessons from. And especial praise must be given to Sam Redway, who played the eponymous Edward, for managing to play an unstable character who remained endearing, charming and dynamic without fail.

However, this was a show which was constantly leaving me wanting to see more, and unfortunately not in a good way. I often wanted to see more energy and dynamism from most of the inner voices, who were always tantalising close to having the physicality and force to really hammer their characters home, but only occasionally hit the target. And perhaps it was a matter of the (admittedly, very witty) writing, or some fault of the occasional silences or unintended moments of stillness, but the show seemed to have a problem maintaining it’s dramatic momentum. And, even worse, the show ended abruptly with a whimper rather than a bang. I was left feeling like I’d gotten to the last glorious bites of a meal, only to have it slapped out of my hand. Had this show’s world been able to maintain itself with the extra needed force, I would have been hooked. But as it stood, I couldn’t quite get into it.

Would I see Edward Blank again? With a few tweaks, gladly. But despite strong performances and clever writing, the show’s shortcomings often ripped me out of what could have been an utterly engrossing story – and even more frustratingly, it’s weaknesses felt just a draft away from being solved. This was a potential creative masterpiece whose shortcomings locked it into simply being “alright”.

If this returns to Fringe in any altered form, I’ll be the first in line – but until then, Edward Blank left me feeling a little grey.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer:Jacob Close (Seen 7 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy  archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Jurassic Park (Assembly Roxy: 5 – 30 Aug : 18.50 : 1hr)

“A show with so much heart mine nearly burst”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

I was slightly worried, from the name, that this would be one of those overly geeky shows where the actors become a bit self-absorbed in being dinosaurs that they lose the plot – literally. Thankfully, this production strikes a wonderful balance between storytelling, humour and a moving tribute to one of the world’s best loved films.

It really is a show with everything – packed with laughs from start to finish, touching moments of tenderness, dinosaurs, family dramas, a ballad to the triceratops and even a Britney Spears dance break. More importantly, it’s performed with so much energy, love and conviction that one can’t help but be carried along with the fun.

The premise: a father (Terry) and his two children (Noah and Jade) welcome the audience to the village hall for a screening of their favourite family movie (Jurassic Park), as a tribute to Terry’s wife and the children’s mother Madeline, who died a year ago. What follows is a tale of a broken family, love, heartache… and dinsoaurs.

As a piece devised and performed by a Lecoq-trained company, it is understandably very physical, with each of the actors switching between human character, dinosaur and the cast of Jurassic Park with ease and finesse. Moments involving lifts and embodying the larger dinosaurs are particularly impressive, as is the creative use of props – who knew a rucksack could look quite so much like a Tyrannosaurus’s mouth?!

I would have liked to have seen the initial scene (in the village hall) developed throughout and have gotten to know the character of Madeline a bit better, perhaps at the sacrifice of one or two of the scenes involving the film’s reenactment. If any of these are intended to show parallels to the family’s story, the references are too subtle and disjointed to be effective. Some of the transitions between scenes also come across as somewhat forced, but in all other respects this show is hard to fault.

The cast work incredibly hard to deliver an hour of non-stop action, with personalities that really shine: Maria Askew as Jade is the perfect moody teenager, Frode Gjerløw is perhaps most impressive with his array of character changes, while Simon Maeder is just incredibly likeable – even while pretending to be a porn star!

This is a hilarious yet touching tale of one family’s coming to terms with grief through the medium of Jurassic Park, and I give it a roar of approval.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 6 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED