In Edinburgh, after nigh on a month of excitement, the hoardings have come down, the fliers have been swept away, the Royal Mile reclaimed from the stilt-walkers, Chinese dancers, clown faced girls, guitar toting boys and that one guy with the lampshade on his head.
It has been a varied year, with only a very few shows that really gave you that exciting inner buzz and made you want to urge every single person you knew (and many more who you simply happened to be standing near) to go and see, but lots of strong, capable offerings with a high standard of writing and performance.
Daniel Kitson’s wonderful It’s Only Right Now, Until It’s Later, a funny, touching and delicate piece of storytelling that wove together two people’s lives, was one of the true highlights of the Fringe for many. It was certainly one of the top shows on an otherwise patchy bill at the Traverse. Cora Bissett’s harrowing Fringe First winner Roadkill, staged in an a rundown Edinburgh tenament flat and featuring an award-winning performance Mercy Ojelade, was another success. Ontroerend Goed’s Teenage Riot, a follow up of sorts to their previous work, Once and for All We’re Going to Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen, was divisive in its use of pre-recorded video to express adolescent angst and frustration.
Elsewhere on the fringe there was more teenage in Jack Thorne’s Bunny, a tense, astute monologue that featured an excellent performance from Rosie Wyatt and Little Bulb’s Operation Greenfield, a show that grew in charm and resonance over the course of the Fringe (I went back for second helpings and found myself more in tune with it on a second viewing).
Hightide’s production of Lidless, the debut play of Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, was a potent piece even if the writing sometimes felt a little too forced; some strong performances and an intense staging (performers and audience members crammed into a cell-like white cube) gave it extra weight. Alecky Blythe’s Do We Look Like Refugees? used the now familiar technique of having performers replicating interviews with real people by means of headphones to depict the aftermath of the war in South Ossetia. It was a simple and human show, a necessary exercise in what-happened-next which was defiantly unsentimental in tone in its account of people coping and continuing to live and love and marry despite losing their homes and livelihoods. Hamlet The Musical, while an obvious concept, was wittily and slickly executed. The hotly touted Beautiful Burnout, by Frantic Assembly was physically impressive, redolent with sweat, but featured a rather weak script from the usually reliable Bryony Lavery. Hot Mess, Ella Hickson’s third play showed her growing as a writer, taking chances, stretching herself.
There were some excellent solo shows on this year’s Fringe. Caroline Horton’s You’re Not Like the Other Girls Chrissy provoked one of the most overtly emotional responses of any show I saw with people welling up in the final moments. Trystan Gravelle did justice to DC Moore’s misanthropic monologue Honest, originally produced by the Derngate, Northampton, and staged here against the background clatter and chatter of Milne’s Bar in the New Town. Nilaja Sun’s one-woman show, No Child…, about her experience working in the New York school system has been around since 2006 and saw the actress effortlessly inhabit a whole cast of characters.
Physical theatre highlights included Keepers, the Plasticine Men’s elegant, detailed and harmonious piece about two lighthouse keepers while RashDash returned with Another Someone, an uplifting piece about happiness and dealing with disappointment, which while messy, left its audience on a genuine high.
Despite not yet meriting their own category in the programme, spoken word and poetry were well represented on the fringe this year. It was lovely to see Ross Sutherland’s excellent show, The Three Stigmata of Pacman (which I caught in previews) getting consistently and deservedly strong reviews, while Tim Clare’s Death Drive, which was one of the first shows I saw and remains a higlight, ably straddles both standup and poetry. The Utter series of spoken word events in the bowels of the Banshee Labyrinth, curated by Richard Tyrone Jones, was deliciously diverse in its line-up. Along with Kitson, both Terry Saunders and Rachel Rose Reid presented work that could be branded storytelling, the former’s Six and a Half Loves using animation to tell the story of three not-quite-perfect relationships, the other using the songs of Joni Mitchell and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen.
These were my highlights, an inevitably subjective list. Despite sitting through an as yet untallied number of shows, I left Edinburgh with a number of boxes unticked: Others by the Paper Birds, Theatre Delicatessen’s Pedal Pushers, Bear Trap’s Bound and, unfortunately, pretty much everything at the Forest Fringe. Some of my most memorable moments are not connected to a specific show, but rather to do with the general festival experience: having a poem written for me on the Royal Mile, savouring the hot chocolate at Wellington Coffee and the cardamon buns at Peter’s Yard, the way the sight of men in lizard costumes and zombie make up sitting next to you in the Courtyard bar rapidly becomes unremarkable, the nightly Tattoo fireworks reflected in the (sizeable) puddle outside our kitchen window, midnight drinks in the Spiegel Garden. I could go on. It has been quite a month. The city has been good to me. But now it’s time to go.
More Edinburgh: Read our Comedy Highlights