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Five shows to see at the Edinburgh Fringe, vol. 6
A Bruntwood Prize-winning play, a piece of "trash theatre", an American musical about *NSYNC, and more...
Hello, and welcome to The Crush Bar, a Substack newsletter about theatre written by me, Fergus Morgan.
This issue is the sixth of a series of specials I am sending out during late July and August, all focused on shows performing at the festival. Each issue will highlight five shows worth seeing. Three will be picked by me, and a couple will be paid promotions. Hope that is okay.
Some issues will be themed. Most will not be. Some I will have seen and loved. Some I will just have heard good things about. Some artists I will know and admire. Others I will just like the sound of. Please feel free to get in touch if you want to let me know about a show you love.
One last thing: you can support this newsletter in a couple of ways. Firstly, you can share it with anyone that might be interested. And secondly, you can become a paid supporter for the cost of a cup-and-a-half of coffee a month using the button below. That’d be just great.
I have already shouted about an Edinburgh Fringe show produced by Ellie Keel - An Interrogation, also at Summerhall - and here I am going to shout about another. I saw Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz last night - and really enjoyed it. It is an engrossing and hugely entertaining one-man play about life and love and fulfilment and lots more.
Written and performed by Nathan Queeley-Dennis and directed by Dermot Daly, it follows one lovelorn man through several days of dating in his hometown of Birmingham. Queeley-Dennis - adorable and amusing throughout - totally takes the audience with him through his romantic routine, from his very own barbershop chronicle, to his favourite bars where the staff know this serial dater’s name. It is terrifically funny for fifty-five minutes, then twists into something more serious.
Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz is Queeley-Dennis’ debut play, and won last year’s Bruntwood Prize For Playwriting. This is its world premiere. We can expect to see much, much more from him over the next few years - and you will not want to have missed where it all started at Summerhall. You can get tickets via the button below.
It is tough to describe Unforgettable Girl, Elisabeth Gunawan’s debut show. She herself calls it “trash theatre” - but what that actually entails is an anarchic hour-long, intentionally low-fi show that is amusing and uncomfortable by turns, using silliness to explore the serious theme of the objectification and abuse of East Asian women.
Even that description does not do justice to the show, which also involves Gunawan poking fun at her audience, impersonating a Thai bride, and using projection and voiceover - and the silent help of Kyll Anthony Thomas Cole - to perform a series of increasingly disturbing skits and sketches. You might find it too weird. You might - like me - find it wonderfully so.
Gunawan won one of The Stage’s Debut Awards when Unforgettable Girl premiered at Voila! Europe Theatre Festival in 2021. It now runs in Edinburgh as a recipient of Pleasance’s Charlie Harthill Fund. It is at Pleasance Courtyard all month. Go. Whatever you think of it, I guarantee you will not forget it. You can read my Scotsman review of the show here, and get tickets via the button below.
Storyteller Hannah Maxwell’s debut show I, AmDram was a big hit at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, with its humorous account of Maxwell’s adolescence amid the amateur dramatic world in Welwyn Garden City. The Scotsman’s Susan Mansfield called it “honest, compassionate and often very funny.” This year, Maxwell returns to Scotland with her second show, Nan, Me and Barbara Pravi.
It is another semi-autobiographical show, telling the story of one year in Maxwell’s life: the year she moved to the Home Counties to care for her recently bereaved grandmother, became obsessed with French Eurovision star Barbara Pravi, and – in Maxwell’s own words – “went completely off the rails.” It is, Maxwell adds, “a funny, dark story of spiralling mental health, isolation and addiction.”
The seventy-minute show is produced by Becky Plotnek, with set design from Rachel Gammon, lighting from Jo Palmer, and sound from Juan Luis Casanellas Donoso. It previewed at Camden People’s Theatre, Cambridge Junction, Bedford’s The Place, and Oxford’s Old Fire Station, before arriving at Summerhall for the entire festival. “I, AmDram established a little bit of profile for me,” says Maxwell. “I’m hoping to build on that with this, and maybe get some international gigs, too.”
This is promotional content.
Who is Chris Kirkpatrick? Well, if you don’t know, Chris Kirkpatrick was the founder and star of *NSYNC, the mega-famous American boy band that counted Justin Timberlake in its line-up, broke all sorts of sales records, then went on an indefinite hiatus in 2002, never to return. Chriskirkpatrickmas is the completely unauthorised, unofficial, and untrue story of what happened.
Set on Christmas Eve in 2009, the show is a parody mash-up of A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, featuring twelve original songs and a seven-strong cast. It has a crack creative team, too: book, lyrics and score from Valen Shore and Alison Zatta, producers of hit podcast Real Housewives of Dungeons and Dragons, plus musical direction from Tony Award-nominee Taylor J Williams and sound design from Six’s Joshua Millican.
The show opened at the Hollywood Fringe in June 2022, sold out within two days, then returned for a second run in Los Angeles. It now arrives at the Edinburgh Fringe for its European premiere. “We have really high hopes for the show and we are hoping to connect with people who can take it to the next level” says Zatta. “It is a really fun, really funny show. And, yes, Chris does know about it.”
This is promotional content.
Bristol-based writer, musician, painter and performer Brook Tate grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, deeply involved with the religion’s close-knit community. In his early twenties, though, it became impossible for him to reconcile both his sexuality and his ethics with the lifestyle and faith that he was brought up to believe in, and he was “disfellowshipped” – shunned, in other words – by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Birthmarked is Tate’s story – but although it deals with a serious subject, it is staged in a fun-filled fashion. “We call it a semi-improvised piece of musical gig-theatre, as a joke,” Tate says. “It is basically me and my band, playing songs that I have written over the years, telling the audience about their meaning, and explaining what really happens within the Jehovah’s Witness community.”
The 90-minute show grew organically out of gigs Tate and his band performed in Bristol, featured at a festival produced by acclaimed company Wardrobe Ensemble in 2021, and then attracted the attention of Olivier Award-nominated director Sally Cookson. It arrives in Edinburgh supported by Bristol Old Vic – where it ran last May – and as part of the Horizon Showcase of work created in England. “We want to keep performing this show after Edinburgh,” Tate says. “We want to tell this story to as many people as possible. And we want to record an album of it, too, at some point.”
This is promotional content.
Thanks for reading
That is it for this issue. I will be back in your inboxes in a few days with five more shows to see at the Edinburgh Fringe. If you want to get in touch about anything raised in this issue - or anything at all, really - just reply to this email. Or you can find me on Twitter, where I am @FergusMorgan.
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See you again on Friday.