Few objects are so marked by their own lifespan in the way of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme. Its arrival in mid-June, cocooned in a slogan-covered envelope, already points towards the benchmark that is September 1st: the end of summer. Even in its mint condition – fresh with the plasticised scent of untouched glossy paper – it contains its own pre-destined decay. It is a document that exists to be defaced – born to endure three months of brusque thumbing, folding, contorting, index-checking, and inadvertent beer/rain-soaking. It exists to become creased, crumpled, threadbare and, finally, discarded. Its three hundred pages fulfil their duty and expire. All this is inevitable, pre-empted by its mere arrival in mid-June. Even in its state of pristine novelty, its own demise lingers imperceptibly. A Mayfly about to die, saluting its audience. In looking to the future, the Fringe Programme contains a quietly constant note of sadness in amongst a symphony of excitement. Precisely by predicting its own extinguished utility, its inexorable decay is present from printing to recycling.
Yet there is also a sense of flirtation about the booklet. Just as the Mayfly embraces its single day with a flurry of excitement, so too does the Fringe Programme. It titillates: a brightly coloured peacock in a permanent state of courtship; a siren that drags you six hours off course into another sunless summer. And it teases. By the time it bursts through your letterbox, you’ve already waited for two, maybe three days, because, like your one friend that exists half an hour behind the world, lagging permanently in the past, the brochure is always behind its own schedule. It never arrives as promised. Does it apologize? Not a murmur. It sits arrogantly perched on a kitchen surface, awaiting your return from wherever your day has taken you, as if to say, “I’ve been here all day. Where have you been?”
Even as you read, it teases further. Through its multitude of forty word blurbs, it reveals just enough to whet your appetite, all the while remaining aware that you cannot yet enjoy its promised delights. It is a mere menu, looking forward to a distant one-hundred course banquet. Yet, for want of anything real to eat, we devour its words, building up a hunger so strong that the journey across the country is consumed by thoughts of that which is to come.
Anyway, enough pretentious preamble. Even though every publication has beaten me in pronouncing its tips for the Fringe, here follow mine. Some may receive justification; others are irrational stabs in the dark. Some are deliberately polemical. None are in any particular order. I’ve probably missed the show that will define my festival and therein is the joy of the fringe programme – namely, that description, marketing speak, past-reviews, clichés, reputations and titles cannot come close to performance itself.
If That’s All There Is – Inspector Sands[Traverse Theatre, Aug 18-30, times vary]
Having only caught up with Hysteria a couple of months ago (a mere three years after its original Fringe outing), I am desperate to see Inspector Sands’ latest. I caught the briefest of glimpses of If That’s All There Is – now described as “a mini-epic of longing, disappointment and psychobabble” – at the Lyric Studio almost two years ago and it promised to be a bizarre parade of social anomalies. I have a vague recollection of a bulbous butterfly obsessive and, of course, Peggy Lee.
Sea Wall by Simon Stephens [Traverse Theatre, Aug 6-16, times vary]
I first saw this as part of The Bush’s Broken Space Season in October and, while I struggled to keep pace, it is a monologue with a raw, elemental power and an intriguing urgency. Almost mystical. Definitely one that I’m looking forward to seeing anew, rather than seeing to recall.
The Devoured – BADAC Theatre [Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 5-31, 13.45]
After The Factory last year, BADAC have made themselves a must-see Fringe company, largely because no one split the audience across quite such a chasm. Personally, I found The Factory to be one of the most ill-considered and offensive pieces I’ve ever encountered, but I’m keen to see what they do next.
Anna & Katy [Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 5-31 , 18.40]
For the past two years, I have scoured my programme for anything resembling a Penny Spubb’s Party. Tremendously glad that Mss Wix and Crilly have returned. As quotably surreal as any comedy I’ve seen.
In A Thousand Pieces – The Paper Birds [Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 23-31, 16.00]
A beautiful and serene piece about sex-trafficking. Simultaneously robust and fragile. The Paper Birds’ coming-of-age show.
The Overcoat – Gecko [Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 13-31, 17.20]
I five-starred this earlier in the year and felt somewhat adrift of critical consensus, but I’d still back it all the way. Will be interesting to see what happens in a smaller space with less grandeur.
Kursk – Sound & Fury [Drill Hall, Aug 20-29, 22.30]
Saw this last Saturday at The Young Vic and loved it. Exciting, tender and very, very human.
Rhys Darby – It’s Rhys Darby Night [Udderbelly, Aug 6-15, 22.00]
Have been a Darby fan since I first saw his sonic stand-up (Buzz Aldrin’s post-moon depression), well before I’d even heard of the Conchords.
Trilogy – Nic Green [The Arches, Aug 9-31, 19.30]
Subject to raves from a variety of sources and I missed it at Burst, so I’m desperate to catch it this time around.
Sweet – Chotto Ookii[C Venues, Aug 5-31, 15.15]
I’ve been surprised that Chotto Ookii’s new piece has crept under the radar this year. They picked up Best Newcomer Total Theatre Award a few years back with a gorgeous piece called And Even My Goldfish, about which I now remember little more than a hover and orange ribbon. There’s more than a touch of Inspector Sands about them.
Beachy Head – Analogue [Pleasance Dome, Aug 5-31, 17.25]
Because I regret missing out on Mile End two years ago and grainy youtube clips can’t really compare. Besides any young company content to spend two years building a show has got the right attitude in my book.
Kim Noble Will Die – Kim Noble [Assembly Rooms, Aug 25-30, 18.20]
There can’t be many stand up comedians that can nestle into the Spill Festival programme and, having read Dominic Maxwell’s review for The Times, I am itching to see the man. But I won’t be there by the time he arrives. Shit.
Jonny Sweet: Mostly About Arthur [Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 5-30, 16.45]
Emerging comedian with one of the funniest personas I’ve ever seen. Half-camp, half-devilish.
Internal – Ontroerend Goed [Traverse, Aug 5-30, throughout the day]
Despite my muted reaction to Under the Influence, Ontroerend Goed remain a must-see company. They are tearing at the seams of theatre and, with such exhaustive output, could blossom into a new Forced Entertainment or Wooster Group.
Orphans by Dennis Kelly – Birmingham Rep / Paines Plough [Traverse, Aug 8-30, times vary]
Love the darkness of Kelly’s writing. Recently binged on Pulling over a weekend (which sounds far more exciting than a few hours on a sofa) and the whole programme stinks of his sensibilities.
Hugh Hughes in…360 – Hoipolloi [Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 5-31, 19.05]
Interesting to see that everyone’s favourite emerging artist from Wales has plomped himself in the comedy listings this year. I loved Story of a Rabbit two years ago and enjoyed, but wasn’t overwhelmed by Floating. Part of me adores him, the other part isn’t totally convinced by his total adoption of a character.
Home of the Wriggler – Stan’s Cafe [Underbelly, Aug 16-30, 12.00]
Stan’s Cafe have found the perfect home for this flickering show. Wish I had waited to see it glowing precariously in the damp gloom of the Underbelly’s vaults.
My Life With the Dogs – New International Encounter [Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 5-31, 17.30]
Its been almost two years since I saw this at the BAC and I’m hopeful that they’ve really re-invigorated it. Desperately missed the mischief of Tomas Mechacek at the time, but I’m sure the piece will have been thrown against the wall, smashed and sellotaped back together in sturdier form.