EDINBURGH Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world and the only place where you’ll happily pay strangers to open up creatively to you for 60 minutes in a series of increasingly small rooms. It’s an incredible, varied open-access event that has the potential to be both absolutely brutal and phenomenally nurturing to its mostly amateur performers.
It’s also a gamble for the punters: for every mind-blowing display of raw talent there’s an untested comedian that even the most loving mother would struggle to encourage. Whether you’re there for plays, musicals or comedies, you really don’t know what you’re going to get.
If you’re off to the Fringe next week and you want to avoid accidentally ending up in a room where a middle-aged woman spends the best part of an hour trying to crawl under your chair to music, here are five extraordinary shows for your viewing pleasure.
Bush and McCluskey: The Loves I Haven’t Known
This musical comedy duo has followed their award-winning Fringe show, Tony! The Blair Musical with a tale of loves lost, loves that might have been and loves that were never going to happen. Written by Chris Bush with music by Ian McCluskey, the show charts McCluskey’s hapless love life in a brave and revealing manner and is interspersed with gathered stories of the one that got away. Despite being only semi-based on actual events, Bush’s heartfelt, lyrical script is a touch too raw and poignant to be anything but almost completely true (probably). A musical with boob gags has never been so well written; Bush knows how to turn a phrase and McCluskey can make it dance to music. Their friendship clearly extends beyond the stage and this adds a great rapport between the two that’s very engaging to watch. A superbly funny and at times painfully honest show that will leave you thinking about the loves you haven’t known either.
Oyster Eyes Presents: Some Rice
The Mighty Boosh meets The League of Gentlemen meets a dark alley you know you shouldn’t be walking down; Oyster Eyes is a sketch show that isn’t for the pure of heart. Starting with the most energetic, fabulous and bonkers song and dance routine you’ll see at the Fringe, Some Rice pulls you into Oyster Eyes’ dark and twisted world (literally, for some unsuspecting audience members) and doesn’t let up right to the final minute. For their latest Fringe outing, these four comedians have produced well-written, expertly choreographed chaos. With some amazingly inventive sketches and singularly unique characters (in particular when the cast are playing warped versions of themselves), this will be one of the funniest and most surreal hours of your life. An acquired but sublimely rich taste.
Celia Pacquola: Delayed
Presenting her one-woman stand up show, Celia Pacquola tells warmly funny tales of her move from Australia to London and maintaining a long distance relationship. Aided by the small size of her chosen venue, Pacquola’s amiable, easy going style results in her audience feeling as though they’re sat in her living room listening to her well-woven stories. She delivers her mostly new material in a likeable, gently self-effacing manner and if she sees one story isn’t working, she knows exactly what to say next to get her whole audience behind her again. Her affable approach belies a wicked sense of humour and, before you can stop yourself, you’ll be laughing at the notion of murdering all of your loved ones. Brilliant.
Gemma Arrowsmith: Defender of Earth
Defender of Earth is a play and a sketch show in one. Writer Gemma Arrowsmith plays Lucy Raven, a call centre worker who is tasked by an alien to defend humanity when it faces obliteration from time and space. Featuring sketches within sketches within sketches, Arrowsmith’s play parodies a select spectrum of mankind’s foibles, including reality TV, the publishing industry and children. Arrowsmith’s strengths lie in her fantastic ability to portray a huge variety of characters with distinctive personalities. Although her sketches sometimes linger past the punch line, Arrowsmith’s endearing persona means that you don’t mind watching her in any scene she creates. This sketch show is an embarrassingly accurate yet somehow charming portrait of earth.
Antler Theatre: This Way Up
A play about love and cardboard boxes. This Way Up is about what happens when the bubble of university bursts and you suddenly become an inexperienced job hunter with a lot of debt. With a set that is composed entirely from cardboard boxes and scene changes that are beautifully choreographed to folky music, this is the most inventive use of the common cardboard box you’ll have seen since primary school. It is a sweetly funny, brilliantly written play that has very likeable characters – and while a few might be slightly too outlandish, the actors are all terrific and the two main characters are extremely relatable. You might be able to see the ending coming, but that won’t make it any less poignant, sweet and a little bit beautiful.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs until 27 August. Tickets can be booked at the venues or in advance at www.edfringe.com. You can see most of the above acts out in the real world by visiting their websites to find their events listings.
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