- Made in Scotland video for promoters (password: madeinscotland19)
- 2019 British Council Showcase programme
Please note the Fringe Society is impartial and cannot recommend individual shows. The views expressed within the blogs below represent those of the author and not the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.
- How to choose what to see - Mark Fisher
- Five Returning Favourites - Mark Fisher
- Fringe Children’s Picks - Noel Jordan
- Spoken word at the Fringe - Harry Josephine Giles
- New Dance at the Fringe - Niels Gamm
How to choose what to see: Guardian theatre critic Mark Fisher offers three strategies to build the perfect Fringe schedule.
Take it one step at a time
Every year people ask me how I can possibly work out my Fringe itinerary when faced with such an overwhelming choice. I'm sometimes baffled myself. But although it takes a bit of concentration, in some ways the plan sorts itself out for you. Start with a show you know you want to see. Perhaps you like the company or have heard of their reputation. Maybe you just like the title. The reason doesn't matter, but it gives you an anchor. You now know where you're going to be and when you'll be available. Give yourself an hour after the performance ends and search for a show that's starting around that time, ideally in the same place or a nearby venue. Piece by piece, your festival jigsaws its way together.
Trust a hunch
The fun of the Fringe is in the discoveries. Going off the beaten path has its risks but also its rewards. Back in 2007, I took a gamble on an interactive show called The Smile Off Your Face and discovered Ontroerend Goed, the Belgian innovators who have since become festival mainstays, not just in Edinburgh but internationally. Likewise, a commission to review a show called Everything's Elsewhere introduced me to Josie Dale-Jones who, five years later, was behind such Fringe hits as Me and My Bee and Dressed. And trusting a recommendation allowed me to see a bunch of New York University graduates calling themselves the TEAM more than a decade before director Rachel Chavkin picked up her first Tony nomination on Broadway.
Leave a space
In a festival that kicks off soon after breakfast and keeps going into the early hours, it's tempting to fill every moment with theatre. Five shows a day is comfortable and ten is not out of the question. The more you plan, the more time you have to jump in and enjoy it. But it's good to strike a balance. If you keep some space in your diary free, you'll be in a better position to respond in the moment to a word-of-mouth hit or a recommendation of someone you meet in a queue. Or perhaps you'll just appreciate the time to recuperate from the festival overkill.
Five Returning Favourites: Guardian theatre critic Mark Fisher picks some tried-and-tested Scottish hits.
A great way to check out the most promising work this country has to offer is Made in Scotland, a curated programme of new and recent theatre, music and dance. In our rush to celebrate the new, however, we shouldn't overlook the many shows that have already proved their worth. Here are five of the best.
The Man who Planted Trees
After five-star reviews and appearances off-Broadway and in the Sydney Opera House, Puppet State Theatre Company's adaptation of the short story by Jean Giono returns. It’s about a man who brings new life to a barren valley by planting trees in it. The show strikes a chord with adults as much as the over-sevens. Also recommended is the same company’s JRR Tolkien's Leaf by Niggle enjoying a brief run at the start of the festival. Scottish Storytelling Centre, 12–26 August, 4pm.
Kieran Hurley's provocative two-hander is about a well-intentioned middle-class writer and the working-class artist she befriends. It quickly becomes apparent that they speak a different language – and in the class war there's only ever one winner. The Traverse's former artistic director Orla O'Loughlin stages a gripping production. Traverse Theatre, 1–25 August, times vary.
A streamlined staging of Liz Lochhead's Scottish transposition of the Moliere comedy fresh from a sell-out run at Glasgow's lunchtime theatre, A Play, a Pie and a Pint. Directed by comedy expert Tony Cownie, with a small but perfectly formed team of actors, it's an irreverent broadside against patriarchal values. Also arriving with great word of mouth from the same stable is Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window, running at the end of the festival. Assembly Rooms, 1–25 August, 5pm.
What Girls Are Made Of
In a raucous piece of gig theatre, Cora Bissett tells the true story of how she became the lead singer of indie band Darlingheart and found herself pronounced as the next big thing. Fascinating, funny and poignant, it recounts her exploits partying with Blur, keeping her distance from Radiohead and being spat out by a record industry that failed to find a use for her. Assembly Hall, 1–25 August, 2.30pm.
Apphia Campbell's simply staged and passionately felt solo show juxtaposes the story of Assata Shakur, a member of the civil-rights black-panther movement of the 1960s and 70s, and the events in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 after a white police officer's fatal shooting of the black 18 year old, Michael Brown. The incendiary show is a theatrical embodiment of the black-lives-matter campaign and plays on alternate dates to Campbell's similarly acclaimed Nina Simone tribute Black Is the Color of my Voice. Gilded Balloon, 13–25 August, 4pm.
Fringe Children’s Picks by Noel Jordan, Festival Director, Edinburgh International Children’s Festival (Imaginate)
As a programmer of work for children I’m often asked for recommendations for productions at the Edinburgh Fringe. It is not an easy question to answer. Whilst there may be a range of companies and productions I am familiar with at the Fringe, there are always new faces with new works on offer, but the best suggestions are usually word of mouth once the Fringe has begun. In the meantime here are some of my initial suggestions of works to look out for …
Little Top (Pleasance at EICC) 2 – 17 August | Ages: 0-18 months
If you are ever looking for high quality Scottish productions start with the ‘Made In Scotland’ showcase curated by an international panel. Starcatchers, Scotland’s National Arts and Early Year’s organisation, teamed up with Superfan and premiered this new work for babies and little ones earlier this year. The result is stunning. As an introduction to circus arts it is pitched perfectly. The season is limited and tickets will sell fast so if you have a child in this very limited age bracket don’t hesitate – it’s a must see!
Valentina’s Galaxy (Royal Botanic Garden) 3 – 18 August | Ages: 2+
When ‘Valentina’s Galaxy’ premiered at the 2018 Edinburgh Science Festival there was something magical about this retro visual treat from Frozen Charlotte Productions. A second outing at the Children’s Festival this year saw the work take a more narrative approach in it’s celebration of women in space. It’s great to see a female focused work with such exquisite design for this age group. Also part of the ‘Made in Scotland’ Showcase.
Erth's Dinosaur Zoo (Underbelly, Bristo Square) 31 July – 26 August | Ages: 3+
Australia’s Erth make, and activate, some of the best dinosaur puppets I have ever seen. Think Petting Zoo/live animal display on a much larger scale. Children literally get up close to a vast array of prehistoric creatures. The company have been touring the world for quite a number of years with this particular work and it never fails to wow audiences. Not only is it equal parts fun but also full of amazing palaeontology facts.
The Listies: Ickypedia (Pleasance Courtyard) 31 July – 18 August | Ages: 4+
If you want a genuinely silly, laugh out-loud Fringe experience for children it is hard to go past The Listies. These guys do comedy for kids incredibly well and are a little bit legendary in Australia. Be warned they are very SILLY and there are always fart and vomit jokes aplenty.
I’ll Take You to Mrs Cole! (Pleasance Courtyard) 31 July – 26 August | Ages: 7+
Coming from Australia I have only had the opportunity to see two productions from the London based Complicité. These works have stayed with me for many years and I was delighted to see that the company were making and premiering their first show for primary school aged children at this year’s Festival. Based on the book by Nigel Gray and Michael Foreman the company have team up with UK children’s company, Polka Theatre, to present this work. Whilst I am not a huge fan of book adaptations, the source provides plenty of opportunity for invention and 1980’s ska music. The opportunity to view a culturally diverse cast performing for young audiences also is relatively rare in this sector.
Troll (Summerhall) 31 July – 11 August | Ages: 8+
New Zealand’s Trick of the Light Theatre are regular presenters at the Fringe, indeed ‘The Bookbinder’ and ‘The Road That Wasn’t There’ impressed us so much both were invited to the Children’s Festival. ‘Troll’ is their latest production and has already been getting great reviews in Australia and New Zealand. Written and performed by Ralph McCubbin Howell, a master story-teller, ‘Troll’ should delight those children that like things on the spooky side.
Live poetry is nothing new. After all, Ancient Greek theatre like The Bacchae or Oedipus Rex was as much live poetry as theatre, and our oldest surviving literature, the epic of Gilgamesh, has its origins in poetic stories told aloud. But in recent years, spoken word – that rambunctious, diverse and unruly form of live poetry – has come back with force, bringing new voices to the stage and new audiences to poetry. And the Fringe is no exception, with a huge range of styles and performers of spoken word finding nooks and niches to perform.
Scotland has its own fierce and thriving spoken word scene. Local organisers The Loud Poets are hosting a Best-of-the-Fringe showcase every night, giving audiences a taster of the diversity on offer. Stalwarts of the community like Jenny Lindsay are bringing full-length shows, taking poetry beyond the short soundbite to argument and intervention. Visiting artists like 4 Brown Girls are also celebrating the best of spoken word scenes around the country.
The local venues are also getting in on the act. The Scottish Poetry Library programmes year round, but has a full poetic roster for the Fringe. Ross McCleary’s ‘Employ Me, You Cowards!’ will be a riot of poetic game-playing, while In The Works’ ‘The 900 Club’ builds poetry into the theatre of friendship.
But you’ll have to go hunting to find all the spoken word at the Fringe: as a low-budget and often marginalised artform, you won’t find glossy posters or even brochure listings for every show. The PBH Free Fringe has long been a home for spoken word, with the Banshee Labyrinth venue in particular packed with community-driven shows. (It’s free, but do throw a donation in the bucket: these artists are working on a shoestring.) Sez Thomasin’s ‘Equality and Perversity’ will be one sharp and snappy political take, while the one-off Anti-Slam shows that poets know how to make fun of themselves: that show they’ll compete to be the worst poet of all, and it’s always the funniest night of the Fringe.
And poetry is taking its place back in theatre, mixing it up with other artforms. Edalia Day is mixing poetry, song and hi-tech projection in ‘Too Pretty to Punch’, and Mika Johnson tells a vital story underscored by poetry, movement and beats in the experimental theatre of ‘Pink Lemonade’. Spoken word may be among the oldest artforms around, but it’s also breaking new ground in what performance can be.
With 3841 shows to be seen at this years' Fringe Festival, and many hot picks focusing on various disciplines, these dance productions are my personal hot picks to be seen and enjoyed:
Premiered in February 2018 Scottish Dance Theatre offers a rich experience with Ritualia by choreographer Colette Sadler, who is living between Glasgow and Berlin, bringing a European flair to her Scottish home turf. Ritualia is a fresh take on one of the most iconic ballets of our time: Les Noces (The Wedding) with music by Igor Stravinsky, originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, the younger sister of iconic dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. It might come by surprise, but with a premiere nearly 100 years ago (1926) Nijinska is to be seen as first female choreographer making it on the international dance scene. Sadler's take from fashion of late 20th-century pop culture paired with one of the first feminist works sees the audience on a ritualistic journey redefining the gender clashes of Nijiska's idea, setting androgynity as a start and arriving in our time: Sadler explores „iconic artificiality, presentation and fashion“. The past providing the foundation for the presence and Scottish Dance Theatre defining the future. And if one is inspired by new takes, you should stay on at Zoo Southside for an interactive night out by Scottish Dance Theatre's Looping: Scotland Overdub.
Part of this years' Taiwan Season comes founder and artistic director Po-Cheng Tsai's B.Dance showing Floating Flowers at Dance Base. Taking its inspiration from the floating lanterns which are placed on water during the Buddhist Ghost Festival on the fifteenth night of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, in which according to Chinese culture ghosts and spirits come out from the lower realm; the deceased are believed to visit the living. In order to ease the grieve of the deceased rituals would be performed. „In Po-Cheng Tsai’s childhood, it was tradition for his father to take him to the festival, lead him to write his wishes on the lanterns, to set them adrift and to watch them flow down the river. Since his father’s passing, Tsai lost faith in the ritual of his childhood, but was inspired to create Floating Flowers to honor his father and free himself from memories that haunted him.“ Despite the heavy classical frame his work is assuring and cheerful, combining traditional Asian movements and martial arts with contemporary dance, and rarely seen moments of sparkling humor.
A very good addition to any dance list is all-male dance company Balletboyz' Edinburgh Fringe at Underbelly's McEwan Hall debut with its production Them/Us, by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon - Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet. Though one has to forgive the small intermission duet o set change (Welcome to the Fringe), it is a joy to see the dance audience grow and enjoy contemporary dance. Though both works are executed brilliantly, Us delights with a strong, but sensual duet much to the audience liking.
A story what friendship and the love for dance can be sees 3 female dancers (1 Scottish, 2 Spanish) literally walk in the others ones shoes for a moment in 6 Feet, 3 Shoes at Dance Base. Their curiosity leads to discover the other ones culture through learning the other ones traditional dances, followed by their language. Funny, moving and a proof what the arts and open borders can offer. Not to forget the 2 live musicians seeing an excellent fiddle player adapting, fusing and celebrating Spanish and Scottish traditional.
And if one is up for a bit of a different take on dance one should see the Steve Reich Project of choreographer Isabella Soupart and the MP4 Quartet also at Dance Base. For a change the live musicians are an integral part of the choreography not just a nice framing; and topped up with projections and soundscapes. Be brave, see something new!