Full list of reviews from this years festival
By Star Ratings:
Monday 12th August
Tuesday 13th August
Wednesday 14th August
Thursday 15th August
Friday 16th August
I caught more than my fair share of big-time shows in Edinburgh this year, the kind that asks audiences to form long lines outside the venue thirty minutes before showtime to procure a good seat. But the Fringe ethos has always been to pair the established with the upcoming, the celebrity and the marketing budgets with the scrappy up-and-comer. So, I wrapped up my Fringe by catching Order From Chaos, brought directly from Nottingham New Theatre, the only student-run theatre in the country. Though it may not be quite as slick as some of the more established work this Fringe and appears to have had to significantly cut down on its design since it played on home territory late last year, writer/director Jonny Khan’s celebration of music and family still manages to pack a punch.
Jay (Lois Baglin) has grown up on music. From jungle to house, the beats and the DJ’s that weaved them have been her passion. Telling the story of the introduction of the style, from its formation by Frankie Knuckles in Chicago in the 70’s to its banning by the Criminal Justice Bill and beyond, it is a celebration both of the counter-cultural scene that it birthed and a moving look at what happens when this pleasure is taken away from you.
For Jay is finding her hearing rapidly disintegrating. If the show starts as one thing, it becomes something else as it flicks between the social to the personal and hones in on the relationship between Jay and her brother (Morgan Beale) who tries to find a way to support her as her one great passion is taken away by her deafness.
Khan draws strong, committed work from both his performers and the piece shows the thrill that takes place when music washes over them and they euphorically break into dance. The screen that plays subtitles throughout comes to the fore once Jay’s hearing goes, though distractingly the lines the performers deliver are slightly paraphrased to what we are reading in the text, and there are one or two slightly off cueing issues that affect the rhythm.
Yet its power still comes to the fore. Music still courses through Jay even as she can no longer hear each note. The Fringe needs an audience to take a punt on the new and the unknown if it is to continue to thrive. You could do worse than take a chance on this.
If the Fringe is the place for developing companies to get noticed, Spies Like Us are already veterans of the game, even though the majority of them are still at university. Having caught the industries eye with Our Man in Havana in 2017 and solidified their promise with Woyzeck in 2018 they complete a triumvirate with Murder On The Dancefloor in 2019. It probably can claim the award for the sweatiest show of this year’s Fringe, in the sauna-like conditions of Beside, but this group, supported by both the Young Pleasance and New Diorama won’t allow you to drift off in the heat.
For anyone who has graduated university and found that the world isn’t going to offer them a free pass, this work that tells the story of Sabrina (Phoebe Campbell) and her three friends after they return to their hometown after graduating will feel horribly pertinent. Underpaid work, box-like studio apartments, parents who can’t understand why you aren’t up on your own two feet yet, all these litanies of woes are present and correct.
Yet writer and director Ollie Norton-Smith spins this familiar scenario into the ever-more gleefully gothic territory. Bodies will litter the floor like a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy by its conclusion. In truth, this first wholly original piece of theatre from the company isn’t as tightly plotted as it could be. With a five-strong cast playing all the roles and some intermingling of character and plot by the end, it can get difficult trying to keep track of who we are watching in each moment. Campbell is offering superb work, acting as our guide through the plot but some of the other performances, while brimming with energy, lack a technicality that allows them to switch characters with ease.
What the piece does allow them to demonstrate though is their physical exuberance, flinging themselves into each scenario with gleeful abandon. The soundtrack of pop hits provides a banging accompaniment to the mayhem and bloodshed that eventually befalls. Gleeful entertainment than from these precociously talented youngsters.
The title Are We Not Drawn Onward to New ErA-much like the first half of this 70-minute piece- originally feels a strain to get your head around, likely to test the patience of the audience member having to try to order the ticket at the box office, as it is to those who sit through the first half of a piece where the actors wade in weird, unnatural jerky movements and the language they speak appears gobbledygook. Have a look at it again though; its title a palindrome; what must go forwards must also return backwards in this fiendishly clever, brilliant show.
In a Fringe where climate change is on the lips of so many of its participants, Belgian pioneers Ontroerend Goed, have produced the show of the Fringe, one that challenges all of us to try to put right what has come before. We start with a tree and an apple, our own Eden, but throughout the next half of the show, detritus begins to litter the stage. It starts with a balloon and before we know it colourful plastic bags and giant statues cover every inch of the stage. Paradise has been destroyed but is there some way back? Alexander Devriendt’s production tackles the big issues of today, the latest guidance in the battle with climate change is to wind back the clocks, but how much unrepairable damage has already taken place?
This question is not fully answered in the breath-taking second half, as step by step, moment by moment what has been done becomes undone. Yes, some of it can only be done by magic- the apple can’t remain unbitten- but then that magic can only become possible with a conscious effort by us all, to begin to put right the wrongs of before.
The technical accomplishment of this show is awe-inspiring, the actors bringing mastery to a physical and vocal score that asks them to play deliberately backwards. It may ask its audience to show resolute patience, but we are eventually awarded a show like any other this fringe, a technical and artistic triumph.
There is burlesque aplenty at the Fringe but nothing that gets quite as down and filthy as Illicit Thrills: Where Do We GoGo from here. A Fringe institution, playing at the thrillingly decadent Voodoo Rooms, it’s a late-night slice of fringe that isn’t for the prudish. Yet with a powerful message to convey and with an audience who are more than ready to give themselves over to the debauchery, Illicit Thrills provides plenty more skin to the game than just a straightforward peep-show.
Though stripping may be the name of the game, each of the performers provides something different to latch onto. MC Gypsy Charms lets us in on the rules of the game and is always ready with a quip ‘I’ve got G-strings older than you son’ while giving us a blinding opening (if you see it you’ll know what I mean) to the show, while Roxy Stardust is a delight as a foul-mouthed Scottish caricature, throwing insults around with every bend and flick she struggles with. Showgirl Ivy Paige brings some old school glamour to the event, her vocals as beautifully evocative as her curves that she proudly flaunts while there is also a chance for a bit of boylesque from Impressive Johnson aka Gimpy.
This is a show that does exactly what it says on the tin, ‘giving you rude, crude and very, very nude.’ Yet in the end, these performers come together to ask us for support for what they do. There is now a public consultation of strip clubs in Edinburgh, something that could leave many out of work. This is a show that asks its audience to perve responsibly and shows that there is pride in what these performers do. Like all the best shows it allows us to empathise with the human behind the thrill-giving persona.
Alexander S Bermanger can undoubtedly pen a winning melody. I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical, is full of them, delivered with wit and charm, a sly little wink to the classics of the genre and some soaring notes, delivered with ease by its four strikingly talented performers. This cabaret, thematically linked together, provides an engaging look at what it means to be a musical theatre performer working in the industry, from gaining that first big break to playing opposite a demanding diva or finding that the enthusiastic audience member has now turned full-on stalker. For those who have ever worked in the industry, it feels all too familiar, for anyone who hasn’t, these stories will humanise those ensemble hoofers who go out and give it their all eight times a week.
Bermanger’s original compositions deliberately echo countless musicals. It’s opening number deliberately hits motif after motif from shows as varied as Les Mis to Wicked, Sweeney Todd to Blood Brothers, with a little bit of Oklahoma and Book Of Mormon to boot. It’s a show that you feel will relate to the anorak musical theatre fan with Easter Eggs aplenty. I challenge anyone to identify all the shows on a first listen.
Each of the four-strong cast each gets a moment in the spotlight. Recent Javert cover James Hume delivers an exquisite version of a show must go on number, valiantly letting us know he is fighting the flu while Andy Moss breaks your heart a little with a song all about being a permanent stand by. Charlotte Anne Steene is terrifying as the actor who eventually lands her break and becomes a fully fleshed monster diva while Charlotte O’Rourke brings the house down with the best number of the night, pinging her way around multiple styles and techniques and exquisitely singing ‘badly’ in the rather brilliant ‘I Love To Sing.’
It’s hour-long slot- condensed since its London run last year- feels just about right, leaving you wanting more without ever feeling short-changed. There are original scores aplenty at this year’s Fringe, but there is unlikely to be as many crowd-pleasers as Bermanger’s pastiche like winners.