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Flora’s Fringe Guide

12 shows in 10 minutes : a whistle-stop tourview of the Fringe

The Edinburgh Fringe is probably one of my favourite places in the world: there is a literally limitless amount of comedy and theatre on offer to see 24/7, and everyone you meet is usually as obsessed with it as you are. What’s not to like? Well, the downside is that with a limitless amount of shows you are inevitably going to miss most of them, and it turns out people obsessed with theatre and comedy can be a bit…much. Overall it can be an incredibly overwhelming experience, and the main thing is make sure that while you can’t see everything, the shows you do see are so mind-blowingly good you completely forget about all the ones you missed. This is where I come in: I went up to Fringe in the first week and saw as much as I possibly in order to recommend to you lot what’s worth seeing and what’s not, so please read on for my top recs! 

Sketch Comedy 

Dirty Laundry – Greenside @ Infirmary Street, 21:55 until Aug 20th 

I’m kicking things off with Sketch because a) it’s my favourite kind of show and b) perhaps unsurprisingly, my top pick of the Fringe goes to an outrageously funny sketch show, ‘Dirty Laundry’. Cambridge Footlights Emily, Maddie and Robbie (Meat and Two Veg) are looking for a fourth housemate (as they will tell you as they flyer in the streets with a washing line – genius), and in the process the audience is treated to a no-holds-barred look at modern life through the medium of their sketches. The chemistry between these three is palpable, and it’s hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm as they gallop from one sketch to the next with hilariously apt change music and slick staging. Favourite sketches include musical theatre kids trying to find their keys (pun – I presume – intended), the song of the Student Landlords, and the efforts of stubbornly monolingual Ben to keep up with his ridiculously advanced Spanish pen pal, Marta. These three will have you in stitches from the minute they get on stage, and I challenge you not to want to move right in with them by the final bows. Don’t miss! 

Mudfish: Might as Well – Underbelly, Cowgate, 14:35 until Aug 28th  

Veering towards the more absurdist side of sketch comedy, this show takes for its setting the bottom of a well in which two twins find themselves trapped – and it only gets more bizarre from there. From a gym where people still work out despite the arrival of the apocalypse, to two Southern diner employees who can’t keep their gossip to themselves, comics Molly and Dan never fail to entertain, making even the most outlandish situations hilarious by their sheer skill on the stage. It is no understatement to say that by halfway through the show every person in the front row was crying with laughter, an intensity that was carried through right till the end of the show, where some unexpectedly heart-warming moments provide the show with an emotional climax. A must-see for sketch/absurdism fans. 

Britney: Friend and Nothing More – Pleasance Below – Pleasance Courtyard, 17:45 until Aug 28th  

This show proves the paradoxical rule of comedy that the more successful you are as a sketch comic, the less sketches you actually have to do. This quirky, sparky duo only have about 5 sketches in the hour-long show, but I for one did not feel the lack: their on-stage repertoire, established over 13 years of writing and performing together, sets you immediately at ease, and the story of their first-ever collaboration holds the show together. The moment I and the rest of the audience really lost it was a masterful piece of meta-theatre in which current sketch show and debut story overlap to hilarious effect, but there were plenty of laughs throughout – no wonder they’ve got a brand new pilot out on BBC iPlayer. If you want to be that excruciating person in two year’s time going ‘oh you mean Britney? Yeah I saw them in this tiny theatre at Fringe before they got big’, this is the show for you.  

Girlboss (ended 14th August but deserves a mention!) 

This energetic and inventive sketch show takes us on a hunt for that ever-elusive thing: ‘The Girl That Has It All’ and glides seemingly effortlessly through the trials and tribulations of modern womanhood – or in other words, the Girlboss. Cambridge comedy duo Dulcie and Ella make an hour fly by with their witty and well-observed sketches, from a bank’s International Women’s Day ad campaign to two beta males with a podcast called ‘Should Women Have…?’. My favourite sketch however has to go to the indie boy band they close the show with, strumming away on blow-up guitars whilst singing about their questionable hopes and dreams. Whether you identify as a girl, boss or neither of the above, this show is a good time.  

Theatre 

Boy – Summerhall, 11.30 until Aug 28th  

This was the first show I saw in Edinburgh and has to take the crown of the most ‘Fringe-y’ show as well, by which I mean something so experimental and unique you’re not going to see it anywhere else. Following on from previous successful Fringe runs, Belgian theatre troupe Carly Wijs brings us the true story of the Reimer family, who, after the circumcision of their baby boy goes wrong, decide to raise him as a girl, with the help of eminent psychologist Dr Money. If this sounds upsetting please don’t be put off, as the premise of the show is to tell the story as a child would understand it, with just two performers using stuffed toys to represent the different characters. This technique cushions the blow of the subject matter, allowing it to be handled with the utmost sensitivity, and the expertly crafted script withholds and obscures the truly horrifying parts of the story so that they can be processed in a manageable way. An extremely thought-provoking piece that will stick in your mind long after the curtain falls. 

Ghislaine/Gabler – Greenside @ Riddles Court, 18: 40 until Aug 29th 

A Broadway Baby reviewer I spoke to said he had been to see it three times: it’s not hard to see why. This one-woman tour de force intersperses an imagined monologue given by Ghislaine Maxwell awaiting trial in her cell with fragments of dialogue from Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. Possibly because I’ve never read the play I found the interruptions from Ibsen’s work a little superfluous: I would happily have watched Kristin Winter’s utterly captivating performance as Ghislaine for the whole hour. With snatches of physical theatre and monologues from Epstein’s victims mixed in, the script centres mainly on Ghislaine’s relationship with her father and reaction to his death (which is where the parallels with Hedda Gabler emerge). Winters finds the perfect balance between composure and despair, never falling into the ‘hysterical woman’ trap nor losing our feeling of intimacy by appearing too collected.  While it would be a stretch to say I felt sympathy with Ghislaine, after an hour in her company I certainly felt I understood her story a little better.  

This is Not a Show About Hong Kong – Underbelly – Cowgate, 14:00 until Aug 28th 

If your idea of Fringe is not so much about the comedy but about ground-breaking, serious theatre, this show is for you. It transferred from London as one of four shows promoted by New Diorama Theatre and is selling out every day, and rightly so. The performance starts with an unsettling bit of immersive theatre, blurring the line between a security announcement and the beginning of a show about repressive government. It then takes us through a series of short scenes, some with dialogue and some purely physical, which represent different parts of the loss of freedoms and increasing repression in Hong Kong. Some are deeply moving, others frankly bizarre – a few are funny but only in ‘you have to laugh or else you’ll cry’ sort of way. In fact, by the end of the performance all four performers were shedding tears on stage, as were a fair portion of the audience. This is not a show to compare with the comedy and silliness we usually associate with the Fringe, but it is nevertheless an impactful piece of theatre that should not be missed. 

Stand-Up 

Ania Magliano: Absolutely No Worries If Not – Pleasance Courtyard, 16:35 until Aug 24th  

Some of you might already know Ania Magliana and her famous horse-girl segment from TikTok, in which case I’m sure you’ll need no convincing to go and see her debut, but for the rest of you allow me to introduce you to a rising star of the stand-up world, whose hilarious show has just won Best New Show of the Leicester Comedy Festival. On the day I went she had just added fans to her stage because of the heat, and before the show even began she was ad-libbing to the audience about this with the comfortable demeanour of someone much more experienced. Once she launched into her set things only got better: her speciality is long, surreal speeches that take us into the depths of her imagination and push observational comedy to its limits, my favourite of which has to be her comments on the people who work at Lush. Seriously, they are a different breed. Even you think stand-up isn’t your thing, I urge you to go and see her. You will not be disappointed. 

Chelsea Birkby: No More Mr Nice Guy 

A word to the wise: contrary to the popular wisdom that walking alone in deserted areas of cities at night time is ill-advised, in Fringe season what is to be avoided doing alone at all costs is walking down a very busy street, in the daytime. ‘Hi there, sorry to disturb you but you just look like a really perfect fit for my show. I love your outfit! What’s that book you’re reading? It looks so cool’. I’m hooked before they’ve even handed me the flyer, convinced that a person paid or otherwise obliged to get people into a show by any means available could not possibly have any ulterior motive in complimenting me. No need to romanticize and aestheticize every waking moment in Oxford in the hope of someone finally writing an Oxlove that could plausibly be directed at you: during a particularly gratifying 5 minute period on Cowgate I was flyered by two people simultaneously, one for a sketch show (‘I can tell you have a great laugh’) and one for a debut female stand up (‘you have such a cool aesthetic going on you’re gonna love the show’). Naturally being the good feminist I am I went to the stand up, to show solidarity with a female comic and absolutely not because the flyerer complimented my appearance. Cue 55 minutes of wondering if the sketch show would have been a better bet – I’m not sure if Chelsea and I just didn’t get on or the ‘what if’ was just too much for me, but this wasn’t my favourite show. There were some funny bits about how to go from being a ‘nice girl’ to a young woman doing whatever she wants, but for me this didn’t go far enough to cover the fact that the basic story being told was actually quite traumatic (involving being diagnosed with BPD and sexually manipulated by an authority figure). On the plus side Chelsea is Oxford-based, so if this does sound like your kind of thing you can probably catch her next show a bit closer to home. 

Cabaret  

How to Keep Up with the Kardashians (ended 14th August but deserves a mention!) 

This was probably the show at Fringe where I had the most fun, thanks to the engaging performance and razor-sharp writing of Manchester-based theatre group So La Flair. Ranging from group choreographed dances to intensely personal monologues, this show is loosely based around the theme of body image and learning to love yourself despite the pressure to ‘keep up’ with modern beauty standards. Each performer gets some alone time on stage to express their own personal relationship with their body, whether that be through a song, story or satirical strip tease.  The overall impression you leave the theatre with is one of joy and celebration, which let’s face it is a pretty rare and impressive feeling to cultivate with reference to the female body.  

One-person shows which fall somewhere between comedy and seriousness and are a bit confusing (surprisingly more than one of these) 

Colossal – Underbelly, Cowgate, 12.45 until Aug 28th 

Having seen Patrick McPherson’s hugely successful one-man show ‘The Man’ back in 2019, I had high hopes for this show. Like ‘The Man’ it deals with themes of toxic masculinity, bisexuality, and the perils of modern dating, with a biting self-awareness that reveals itself throughout the show and ensures things never get too self-righteous. For me ‘Colossal’ was a little too far on the self-conscious, performative side of things, with moments of comedy thrown in but tempered by earnest audiences addresses such as ‘what’s the best part of a story?’. Indeed, McPherson’s story telling is skilful, but the overall message, that men are usually emotionally unintelligent and therefore bad at dating, didn’t seem like much of a ground-breaking revelation to me. I did however hear a lot of good things about McPherson’s other show ‘Pear’, a comedy duo with his twin brother, so maybe go and see that instead. 

Destiny – Underbelly, Cowgate 17.20 until Aug 28th 

This was one of the few shows I booked before arriving after seeing it on The Guardian’s Top Picks for Fringe. This is perhaps my fault for blindly trusting any Guardian article I read without further scrutiny, but Destiny was not altogether what I expected. What starts off as a cringe-worthy monologue of a young girl getting ready for a night out on the town in Chippenham quickly becomes a narrative of grim survival after she is violently assaulted. The perspective of a 15-year-old girl who barely understands what has happened to her is all too familiar, but Destiny’s mistrust of the those who try to help and quick attachments to those who exploit her, bring a unique perspective and devastating poignance to this show. 

So, there you have it: 3,171 shows whittled down to 12. Even if they’re not all to your taste, I hope this gives you somewhere to start, and remember: you simply can’t see everything so enjoy what you can and forget about the rest! 

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