Edinburgh Fringe: Muddy’s must-sees
There are over 3,500 shows on at the Fringe. Need some help whittling them down? Here are Muddy's faves for 2019.
Words by Debbie Ward
Heading north for comedy and culture this month? I’m just back from the first week of the Fringe where I saw 26 shows… so you don’t have to. Here are are my Edinburgh Fringe recommendations from this visit along with my faves from previous years that are still running in 2019. Have fun up there!
The so-called Yorkshire Ripper serial killer case went unsolved for five years in the Seventies and the detective team were accused of blunders, in part due to mountainous, poorly cross-referenced paperwork. The Incident Room is a compelling play about the investigation, set amid towering filing cabinets and also covers gender politics, foregrounding a woman police officer struggling for promotion. It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff even if you remember how it all turned out and was written using background from police, journalists and victims’ friends for authenticity. P.357 in the brochure.
I missed out on tickets for this one-man play last year so it was top of my list for 2019. David William Bryan is an acting tour de force, throwing himself (quite literally a lot of the time) into the role of his great uncle – who was reported missing by his family during WWII – plus a host of other characters along the way. It’s a highly physical performance leaving poor Bryan drenched in sweat and with a standing ovation for his efforts. A bittersweet true-life story that will make you laugh and cry. Do book ahead. P.357
Rebecca Vaughan has received rave reviews for her previous one-woman shows in which she played, among others, Jane Eyre and Elizabeth I. This year she’s Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. She’s a superb actor, dipping over an hour an a half into multiple other personas besides the titular character, including the shell-shocked Septimus Smith. It’s a sensitive adaptation by Dyad Productions of the post WWI novella, with a simple set and effective use of sound and lighting. P.333 in the brochure.
A confident, very likeable comedian, Josie Long has been around a while but this is her first new show in five years. It’s a tale of new motherhood that in the wrong hands could be a self-indulgent yawn-fest, as she’s well aware (“I believe I may be the only woman this has ever happened to…”) but she does a cracking set which veers through trying to urgently get an expensive chicken cooked while in labour to her concerns about climate change. A hugely enjoyable hour. P. 129
You may know that the filming of Jaws was beset with problems as the mechanical shark (nicknamed Bruce) repeatedly broke down. What you won’t have known until now is how the bored lead actors – Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, trapped on the boat during these delays, filled their time with bickering, hard drinking and games. This new play is based on Shaw’s diaries and he is actually played by his son. It’s a wonderful comic clash of characters and egos, all the more pleasing because the stars appear to have behaved in similar ways to their respective characters in the movie! P. 391
I love an intriguing true story and this is one of the best I’ve seen. James Rowland’s closest friend died young from cancer. His final wish was to go out in style with a full viking funeral complete with flaming boat. How Rowland and another friend pulled that off is a frankly jaw-dropping tale with so many twists it should be turned into a film. Rowland has three shows at the Fringe so this one only appears on a handful of dates. It funny, it’s sad, it’s unforgettable. Do catch it while you can. P. 358 in the brochure.
Ali Affleck – various shows
I’ve seen this Scottish Jazz and Blues singer a couple of times at the Fringe and she’s well worth seeking out. Gorgeous voice, great band, relaxed vibe, and interesting background on the original artists and material she’s covering. She’s doing several shows with slightly different themes and at different venues. A lovely one to relax to with a drink after a hard day pounding the pavements. Follow the link above and scroll down for her various shows listed alphabetically, or see pages 237 and 238 in the Fringe brochure.
A feel-good comedy music show that left me grinning from ear to ear. Frisky and Mannish perform ‘scientific’ pop-song mash-ups, not least intersecting Ed Sheeran with multiple other musical genres. It’s the sort of thing that’s been done often before but never as well – these guys can seriously sing. The show is also on tour. Page 104 in the Fringe brochure.
Pip Utton is a Fringe veteran with many one-man shows under his belt. He’s also playing Einstein and Hitler this year but this mini play that I caught first at Brighton Fringe is a stand out. It’s fictional but inspired by his family’s experiences of Alzheimer’s and, unsurprisingly, it’s a real weepie but it’s beautifully acted. (Note, contains sexual references) p. 339.
Elsie’s show was a highlight of my Fringe the other year. She mixes burlesque with great singing and comic storytelling and some hilarious audience interaction. I saw a previous show of hers – an expose on her day job as a theatre dresser. This one promises to lift the lid on the supposedly glamorous world of burlesque. Part of the Free Fringe, so you pay by donation. Page 28.
A series of large tapestries depicting the life of a fictional Essex woman, including her loves and her social climb, is on display at the Dovecot Gallery during the Fringe. You’ll know Grayson Perry as an artist, speaker and documentary-maker but perhaps not as a poet, yet Julie’s story is told beautifully in verse – displayed alongside the artworks and played over speakers.
Always worth seeing, this free exhibition moves around and is currently in Edinburgh for the Fringe. Some photos are beautiful, some harrowing (beware of taking young children), some quirkily thought-provoking. 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).
In Telephone Voice, Kelly Convey tells the story of her transition from self-confessed teenage ‘chav’ to a high flying career. I saw one of her pre-Edinburgh warm ups for the show and it was already very slick. Young comic Maisie Adam takes the theme of momentary lapses in judgement in her show Hang Fire, which ties up very cleverly at the end. Camp Binch starts with OTT theatricals and ends on a poignant note as comedian Chris Parker charts his childhood, growing up secretly gay in conservative New Zealand. Anuvab Pal, gives us India’s take on Empire plus a hilariously ludicrous Bollywood film plot in Democracy and Disco Dancing. Aussie comic Laura Davis is intelligent and slightly surreal and she’s performing her new show Better Dead Than a Coward on the top deck of a bus (there’s a bar on the bottom deck!) Arthur Smith is bringing back Syd, a gently comic, heartwarming show, with music, about his father – ‘an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary times’ – not least as a POW in Colditz.
Want to see some more telly types? I always enjoy Stephen K Amos (brilliant ad libber), Andrew Maxwell (charming political ranter) and Ed Byrne (good all rounder, gorgeous accent) and they all have shows in Edinburgh this year.
Myra’s Story is a little more static than some one-person shows but fantastically acted. It portrays the decline of a homeless Dublin alcoholic, with plenty of ironic laughs along the way. Never brought to justice, notorious Nazi doctor Mengele finally drowned off a beach in Brazil. A two-person drama taking his name imagines him being called on to account for his atrocroties in his final hour. She Sells Sea Shells, tells, in a light-hearted but educational way, of the important contribution of Lyme Regis fossil-hunter Mary Anning to the history of palaeontology, with help from a feisty version of the woman herself – overlooked at the time because of her sex.