Every August, Scotland’s capital hosts the largest arts festival in the world: the Edinburgh Fringe. Thousands upon thousands of performers flock to the city, putting on an incredible variety of theatre, comedy, circus, cabaret, music and just about everything in between. Edinburgh is completely transformed for the month of August; every location becomes a venue, outdoor bars suddenly pop up on every street, and the city’s population increases astronomically. The Edinburgh Fringe is one of the most incredible events in the world, creating a a uniquely vibrant and inspiring atmosphere of creativity and passion across the whole city for an entire month.
Each year, thousands of performances take place at the Fringe, and 2019 was no different. Here are eight recommendations of shows that cannot be missed. Although this year’s festival is over, you can catch many of these performances at other venues throughout the year, or in Edinburgh next summer!
Hotter is easily one of the best things that the Edinburgh Fringe saw this year. The 2019 festival was Hotter’s third run in Edinburgh, taking place at the Underbelly Cowgate venue. Hotter is uniquely candid and emotional, but also equally hilarious and lighthearted. This two-women show featuring Mary Higgins and Ell Potter (ex-girlfriends, now best friends) explores women, love, loss, sex and everything in between. Their performance is a patch-worked piece of genius, knitting together verbatim interviews from women of all ages, intimate conversations about their personal histories, music, dance, tears and laughter.
Hotter is a show that (as clichéd as it sounds) will have you in tears one second and in fits of laughter the next. Higgins and Potter have created something really special here, and although they won’t be returning to the Fringe with Hotter next year, you can catch them in Soho Theatre this autumn, or with their new show next year Fitter.
2. Showstoppers: The Improvised Musical
If you are a musical theatre fan, you cannot leave the Fringe without seeing Showstoppers. Held this year at the Grand in Pleasance, Showstoppers is an hour long musical with absolutely no rehearsal. In fact, the musical doesn’t exist until the audience arrive.
At the start of the performance, the audience chooses a place or a scenario in which the musical will take place. This can range from a kebab shop in Wolverhampton to the sewers of Paris to a story in which the various love children of James Bond band together to find their father. The audience then choose three musicals at complete random which will inspire the music to be used in this show.
Somehow, a group of actors then put together an hour long musical based on these chosen scenarios and musicals, full with singing, dancing and original music. The talent of these actors is unbelievable – they are able to literally write and perform songs on the spot, and create something together with a live band with minimal communication. Not only are you blown away by the talent in this show, but they are always absolutely hilarious.
3. Baby, What Blessings
Baby, What Blessings debuted at the Fringe this year, created by Three Sisters Productions. Written by Siofra Dromgoole, directed by Cara Dromgoole and performed by Grainne Dromgoole, this is a deeply moving and insightful piece of theatre, retracing the steps of a complicated relationship between a white women, Billie, and a black man, Amal. Billie’s character is navigating her first relationship, desperately trying to hold onto something that never really existed the way that she wanted it to. Grainne Dromgoole pulls off this solo performance flawlessly – she is candid, raw and her stage presence is captivating.
This play found its home at Surgeon’s Hall on Nicholson Street this year, and it is definitely worthy of returning to the Fringe next year.
4. 10 Things I Hate About Taming Of The Shrew
This one woman show performed by Gillian English explores everything that is wrong with Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew. She takes a candid dive into gender politics that is both hilarious and incredibly insightful, her points being outlined by personal anecdotes as well as popular culture references and funny observations.
English reminds us of all the teenage film classics from the early 2000s that take their inspiration from Shakespeare plays and untangles their mixed messages to show that although we may have enjoyed them, we cannot ignore how inherently problematic they are in their portrayals of gender roles.
The way that she discusses her points can be a little but unconventional but she is immensely entertaining and talented in her ability to occupy a stage with so much passion, energy and hilarity, whilst also making very strong political arguments. It is impressively fast paced and she doesn’t waste a single second in her absolute condemnation of gender inequality and her demand that we all stop ignoring it.
5. Yeah, But Not Right Now
You may recognise AJ Holmes from The Book of Mormon where he played Elder Cunningham in both the Broadway and West End productions of the musical. Holmes returned to the stage this year at Edinburgh’s Underbelly Cowgate venue with his musical comedy storytelling piece Yeah, But Not Right Now. Holmes is comical and endearing and his voice is incredible. He plays piano and guitar effortlessly behind his original lyrics of personal stories and childhood anecdotes.
Holmes is so at ease on the stage, and this sense of relaxed fun seeps into every inch of the room, as he (somehow) manages to get every member of the audience to sing his last toilet themed song along with him, swaying with their phone torches as if attending a Coldplay concert.
Smokescreen Productions’ Mengele returned to the Edinburgh Fringe for the second time this year, depicting the death of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Created with the support of the Holocaust Educational Trust and based on Philip Wharam’s novel Right To Live, Mengele is a deeply disturbing and incredibly poignant piece of theatre.
Known as The Angel of Death, Mengele was responsible for the human experimentation atrocities that occurred at Auschwitz. He was particularly known for his experimentation on identical twins.
In 1979 Josef Mengele suffered a stroke and drowned whilst swimming in Brazil, and this is the moment that this production explores; a man who has committed such heinous crimes being faced with death himself. He is met with a mysterious women who carefully treads around his past, finally forcing him to admit what he has done and excuse something that can never be defended.
This performance is haunting, the acts being interspersed with black and white footage from concentration camps. It is incredibly well crafted and sensitive, producing an effective contemporary warning of where hatred and bigotry can lead.
7. Everything I Do
Performed in Summerhall’s abandoned Demonstration Room, Zoe Ní Riordáin’s live concept album Everything I Do is definitely one to watch at the Fringe. Her performance is wonderfully bizarre – she sings love songs dressed in a space-suit and Spiderman costume whilst jumping on a trampoline. There is no explanation for any of it, but that is what makes it so incredibly fascinating.
Ní Riordáin’s stage presence enraptures the audience, inviting them into her mind as she sings of love and loss. Her voice is outstanding and her songs (which she consistently reminds the audience she wrote from her shed) are beautiful. Everything I Do is undeniably an unexplained oddity at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but one that is definitely worthy of its place there.
8. Escaping Trump’s America
This comedy event returned to the Fringe for the third time this year, as funny as ever. Held in the Bier Keller of the iconic Frankenstein Bar, this stand up show brings a new line-up of American comedians each night, most of whom have solo shows at other Fringe venues throughout August. The title is slightly misleading, as Trump himself is barely mentioned, but each comedian easily manages to produce a room full of laughter during their set.
This comedy show is a free event so is definitely worth a visit during your night (it starts at 23.15) for a guaranteed laugh!