Technically, the Edinburgh Fringe was my 5th or 6th fringe festival.
My high school boyfriend took me to my first–the 2008 or 2009 FronteraFest in Austin–back before I ever thought about writing for the stage.
I’d never gotten into the Fringe spirit before. In Toronto, I go, I see a few shows, but I always feel out of place. Other friends wait for Fringe like it’s Christmas and I almost dreaded it.
Edinburgh was different.
Maybe it was the “participant” badge around my neck, the flyers for my show Transmission ready to be passed out, or the fact that I’d been waiting for this moment for THREE YEARS, but now I get it.
Listed below, in no particular order, are quick reviews of the 27 shows I saw:
- Pixel Dust
The description did not appeal to me–one-woman show depicting a teenage girl’s struggles with her identity online–but the fact that it was a FuturePlay show got me in the door. Amazing physical acting coupled with projections that brought out the poetry of the story made this one of my absolute favorite shows of the Fringe.
- The Poltergeist of Cockburn Lane
Wanted to fall asleep during this show, but couldn’t stop watching the boring train wreck. This light opera had fantastic source material–an actual court case where a ghost’s testimony was called–but failed to capitalize on it. A romance without the romance, it focused more on the scam artist who faked the hauntings by abusing his daughter.
Amazing sketch comedy. This was the only comedy show I saw at the Fringe and not my pick. But as all the sketches were located in the fictional Hotel Apre Dieu (After Life), it won me over and had me laughing so hard my cheeks hurt. Super versatile sketch comedy duo introduced us to all the guests and all the rooms in the hotel in just an hour.
After Pixel Dust, I couldn’t wait to get back into the theater to see the alternating play. Same team, different story–this time about a single mom running the @wondrwomanuk twitter handle. The themes about how we use social to find a voice and intersectionality in feminist representation rang true–but it didn’t knock me off my feet like Pixel Dust. It didn’t have the same polish in execution or story.
- Future Play VR Studio
Welcome to a dome filled with many new VR experiences, inviting you to explore. My favorites were the VR movie Dear Angelica (animated exploration of grief with Anjelica Huston and Mae Whitman as voices), The Guardian’s First Impressions (re-creating what an infant sees and hears in its first six months), and the audio mixing game Dato DUO. The most important thing I learned? The best VR movies are the ones that realize it’s no longer about creating for one POV–it’s about creating a world to explore.
- Tom and Bunny Save the World
Zombie musical in a shipping container theater. It delivered on everything it promised to be–lesbians, odd British geographical humor, fake blood, and lots of gravy.
- Speaking in Tongues: The Lies
- Speaking in Tongues: The Truth
These two shows are acts 1 and 2 of the same Australian play. I accidentally saw them out of order, but I actually enjoyed it that way. It turned what would have been a linear play into a more abstract exploration of coupling, marriage, and fear. But the best part was the set-up: swivel chairs. The audience sat in the middle and we swiveled around to see the actors. I LOVED watching the other audience members just as much as the play. Maybe more.
- Time Machine
Really really boring one-man version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. It claimed to be updated for the present day, but one reference to iPhones in a museum in the future doesn’t count as an update in my book. Also wish they had played more with the shadow effect made by the lights.
- A Hunger Artist
Fantastic adaptation/re-telling of Kafka’s short story through puppetry, clowning, and even some audience participation. In a world where artists must often starve themselves–or make a performance of killing themselves–in order to fund their work, this rang really true. The connection made with the audience, even before we were called up on stage, was incredible. It felt like such an intimate performance in an almost full house.
- Baby Mama
I didn’t want to see this show. But I’m glad that I met the director a few days before and realized that I needed to hear Mariah’s story. One woman story-telling about how a playwright got pregnant on accident and gave her child up for adoption to a gay couple. Amazing yet subtle structuring through lighting cues made this story genuine and deeply emotional, while still feeling very conversational. And in the last few moments, I definitely happy/sad cried.
- Ouija the Musical
Ethically, this one needs a lot of work. If you are going to make the setting of your horror musical the same as the venue and cast your audiences as members, then you need to make it clear that everything that happens is part of the experience. Ethics aside, this horror musical about a seriously messed up band rehearsal in Wales did scare me. As a writer, I wish they had spent a bit more time setting up the characters and their connection to the witch and her child before people started dying. But for a student production, kudos for trying something bold.
- Sasquatch the Opera
Though the title might sound silly, it gave me all the serious feels. Sasquatch falls in love with the daughter of a major scam artist who abuses his children and runs fake tours to see the “Sasquatch.” Opera, when done well, can take the absurd and make it relatable. I felt for the junkie older brother, the daughter who falls in love with the Sasquatch, and with the hairy beast himself. And live music? Perfect combination for a geek like me.
Best fifteen minutes of audio theatre–maybe immersive theatre–I’ve ever experienced. 13 minutes in total darkness locked in a shipping container. 13 minutes listening to a seance go on in your head–mostly. I knew it would scare me–and I screamed within two seconds of the performance starting–but I didn’t know that it’s story and entire production would impress me so much. Solidifies what I know about horror: sound is key.
- Jane Doe
This isn’t the play you want to go see, but it’s the play that will care for you while forcing you to take a close look at rape culture. I didn’t realize that the Taylor Swift songs playing beforehand or the romantic comedy references were part of it until the end. Haunting. But because I had the chance to respond anonymously throughout in an online survey–I felt like it was a conversation, not a slow unveiling of true horror. Theatre that does change you.
After re-watching Emma on Netflix and hearing British accents again, I needed more Jane Austen in my Fringe experience. So I booked a ticket to the improv show that promised to perform a “newly-discovered Jane Austen novel” every day. Literary spies popped up in “What if Jane Eyre was written by [Jane Austen]” my afternoon, as well as a cross-dressing doctor, and I loved every second of it. Plus they made fun of my suggestion, “Emma and the Purple-haired Princess”!
- The Fall
We met the creator/performers of The Fall in the Assembly gardens one night and promised to attend their show. Little did I know that these students would perform the most honest depiction of protest I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I bought their script. I’m sad I can’t just re-experience their show every time the news gets me down. Grahamstown will have to be my next international fringe festival.
- And Here I Am
Serendipitous offering of tickets to this one-man show, part of the Arabic focus within the Fringe, led Steph and I into a Palestinian man’s story of growing up and creating theatre outside of the West Bank. Telling his own story, Ahmed Tobasi had such energy and vibrancy. There was not a moment to breathe or doubt his experiences in prison or first forays into acting. I only wish he had slowed down some of the incredible moments. I wanted to sit in them, even the painful ones, for longer.
- Mobile Cinema
Exactly what it sounds like! We settled into a movie theater in the back of a rehabilitated research van to watch news reels of Edinburgh during the first Festival and throughout history. It really did bring history to life.
- Ancient Shrines and Half-Truths
New Zealand performance group Binge Culture had its own audio tour, map, and app, too–so I had to try it out. Choose-your-own adventure with a map on the provided iPhone, I listened to descriptions of a place sort of like Edinburgh but not while exploring the Meadows. It wasn’t clear enough in its distortion of reality or in communicating its expectations for audience interaction either–but for me, Ancient Shrines did cause me to pause, look at the world differently, and interact with my surroundings.
- Buzz the Musical
At first I didn’t want to go to this musical about vibrators… but afterwards, I was very satisfied with my decision. It’s the traditional boy and girl break up, girl goes through journey of growth, and then when he proposes they give it another go–she chooses the vibrator instead! Two men got up to walk out during the show, but I loved every silly minute of it from the huge clitoris puppet to the shunned scientists who study female sexuality.
Collage is a great way to describe this circus/dance/performance. Inspired by one act of the opera Tales of Hoffman, Coppelia re-tells the story of the mechanical doll and desire that tore everyone who saw it apart. Sitting in the circus dance, surrounded by mirrors, I couldn’t help but ooh and aah at every movement and new line of poetry. I just wish they had edited out a few references–and the filmed aspects–to focus on the emotional core they had underneath.
- The North! The North!
Story-telling one-man show about a land where England has split in two and it’s up to a young man and his sister to save the world from the evil “Prince.” Again, the projections and found object set won me over with their integration into the story. The twist at the end still wasn’t quite enough to make up for the male hero-focused story, but I enjoyed my hour inside Christopher Harrison’s modern fairy tale in an old veterinary school’s dissection hall.
Sometimes you have to go halfway across the world to see a show made my Toronto artists, because you were finally ready to see it. This amazing piece of physical theatre performed so much of the grief, frustration, joy, and anger it is to be a woman right now. Thank you.
- Foreign Radical
Immersive theatre experience about the way the United States categorizes people as terrorists on official lists–and the ways we are all complicit in making these judgments. It was like playing a game show, but the players were strangers and the decisions being made said so much more than winning a prize. I was horrified at how easy it was to go through someone’s luggage to find evidence of terrorism and to watch a family of four argue to put an innocent man on the terrorist list. It wasn’t the best thing I saw, or the most haunting, but I did take a lot away as an American living in Canada from this experience.
- Old Stock
In a time where our world is fighting over the status and future of refugees, it was an important reminder to look at where past refugees ended up. Like the two Jewish-Romanian refugees depicted in Old Stock. Plus another shipping container set (though the audience didn’t sit in it this time) AND some mad clarinet playing. I hope this comes back to Toronto so I can share it with friends and co-workers again.
- Auld Reekie Ghost and Torture Tour
If I could pick a different tour that didn’t include the torture portion, I would. Otherwise, I saw an entirely different side of Edinburgh than the vibrant, artistic collage I’d seen all week. Down in the vaults underneath the city, I learned about the dark, diseased, dangerous past for Edinburgh’s less fortunate occupants where being homeless was a crime and they punished you in so many horrible ways. Thankfully Megan held my hand when the guide took us into a pitch black room and told a story about a man with a knife waiting in the corners…
- Oyster Boy
I fell asleep in a lot of shows in Edinburgh. This is the only one I don’t feel bad about. A Tim-Burton-esque story told through puppetry? I thought, Great! But since the puppet only came out for the last few minutes and the acting was meh at best and obnoxious at worst… Also, as an American maybe I don’t get the appeal, but I didn’t understand why it needed to be set on Coney Island in the 1950’s. I’m surprised this amateur show garnered such misleading stellar reviews. At least I got to play with a puppy outside beforehand.
- Lula del Ray
I watched the Manuel Cinema group make a movie before my eyes. With projectors and a combination of small 2D puppets and large 3D props, I watched a little girl grow up near rockets, fall in love with rock and roll, and leave her hometown to find out what her real passions were. I have to admit that, after a long few weeks in Edinburgh, I nodded off a few times–but only because it was so relaxing, mesmerizing, and beautiful.
- How to Win Against History
The last show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe was a new musical. I’ve listened to the soundtrack again on Spotify since I’ve been home–and it still makes me smile. It retells the true story of the 5th Marquis of Anglesey who spent all of his money putting on shows in the converted family chapel, died a pauper, and was almost entirely erased from history. Oh yeah–and he liked to wear dresses. It got a little slow in the middle, too repetitious, but some of the wittiest and also most genuine lyrics I’ve heard in a long time.
Can you believe it? I look at this list and still see the hundreds of shows I didn’t get to see…
Guess this just means I need to go back!
Stay tuned for more updates on my show, Transmission, as well as my tourist review of Edinburgh!
Photo credit at top: FuturePlay VR Studio by David Glista