Sam Nicoresti: Cancel Anti Wokeflake Snow Culture
Free Fringe @ The Banshee Labyrinth
What chance these days of enjoying a month of comedy without a free speech v cancel culture dust-up? Standup Sam Nicoresti – Leicester Square New Comedian of 2021 – fires the starting gun (well, more of a water pistol) with this delightfully named show, which should subject the whole debate to the lampoonery – and sense of perspective – it keenly requires.
Julia Masli: CHOOSH!
The star of the Malcolm Hardee award-winning absurdo-sketch show Legs returns with her solo clown debut, tracing a migrant’s journey from eastern Europe to America. Early reviews suggest something special, although perhaps we shouldn’t take them, or anything about this show, too seriously, given that Masli’s title is Russian for … bullshit.
Frank Skinner: 30 Years of Dirt
For McCartney at Glastonbury, read Skinner on the Edinburgh fringe: a senior citizen who refuses to descend from the top of his game. His new show 30 Years of Dirt (he won the fringe’s then-Perrier award 31 years ago) finds the Brummie back at the festival where he made his name, and still making standup as laconic and effortlessly funny as anyone’s.
Sophie Duker: Hag
In contrast to her companionable 2019 debut Venus, which saw her nominated for best newcomer, recent Taskmaster champ Sophie Duker promises an altogether spikier show this year. Hag, delivered in the year she turns 30, is about growing older, wiser and “gleefully not caring any more,” says Duker. It’s bound to be one of the summer’s most sought-after tickets.
Phil Wang: The Real Hero in All This
Assembly George Square
Last time out at the fringe, tickets for Phil Wang’s run sold out at record speed. Since then, the British-Malaysian’s star has risen further, with a Netflix special, an appearance on David Letterman’s standup chat show, and a guest role in Amy Schumer’s Life & Beth. Book now, in short, for a new set addressing (it says here), “race, family, and everything that’s been going on in his Philly little life.”
Catherine Cohen: Work in Progress
There was nothing more electrifying on the 2019 Edinburgh fringe than New York cabaret comic Cat Cohen’s The Twist? She’s Gorgeous, a for-the-ages suite of songs from the anxious heart of Gen Z identity curation. It’s since streamed on Netflix and is back on this year’s fringe – but so too is a new work-in-progress.
Sheeps: Ten Years, Ten Laughs
No sketch group of the last decade has made work more exciting than Sheeps. Their solo careers (Al Roberts with Stath Lets Flats; Liam Williams with Ladhood and Pls Like) have been impressively busy. But when this trio assemble, they make terrifically playful and mind-meltingly meta sketch comedy.
Frankie Thompson: Catts
The recent record may not bode well when it comes to adaptations of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. But if the Hollywood movie was so-bad-it’s funny, this new show by up-and-coming clown and “emerging idiot” Frankie Thompson should be funny full stop. A force of nature on the stage, Thompson’s not-quite Lloyd Webber refit conjures “the distractions and obsessions that help us cope with an increasingly dystopian reality.”
Josie Long: Re-Enchantment
God knows it’s not been an easy decade to be a leftie. Sometimes it feels as if it’s only the Josie Long shows that keep you going. And here comes another one, in which the doyenne of doggedly upbeat leftwing comedy returns with another bulletin from her big-hearted, big-kid life – as a mother of two, recent immigrant to Scotland and stubborn optimist in dark times.
Atsuko Okatsuka: The Intruder
A fast-rising Japanese-Taiwanese-American comic, Atsuko Okatsuka is the host of live show and podcast Let’s Go, Atsuko: a (woke) Japanese Game Show (her parents met on a gameshow), a TikTok influencer (she spawned the viral Beyoncé drop challenge earlier this year), and is hotly tipped for her joyful and offbeat standup.
Funny Women finalists, Sketchfest finalists, Musical Comedy award finalists: the sketch and song double act Shelf (Rachel WD and Ruby Clyde) are also co-founders of queer comedy night The LOL Word. Their show Hair explores “gender presentation, gender perception, and misogyny”, they say, but “with as many jokes and songs as possible.”
Big Boys and Friends
The latest in an illustrious line of TV hits with origins at the Edinburgh festival, Jack Rooke’s comedy Bad Boys – based on his 2015 fringe show Good Grief – has just enjoyed a sensational maiden run on Channel 4. Now it’s payback time, as Rooke, co-star (and fellow fringe veteran) Jon Pointing and friends knock up a late-night comedy cabaret for the final week of this year’s festival.
Rosie Holt: The Woman’s Hour
When we look back in years to come on this era of scandal after Tory scandal, might its abiding image be Rosie Holt’s face looming out of our social media feeds? Holt’s viral videos of craven backbench dimwits, sent over the top to defend the government’s latest indiscretions, have been a comic highlight of this Stygian political era. Now she brings her debut solo show to Edinburgh.
Stewart Lee: Basic Lee
OK, it’s a work-in-progress, which means we poor critics can’t go anywhere near it. But that shouldn’t stop the rest of you. The Comedy Vehicle man is also performing his fantastic Snowflake/Tornado show throughout the fringe. But at the Stand, first thing in the morning, he’s trying out its follow-up – a dialled-down set, he promises, with neither high-concept nor frills.
Sikisa: Life of the Party
Its three-year hiatus (give or take last year’s slimmed-down model) means the fringe this year features several maiden shows by comics who’re already circuit big-hitters and TV regulars. One such is Sikisa Bostwick-Barnes, veteran of Jonathan Ross’s Comedy Club and ITV’s Standup Sketch Show, now unleashing her belated, party-themed debut – nominated best show at this year’s Leicester Comedy festival.
Tarot: Cautionary Tales
Where once there were Goose and Gein’s Family Giftshop – separate hot-ticket sketch acts bestriding the mid-2010s – now there is Tarot: the sketch supergroup purveying late-night comedy that, once seen, is not quickly forgotten. It’s usually dark, brilliantly performed, and as much about the twisted relationships of its performers as any ostensible subject matter. Kiri Pritchard-McLean directs.
Lara Ricote: GRL/LATNX/DEF
There’s a buzz about the winner of last year’s Funny Women award. Ricote is a Mexican-born, Amsterdam-based comic and improviser trailing critical enthusiasm for her “electric presence” as she makes her fringe debut. Previous winners of the award include Jayde Adams and Katherine Ryan. Her show explores “what it’s like to be Latin and deaf and a girl who’s now a woman at the same time”?
Celya AB: Swimming
You can stay at home watching Netflix’s hymn to the Paris comedy scene, Standing Up. Or you can go and see the UK’s own homegrown Parisian comedy star, Celya AB. The French-Algerian took up comedy after moving to Birmingham, and has made waves in the five years since. Her fringe debut addresses learning to swim at the ripe old age of 25.
Mat Ewins: Danger Money
Just the Tonic @ Caves
“I have too much free time on my hands”, Fringe stalwart Mat Ewins told us at fringe 2019, by way of context for the byzantine multimedia noodling and high silliness that characterises his work. Three years on, what on earth can we expect from Danger Money? Technical trickery to blow the mind, I’d guess, and lots of lots of jokes.
Leo Reich: Literally Who Cares?!
Pleasance Baby Grand
One of the most eye-catching (dazzling, he would say) among standup’s new crop, Leo Reich supported Simon Amstell on the Spirit Hole tour. On his full fringe debut, this camp, shallow and colossally self-regarding star-in-the-making will surely seize the opportunity to announce himself to the wider world.
Belgian playwright and director Carly Wijs grabbed attention a few years ago with Us/Them, which recounted the story of the 2004 terrorist siege of a Beslan school from the point of view of the children involved. She returns with another true story, this one about the Reimer twins, twin boys who were brought up as a boy and a girl after a botched circumcision.
Lovers of Robert Burns might wonder about a show that promises to upturn the biscuit-tin image of the poet. Dance aficionados might ask what actor Alan Cumming is doing in a movement piece. The rest of us can only be intrigued by the combination of choreographer Steven Hoggett, composer Anna Meredith and the New York-based Cumming in this National Theatre of Scotland show.
Counting and Cracking
Multitalented Australian writer S Shakthidharan, whose adaptation of The Bone Sparrow recently toured the UK, tells the epic story of a Sri Lankan-Australian family over four generations. Eamon Flack’s production, for Belvoir, journeys back and forth between Sydney and Colombo, taking in politics, migration and heartbreak as it goes.
Roundabout @ Summerhall
Nicole Acquah’s show for Nouveau Riche uses beatboxing, rap and song to rail against the pressures on black women in the acting industry. Directed by Shakira Newton in Paines Plough’s Roundabout, it fields three actors who ask why it never feels like the business is designed for them.
A dark comedy about political power, Uma Nada-Rajah’s play for the National Theatre of Scotland is about an ambitious home secretary whose bid for the top job starts with a photoshoot at the white cliffs of Dover. Debbie Hannan directs. Nada-Rajah is also one of the writers on Muster Station: Leith (below).
Every Word Was Once an Animal
The Belgian deconstructionists Ontroerend Goed have turned out a string of mould-breaking productions since landing in Edinburgh in 2007 with The Smile Off Your Face (revived this year). Their new one, directed by Alexander Devriendt, may or may not be about opening lines, theatrical beginnings and interruptions.
Hamlet with Ian McKellen
Ashton Hall, Saint Stephens
You couldn’t accuse Ian McKellen of failing to put in the legwork. He first played Shakespeare’s doomy Dane in 1971 and had another bash at the part last year. Now, at 83, he is reprising his favourite speeches in the company of a troupe of ballet dancers led by choreographer Peter Schaufuss.
In the Interest of Health and Safety Can Patrons Kindly Supervise Their Children at All Times
Complete with a warning of “images of children adulting,” this show by Lucy Gaizely and Gary Gardiner of 21 Common frees its junior cast from parental control, setting them loose in a landscape of risk and transgression.
Isto é um Negro? (This is a Black?)
In a country dominated by the conservatism of Jair Bolsonaro, a generation of angry Brazilian artists is demanding to be seen. Among them are these graduates of the School of Dramatic Art of the University of São Paulo who present themselves as naked as nature intended in a broadside against anti-black prejudice.
A Little Life
Director Ivo van Hove has been bringing ground-breaking productions to the Edinburgh international festival since More Stately Mansions and Caligula in 1998. Here, he adapts Hanya Yanagihara’s novel of the New York friendships revolving around the abused and damaged Jude, played by Dutch actor Ramsey Nasr.
An object-theatre odyssey presented by Aurora Nova in which Italy’s Andrea Salustri gives polystyrene shapes a life of their own. Gleaming white sheets, weightless balls and tiny beads waft, roll and drift in a wordless performance somewhere between juggling and choreography.
Liz Lochhead’s adaptation of the Euripides tragedy was the sensation of the 2000 fringe – and again the following year. Now it is back under the eye of ex-RSC artistic director Michael Boyd with Adura Onashile playing the mother who takes deadly revenge on a faithless husband.
Muster Station: Leith
Edinburgh’s Grid Iron has taken festival audiences on a subterranean promenade, into an out-of-hours department store and, last year, into the woods. This time, the company leads us down the corridors of Leith Academy where, in the aftermath of a disaster, strangers must learn to get along. Ben Harrison directs.
The Not So Ugly Duckling: A Play for Grownups
Scottish Storytelling Centre
Even on the fringe, you don’t get many living saints to the pound, but playwright Jo Clifford was recently canonised by the Order of Perpetual Indulgence, making her collaboration with Maria MacDonell surely worth a pilgrimage. The two of them perform this tale of transformation inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen favourite.
Shôn Dale-Jones, who also appears in Every Word Was Once an Animal, returns to the scene of his 2006 hit Floating and questions whether, in 2022, what we need is a whimsical piece about the Isle of Anglesey drifting away from the rest of the country. Or could laughter be the best medicine for a troubled world?
A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain
Roundabout @ Summerhall
Playwright Sami Ibrahim turns our labyrinthine immigration system into a poetic fable in which a woman fruitlessly seeks sanctuary from a king inside his city walls. The Paines Plough/Rose theatre production is staged by the Gate theatre’s associate director Yasmin Hafesji.
Assembly George Square Studios
You are the star in this immersive production in which you find yourself alone in an office where you have been taken on as a temp. Brush up your database skills, practice your telephone voice and get ready to catch up with the office gossip as New York’s Dutch Kills theatre shows you what bureaucracy is like when the manager is on holiday.
This Is Memorial Device
Wee Red Bar
Paul Higgins, star of The Thick of It and Line of Duty, tells the story of a fictional post-punk band from Airdrie. The collaboration between the Royal Lyceum and the Edinburgh international book festival is adapted and directed by Graham Eatough from the cult novel by David Keenan. Stephen McRobbie of the Pastels provides a 1980s-style soundtrack.
Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel
Writer and actor Tim Crouch puts on virtual reality goggles to wonder what becomes of the Fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear after he disappears from the play. This is his jumping-off point for a meditation on the value of live theatre and our need for collective imagination in the post-lockdown world.
What Broke David Lynch?
Greenside @ Nicolson Square
An off-centre tribute to David Lynch by singer Paul Vickers who, in his guise as Mr Twonkey, imagines the movie director abandoning a film called Ronnie Rocket in 1980 in favour of an adaptation of The Elephant Man. Calling himself a “lo-fidelity Orson Welles,” Vickers focuses on the emotional strain of creating a cinematic classic.
A joyfully plus-sized show from writer/choreographer Yolanda Mercy asking where her body fits in the world of dance. Mercy garnered plaudits as a playwright and performer for 2017’s Quarter Life Crisis but she started out training in dance, and here she examines the assumptions and restrictions around different body shapes and who is allowed to take up space on the stage.
Pleasance @ EICC
If you want to support Ukrainian artists AND enjoy an hour of titillating escapism in the theatre, Kyiv’s Freedom Ballet is the show for you. The company celebrates its 20th anniversary with the show Boudoir, a sexy, sultry lineup of long legs and high heels that looks like a risque Couple’s Choice on Strictly, in the most enjoyable way.
A solo show inspired by the stories of 71 transgender people that dancer Daniel Mariblanca met across Europe in the course of two years, as well as his own life. Spanish-born, Norwegian-based Mariblanca aims to express the diversity of the trans experience, drawing on 40 hours of interviews distilled into a solo performed by one emotionally charged naked body.
Amina Khayyam Dance: One
Khayyam is a kathak dancer and choreographer with a very strong storytelling instinct and a gift for expressive communication. She doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects, having tackled cultural taboos and injustices against women in the past. In One, Khayyam considers prejudice against refugees by drawing a parallel between cycles of migration and the cyclical nature of classical Indian arts.
There’s loads of circus to be seen across the fringe but this one gets pride of place in the international festival and it’s certainly impressive in scale. A group of 60 acrobats and choral singers become a sometimes monolithic morphing organism on stage, led by Australian circus company Gravity & Other Myths. Expect a mass of shared energy, sound and movement, pulsing with life.
Scottish Ballet: Coppélia
A cutesy 19th-century ballet about a man enamoured with a mechanical doll gets a 21st-century makeover courtesy of Morgann Runacre-Temple and Jessica Wright. After their success with dance films Tremble and The Secret Theatre, the pair of director-choreographers will use live dance and camerawork to ruminate on artificial intelligence and what happens if technology takes on a life of its own.
The Rest of Our Lives
It’s always worth seeing anything Jo Fong is involved in. A former dancer with Rosas, Rambert and DV8, Fong has taken a turn towards connecting with audiences in thoughtful, quotidien ways, with gentle humour and real humanity. Here she teams up with performance artist and clown George Orange for a show that cheerfully considers the decline of middle-aged life.
Are You Guilty?
Are you more, or less, likely to help someone in need if others are watching? The theory of the “bystander effect” is the basis for Are You Guilty? a new piece from young Korean contemporary/hip-hop dance group TOB. So that’s musings on empathy plus amazingly physical dance moves, in a double bill with Barcode, on the subject of mass consumerism.
Kyle Abraham: An Untitled Love
New York choreographer Kyle Abraham is very much the man of the moment in dance. His work for his own company A.I.M. is rooted in the black American experience and this UK premiere draws on Abraham’s memories of family, community and the house parties of his youth, set to the sounds of the prince of 90s neo-soul, D’Angelo.
A Death Has Occurred
Greenside @ Nicolson Square
We’ve been following the young dancer Kennedy Muntanga since he performed with National Youth Dance Company. A mover of great power and finesse, he’s since worked with Akram Khan and he’s now formed his own company, making dance inspired by his Christian faith, which isn’t something you see so often. One to check out that’s full of potential.
Comedy chosen by Brian Logan, theatre by Mark Fisher and dance by Lyndsey Winship.