I’d written off any possibility of a trip through to Edinburgh on this busiest of months. It’s too busy, I told myself; too expensive; too overwhelming. And there’s so much on I haven’t a clue what I’d actually go to see…
And then I got an email offering me a review ticket for Mexican silent comic Gabriela Munoz’s Perhaps Perhaps… Quizas and spent the next two days scrambling around and booking myself a hectic, but super fun, Fringe itinerary.
Perhaps, Perhaps… Quizas (Assembly George Square Theatre Omnitorium, 2.10pm, until 28th August (not 21st)) immediately feels like the sort of weird and wonderful show you can only find at the Fringe, and that you’re supposed to see here. From the circus-tent like venue, with its draped rugs for decoration and repurposed bus seats for pews, to the unexpected audience participation, the hour-long show feels cosy, intimate and incredibly moving.
Munoz plays Greta, a Miss Haversham-like character who rehearses in her room for the wedding of her dreams. Only today she is not alone… The part-improvised nature of the show and the different crowd dynamics performance to performance mean that you never quite know what you are going to get with this one, but Munoz – whose wonderfully expressive face draws you into what emerges as her tragicomic story – is a joy throughout. I laughed and cried throughout, never entirely sure which was the correct response. ****
I had 50 minutes to kill before my next show, also at Assembly, so had a wee walk around their outdoor area at George Square. With decent enough weather for most of the day I got some serious festival vibes wandering around the bars, food trucks and shows for kids – and I couldn’t resist stopping at the Alandro’s Gelato stand for a couple of scoops (raspberry and elderflower and peaches and cream, both as good as they sound). One of the Assembly staff told me she’d made it her goal to sample every flavour available, a scoop at a time, by the end of the festival – only to discover that they switch them up every day. To be honest, it doesn’t sound like the worst job in the world.
Shame (Assembly George Square Studios, 4.15pm, until 28th August) is a harrowing multimedia piece which looks at the vilification of female sexuality in a hyper-connected culture. Writer/performer Belle Jones plays Vickie, a young mother whose teenage daughter has just disappeared from school after sexually explicit video and images of her with two male classmates at a party appears and is widely shared online. Although Jones is the only member of the cast to appear physically on stage her daughter, Keira (Sarah Mielle), mother and various classmates and friends appear to fill in the story through YouTube videos and tweets and photos shared online.
Presented shortly after the likes of 13 Reasons Why, which also highlighted the potentially deadly consequences of internet shaming, captured the imagination, Shame is a powerful and incredibly timely piece of theatre. It’s also impeccably researched too: I sometimes find stuff written by adults around teenagers and social media unrealistic and a bit naff, but the YouTube videos purportedly made by the show’s teenaged characters ran true enough to make the whole experience disturbingly realistic.
It wasn’t all bleak, however. Jones and colleagues at Glasgow theatre company Tidy Carnage are using the show to promote The #Unshamed Project, a viral video campaign aimed at supporting victims of online shaming and so-called ‘revenge porn’ by encouraging members of the public to share their most embarrassing moments in the form of confession videos. A cringe-making selection of these show up in the performance, but the crew’s hope is that they will inspire others to join the campaign. *****
After such a challenging, albeit really brilliantly-done, performance, I was glad that my evening entertainment was lighter in tone – as well as a dinner date with my bezzer beforehand. Meeting up with an Edinburgh native meant the chance of finding somewhere relatively quiet, yet close enough to my next show – and with only a 15 minute wait for a table, Mother India off South Bridge fitted the bill. After tasty, reasonably priced Indian tapas and an hour setting the world to rights with my favourite, I was in the mood for some comedy.
I haven’t seen the original, but provided you can get past Alan Bissett in a pink velour hoodie as chain-smoking, straight-talking Falkirk single mum Moira Bell there are no barriers to entry to (More) Moira Monologues (Scottish Storytelling Centre, 7pm, until 28th August (not 21st)). The hardest woman in Scotland is now a granny (“but still sexy”), but she’s still taking on Tinder, Trump and Tai Chi – and sharing it all with her best pal Babs in her inimitable, shriek-out-loud hilarious style.
Although Moira, with her train vodka and fondness for MDMA, is played for laughs, she’s still believable, like an exaggerated version of the wee wifeys you accidentally eavesdrop on on the Glasgow – okay, Falkirk – buses. Bissett has always written working class Scotland exceptionally well, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to discover that he’s been writing for BBC Scotland’s homegrown soap, River City. The fact that the performance was occasionally interrupted by a real-life Moira Bell doon the front swigging voddy from a Diet Coke bottle only added to the fun. ****
Edinburgh-based musical collective The Blueswater’s blues revues are fast becoming staples of the Fringe, so it seemed only right for me to finish my day at Queens of the Blues (theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall, 9pm, until 26th August). Accompanied by a six-piece band, vocalist Nicole Smit led the biggest crowd of the day through a rousing musical history of the women of the blues, via the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nina Simone, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.
Smit – a charismatic frontwoman with an incredible voice – was undoubtedly the star of the show, but the band is just as incredible: a huge, extended “Ball and Chain”, as performed by Big Mama Thornton, made the most of everybody’s skills. If I had one criticism, it’s that it would have been good to hear a bit more of the context behind each pick and to put each performer in her historical context more – but it’s a music show, not a history lesson, and the music in this one is so good I had to buy a copy of the soundtrack album as I left.
The extended Blueswater gang is putting on a whopping 10 shows during Fringe 2017 – and if you like what you hear, pick up a flyer on your way out for discounted tickets for any other show. ****
Last year was a record-breaking year for the Fringe, with 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in 294 venues across the city – and in this special 70th anniversary year, it’s only going to be bigger and better. Since I have no idea how anybody narrows down what to see from that incredible spread, I asked my friends for their picks – which I hope will inspire you to choose your own Fringe adventure this year. I’ve put them in “time” order to help you plan your day.
Let me know your festival picks in the comments!
Adam (Traverse Theatre, various times, until 27th August (not 21st)): The true story of a young trans man’s journey from certain death in Egypt to a new life in Scotland, featuring a 120-strong international world choir of trans singers from around the world. NB: This is coming to the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow in September.
Alice Devlin: Extra-Curricular (Just the Tonic @ The Mash House, 11.40am, until 27th August): Alice has attempted many things: hula hooping, tap dancing, juggling three balls… she’s even got a bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award. But as the crushing reality of adulthood hits, it’s time to choose between making top-notch macchiatos or following her childhood dream. Help Alice review her extra-curricular activities whilst trying to make a career out of them.
Sagar Mega Drive (Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 4.30pm, until 27th August): A fresh character-based show from “talented impressionist” Fiona Sagar – promises to be low on further gaming puns but high on character perception and side-splitting observation.
Samantha Pressdee: Back 2 Basics (Laughing Horse @ 48 Below, 7.30pm, until 27th August): A bittersweet, darkly humorous tale of political awakening.
Sounding: Modern Studies and Lomond Campbell with the Pumpkinseed Chamber Orchestra (Stockbridge Church, 7.30pm, 20th-22nd August): Two of Scotland’s most critically acclaimed independent acts present their unique brand of pastoral and lyrical pop, enhanced by intricate arrangements for the renowned Pumpkinseeds strings, brass and voices.
It’s Better to Lie Than to Tell The Truth and End Up Alone in a Ditch Crying (Laughing Horse @ The Cellar Monkey, 7.30pm, until 27th August): Former rock star (Los Campesinos!) and acclaimed performer Ellen Waddell tackles the necessity of lying in life, love, friendship and when applying for administrative jobs at truck logistics companies
My Pet, My Love (C Royale, Royal Society of Edinburgh, 7.35pm, until 28th August (not 15th): A one-man show about fish, forgetting and the fear of dying single.
(I Could Go On Singing) Over The Rainbow (Summerhall, 8pm, various dates until 27th August): FK Alexander sings live to the recording of the last time Judy Garland ever sang Over the Rainbow, recorded four months before her death against a wall of noise music. NB: I’ve seen this before and it’s immersive, surreal and incredibly moving.
Terry Alderton: All Crazy Now (Pleasance Courtyard, 10.40pm, until 27th August): Based loosely on the BBC Radio 4 series of the same name, this is a a brand-new show featuring Johnny Spurling, pole-vaulting chickens, guinea pig diving and maybe… just maybe a dancing bear.
Arna Spek: Museum Piece (Just the Tonic @ The Caves, midnight, until 26th August): Can Dutch comedian Arna Spek survive in Brexit Britain? Join her – and a different special guest every night – for awkward tales of trying to fit in.
The Love of Stationery (Just the Tonic @ The Caves, midnight, until 27th August): Dark comedy from Norwegian comedian Lisa Maria Berg, exploring the life and loves of Woman. Orderly displays of writing materials and collecting bags of sugar are her keenest passions – but one day an attractive man turns her world upside down…