My five favourite shows of the Edinburgh Fringe
I have seen 68 shows so far, and these are the ones that have excited me the most - and that I have not covered in this newsletter already...
Hello, and welcome to The Crush Bar, a weekly newsletter about theatre written by me, Fergus Morgan.
This issue is the last of a load of special issues I have been sending out during July and August, all focused on shows performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. I have seen 68 shows and counting this year - and this issue features five of my favourites. If you get the chance, I would urge you to go see them, either in Edinburgh, or wherever they end up afterwards.
This will also be the last issue of The Crush Bar for a few weeks. I am going on holiday for a bit after the Edinburgh Fringe ends, and I am planning on taking a break from publishing this newsletter for a while, too. I’ll be back in your inboxes in October.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading this newsletter. There are over 1200 subscribers now and I really appreciate every one of you. You can read more about the thinking behind The Crush Bar here, and you can subscribe - if you haven’t already - using the button below. Right. That’s it from me for a month or so. Safe travels until then.
Birds of Passage In The Half Light is a new one-woman play written by Kat Woods, performed by Fiona McGeown and produced by Northern Ireland-based company Tinderbox Theatre. It is a hard-hitting – but not humourless – piece about the Catholic Church’s treatment of Irish single mothers.
Woods’ script switches between a monologue from a nameless woman in modern-day Fermanagh, recounting her family’s traumatic history, and a sort of lecture that traces the varies ways in which church and state have collaborated to control the reproductive rights of Irish women over the years.
Woods’ writing has a lovely lyricism, McGeown supplies a simmering performance, and director Patrick J O’Reilly innovatively sets everything against projections of Fergus Kelly’s animated illustrations. I found it eye-wateringly enraging when I saw it earlier this month. You can read my review for The Scotsman here.
So many shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe seem to address mortality in one form or another, Ugly Bucket Theatre’s Good Grief and YesYesNoNo’s We Were Promised Honey! among them. Emerging duo Emma + PJ’s Ghosts Of The Near Future is the most experimental and interesting of them all.
It sees theatremakers Emma Clark and PJ Stanley play around on stage for seventy minutes, weaving together fractured narratives and innovative staging devices to forge a kind of expression of our attitude to the apocalypse. Do not expect it to make sense: treat it like a jumbled fever dream.
There is so much to ponder in their performance – and it looks brilliant, too. There is a sublime moment when Elton John’s Rocketman plays over projections of nuclear devastation, and another beautiful bit when they draw luminous shapes in salt. It is one of the most exciting shows I’ve seen all August. You can read my review for The Stage here.
If this festival will be remembered for any theatre show in particular, it will be Haley McGee’s Age Is A Feeling – an overwhelmingly emotional, cleverly conceived feat of storytelling brimming with wit and wisdom. Good luck getting a ticket for the rest of its run, because it is completely sold out.
Every performance is slightly different. Under Adam Brace’s direction, McGee sits on a high chair in a circle of twelve flower stands, each adorned with a different label corresponding to a different story from the same life. With the audience’s help, McGee selects six to tell at every performance, with the other six going unheard.
The stories span an entire life, encompassing love and loss, success and failure, ambitions and regrets, illnesses and – above all – ageing. It is slow and sad and beautiful and, by the end, unbearably moving. You might struggle to see it in Edinburgh, but it is transferring to the Soho Theatre in September. See it there if you can. You can read my review for The Scotsman here.
The Endling’s Edinburgh Fringe run has already ended, unfortunately, but I’m still including it on this list because it is one of the most interesting and innovative shows I have seen at the festival – and it promises great things from Strange Futures, the Midlands-based company that made it.
Devised and performed by William Moore and Matthew Simmonds, The Endling uses a mixture of physical theatre, clowning, and sketch comedy to explore the issue of extinction. It is essentially a series of imaginative theatrical skits, stitched together into a show that somehow manages to be surreal, silly and sombre, simultaneously.
Moore and Simmonds clamber over each other to create extraordinary creatures. They act our the awfulness and absurdity of the 2015 shooting of Cecil the Lion. They clownishly portray the two scientists – Robert Webster and Bruce Erikson – that coined the term ‘Endling’ to describe the last remaining individual of a species. It is both humorous and horrifying at the same time – and I cannot wait to see what Strange Futures does next. You can read my review for The Stage here.
Ben Norris’ new drama Autopilot is a slick and sophisticated seventy-minute two-hander. It jumps backwards and forwards in time through the relationship of two women – Nic and Rowan – and their ever-present Alexa, exploring the intersection of love and artificial intelligence along the way.
Nic is a champagne socialist living as an artist in an East London squat and hiding her privileged background. Rowan is a hard-nosed computer scientist from Nottingham with her own secrets. Norris’ script intelligently probes the differences between them, revealing a sharp sense of social satire and asking compelling questions of the ways we interact in a technology-driven world.
Hannah van der Westhuysen and Cassie Bradley provide precise performances as Nic and Rowan respectively, director Sean Linnen’s staging is impressively fluid, and lighting designer Holly Ellis deserves plenty of praise for the stylish square of neon that hangs ominously overhead throughout. I liked it a lot when I saw it earlier this month, and I hope it gets a future life elsewhere. You can read my review for The Stage here.
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