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Five shows to see at the Edinburgh Fringe, vol. 7
A legendary showcase, an American drama about a school shooting, a solo show from Eva O'Connor, and more...
Hello, and welcome to The Crush Bar, a Substack newsletter about theatre written by me, Fergus Morgan.
This issue is the seventh 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 would be brilliant.
“What should I go see?” It is probably the most common question asked by audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe. The festival is enormous, with over 3000 shows spread across an entire city every day. How on earth are festivalgoers supposed to know what is worth seeing – and what isn’t? Well, for three decades, Mervyn Stutter’s Pick Of The Fringe has been providing the answer.
It is the original festival showcase. Satirical songwriter Stutter and his team spend every day stomping around the city, seeing as many shows as they can. The best ones are invited to perform short snippets of their full shows and then chat with Mervyn as part of a 90-minute daily show at Pleasance Courtyard. Every day, seven different acts – spanning comedy, theatre, cabaret, circus, dance, music and more – perform short snippets of their full shows. If you like what you see, then you can get a ticket to see their entire act.
And, this year, Stutter is celebrating thirty years of Pick Of The Fringe with a special event – Mervyn’s 30th Year Charity Gala - on August 21, which will feature several famous faces discovered by Stutter over the years. The gala is in aid of South African charity The Imibala Trust, and you can get tickets to it here. You can see the daily line-ups of Pick Of The Fringe here, and get tickets via the button below.
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As an audience member at the Edinburgh Fringe, you spend a lot of time sitting in overheated spaces watching underdeveloped work. It always comes as a surprise and a relief when you see something as polished and professional as this five-handed drama from New York City-based company The Barrow Group, which arrives in Edinburgh after an acclaimed run off-Broadway. Ah, you think. We are in safe hands here.
Written by Scott Organ and directed by Seth Barrish, it explores the fallout from a school shooting, centring on Andy, a policeman who stood outside the school for seventeen minutes while the atrocity was occurring inside. Over seven, precisely written, precisely-staged, precisely-performed duologues, Organ tracks the disintegration of Andy’s self-denial and movingly contemplates our instinct to find meaning in the meaningless, sense in senseless violence. It is heavy but compelling.
Larry Mitchell is excellent as Andy, as is his supporting cast. It is a stylish staging of a sad and searching play. You can read my four-star review for The Stage here, and you can book tickets to see it at Gilded Balloon Teviot using the button below.
Long-term subscribers to this newsletter might remember my 2021 interview with Eva O’Connor, the Fringe First-winning Irish writer and actor whose hit shows at the Edinburgh Fringe include My Name Is Saoirse, Maz and Bricks, and the memorable Mustard, which saw O’Connor cover herself in the yellow stuff every day for a month.
This year, O’Connor is back at the festival with her company Sunday’s Child Theatre, and with a new show that sounds equally outlandish. Co-written with long-term collaborator Hildegard Ryan, Chicken sees O’Connor don a galline get-up to play an ambitious Kerry-born cockerel called Don and his absurd adventure in Hollywood.
The whole thing works as an allegory for oppression - in the entertainment industry, in the meat industry, and elsewhere - but it is also just a silly, shaggy-dog story about a chicken. You can catch it at Summerhall, and book tickets using the button below.
Five years ago, Ed Edwards’ two-person play The Political History Of Smack And Crack ran in the Paines Plough Roundabout at Summerhall. It was - as I wrote in my five-star review in The Stage at the time - one of the best things at the festival, a moving drama-cum-documentary about the political history of heroin use in Manchester.
This year, Ed Edwards returns to the Roundabout with a new one-man play, England and Son. Written with and performed by stalwart stand-up and raconteur Mark Thomas, the show is a portrait of a man who experiences appalling abuse - first at the hands of his father, then at the hands of the state prison system. Natasha Tripney praised Thomas’ performance in her four-star review in The Stage, calling him a “one-man tornado” and admiring his “mixture of tremendous energy and real pathos.”
England and Son was jointly inspired by Edwards’ and Thomas’ own experiences. You can read more about the play - and about Thomas’ thoughts on the festival - in this interview I did in The Stage. And you can book tickets using the button below.
For 25 years, Dennis Elkins taught theatre in American colleges and universities. In 2017, he decided to put his expertise to effect, and embarked on a new career as an itinerant artist and solo storyteller, staging shows, performing plays, and weaving yarns everywhere from New York City to the Rocky Mountains. This August, for the first time since 2019, Elkins returns to the Edinburgh Fringe with a trio of autobiographical shows, running alternately at theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall.
The shows are box., bag--, and blood (line) – styled exactly like that – and explore the people, places and things that have shaped Elkins’ life. box. sees Elkins reflect on the loss of his son, who died of a drug overdose at the age of 20; bag—follows a life-changing journey he took to India; and blood (line) is a musical about him coming to terms with his own sexuality at the age of 50.
Moving, political and funny by turns, the trilogy is produced by theatre company Flying Solo! and directed by Karla Knudsen. “I had worked in education for 25 years, and if I stayed there, they would have eventually rolled me out on a gurney with a marker pen in my hand,” says Elkins. “I wanted to do something different. I wanted to challenge myself. And performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is the ultimate theatrical challenge. It is the Mount Everest of fringe festivals, and I want to climb it.”
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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. Don’t worry, there are not that many of these special issues left!
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.
A quick reminder of the various ways you can support The Crush Bar. You can share it. You can use it for promotional purposes. And you can subscribe and support. There are currently 1905 subscribers. If you would like to join them, you can do so via the button below.
See you next week.