50 recommended shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe

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THERE are 2,695 shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and that’s just the ones listed in the official programme. Arts editor Andrew Eaton-Lewis tries to get his head around it all – and offers 50 recommendations.

SURELY it can’t have got bigger again? That’s what us arts journalists all wonder each time the Edinburgh Festival Fringe launches its programme. This year, once again, it has – the biggest arts festival in the world is 6 per cent larger than in 2011 – 2,695 shows in total. It has almost doubled in size even in the decade that I’ve been working as arts editor of this newspaper. And that, lest we forget, isn’t even the complete picture. Each year there are some extra shows that choose not to pay the fee for inclusion in the official Fringe programme, or are added to the festival at the last minute – and it would be against the spirit of inclusiveness the Fringe promotes to suggest these number-swelling events don’t count.

Dan Wilson of Withered Hand

Dan Wilson of Withered Hand

Given the sheer amount of choice, where on earth do you start? The Scotsman has a long history of helping readers to answer that question. And while it’s no longer feasible to review every single show at the Fringe, as we once did, our team of professional critics still review substantially more shows than anyone else (unless you include freesheets that employ amateurs).

This year, once again, we’ll be publishing a daily magazine covering all of Edinburgh’s festivals. You’ll find the first one with the paper on Saturday 4 August, and you’ll also find a dedicated weekly festival section with our sister paper, Scotland on Sunday.

In the meantime though, here’s a list of shows which have caught our attention. They might not be the same shows we’re enthusing about by the end of August – part of the thrill of the Fringe is stumbling across incredible new talent that you’d never heard of when the festival began – but they’re all solid tips. The choices – presented in no particular order – are based partly on what our critics are excited about seeing, partly on the track records of the people behind them, partly just on novelty value. We hope you find them useful.

1 Dream Plays: There’s lots that we could recommend in Orla O’Loughlin’s first Traverse festival programme, but this one in particular seems like a labour of love for the venue’s new artistic director. She’s teamed up with playwright David Greig to curate a series of short breakfast-time plays by David Ireland, Nicola McCartney, Douglas Maxwell and others, with a coffee and a breakfast roll included in the ticket price. If O’Loughlin and Greig manage to emulate the success of the Traverse’s Ravenhill for Breakfast programme, they’ll be on to a winner.

Sharron Matthews. Picture: Jane Barlow

Sharron Matthews. Picture: Jane Barlow

Traverse Theatre, 14-26 August.

2 I, Tommy: Sex, lies, betrayal, reality TV… it was probably inevitable that the colourful life of Tommy Sheridan would be turned into drama, and who better to make it happen than Ian Pattison, writer of Rab C Nesbitt, and Des McLean, known for his spot-on impersonations of Sheridan? I, Tommy tours Scotland in the autumn, but you can see it first at the Fringe.

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3-27 August.

3 Mark Grist: Rogue Teacher: Over two million people watched the YouTube clip in which English teacher Mark Grist, dressed in suit and tie, took on a mouthy teenager called Blizzard in a rap battle - and wiped the floor with him. Now Grist is telling his story, and showing off his skills, in his Fringe debut.

Underbelly, 2-26 August.

4 The Intervention: One of the most talked-about pieces of theatre at last year’s Fringe was Somewhere Beneath It All, A Small Fire Burns Still, an extraordinary, provocative solo performance by Phil Nichol in which he appeared to have a genuine breakdown on stage, paving the way for a final section which turned everything you’d just seen upside down. The further twist – not revealed on stage – was that the whole thing was an elaborate conceit created by Nichol and writer Dave Florez. The duo are reunited for this new show by the Comedians Theatre Company, a “father and son tale for the 21st century” performed by a strong cast including Mike McShane and Fast Show star Arabella Weir.

Assembly Hall, 1-26 August.

5 Hi-Kick: Korea has a long history of bringing joyous, visually arresting physical theatre shows to the Fringe. Hi-Kick, from the team behind Cookin’ and Jump! looks like a treat – a combination of football and choreography in which ballet dancers and martial arts experts find new ways to play the beautiful game.

Assembly Hall, 2-27 August.

6 Withered Hand: One of Scotland’s finest singer-songwriters, Dan Willson gigs regularly around Scotland, but this is set to be something out of the ordinary – a one-off show with his full band and guests including comedian Josie Long.

Queen’s Hall, 4 August.

7 24H: Summerhall was the great discovery of last year’s Fringe – a brand new, privately financed venue that championed leftfield, experimental theatre and visual art in a way that was exciting and inclusive. This year, filling a gap in the market left by the absence of the Forest Fringe and Universal Arts, Summerhall has raised its game with a substantially bigger programme. Can any of the shows match the unique thrill of last year’s big hit, Hotel Medea, an all-night promenade performance through the whole building? This one might – 24H begins at 6am and continues until the same time the following morning, promising “24 life stories in one slow-going, lazy day, suspended in time”.

Summerhall, 22 and 25 August.

8 Coalition: A star cast of comedians – including Phill Jupitus, Jo Caulfield, Thom Tuck and Simon Evans – make up the cast of this satire about the coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. It’s set in 2014, as a general election is approaching and the government is in meltdown. Writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky make an odd pairing – one is an Islington councillor, the other is artistic director of improv company The Spontaneity Shop – but there is plenty of advance buzz about the show.

Pleasance Dome, 1-26 August.

9 Kaya: Dream Interpreter: Kaya Muller was once a pop star in Canada, but gave it up to become an expert in dream analysis. He’s written books on the subject, made numerous TV appearances, and now he’s coming to the Fringe. Ever wondered why you keep dreaming about flying pandas? (Or is that just us?) Muller is here to help.

Assembly Rooms, 4-27 August.

10 Re-Animator The Musical: Re-Animator, for those who don’t know, was a cult comedy horror film from 1985 about a scientist who brings corpses back from the dead – with famously gory results. It’s now been made into a musical starring George Wendt from Cheers, and comes to the Fringe fresh from rave responses in LA.

Assembly George Square, 1-27 August.

11 Return of the Lumberjacks: Glenn Wool, Craig Campbell and Stewart Francis are now Fringe comedy stars in their own right; this year, though, they are going back to their roots, reuniting the trio that made its Fringe debut at the Stand Comedy Club 15 years ago, in a show that’s likely to be one of the highlights at Stand boss Tommy Sheppard’s latest venture, the newly reopened Assembly Rooms.

Assembly Rooms, 3-26 August.

12 Kristine Levine: Fat Whore: Ever wondered what a female version of Doug Stanhope would be like? This might be the answer, endorsed by Stanhope himself and brought to Edinburgh by Stanhope’s producer Brian Hennigan. Levine’s life story is as attention-grabbing as her show’s title – married at 18, divorced at 19, remarried at 20 to a Saudi prince, 12 years of employment selling pornography, an aunt addicted to crack, and an ex-husband who left her “for a woman he’d found through Startrek.com” then tried to kill himself. Find out more when she makes her Fringe debut.

Assembly Rooms, 2-26 August.

13 Sharron Matthews Superstar: Gold: This Canadian cabaret singer’s last Fringe show, Jesus Thinks I’m Funny, was a four star hoot that got her a slot on The Scotsman’s Best of the Fest show. This year she’s bringing her twisted take on songs by Radiohead, Lady Gaga and Guns N’ Roses to the Pleasance, which should hopefully win her a bigger audience over here.

Pleasance Courtyard, 1-27 August.

14 Alan Bissett: The Red Hourglass: Alan Bissett is a successful author and playwright, but for many people, his solo show The Moira Monologues – in which he took on the role of a single mother from Falkirk with a take-no-prisoners sense of humour – was his finest hour. It’s good to see him back on stage, then. This time around, he’s performing in the voices of five different kinds of spider.

National Library of Scotland, 15-25 August.

15 Comedian Dies in the Middle of Joke: Ross Sutherland is a poet and member of the collective Aisle16, whose solo appearances are often the highlight of spoken word nights such as Words Per Minute. For this year’s Fringe he’s debuting a theatre show about a comedian who dies – literally – in the middle of a stand-up set. The twist is that the comedy club is also stuck in a five-minute time loop, so that the end is endlessly replayed, with audience members joining in the action by playing different people in the room.

Pleasance Dome, 1-27 August.

16 The Guild of Cheesemakers: Another intriguing offering at Summerhall, Stand + Stare’s show promises actual cheese, wines and breads in a show exploring the mystery of a supernatural cheese.

Summerhall, 14-18 August

17 NOLA: Look Left Look Right already have two Fringe First awards under their belts, for The Caravan, a half-hour verbatim theatre show that told the stories of people affected by the floods of 2007, and last year’s You Once Said Yes, a riotous tour through the streets of the Old Town. Their new show is another piece of documentary theatre, exploring the impact of 2010’s BP oil spill.

Underbelly, 2-26 August.

18 Thread: Scotland’s Nutshell theatre won a Fringe First award last year for its family drama Allotment, performed outdoors in a real Edinburgh allotment, whatever the weather. That show is being revived for one week only this year, and the company is also debuting Thread, another tale about a long relationship between two women – this time two school friends making homemade party clothes in a Scottish seaside town in the 1950s.

Assembly St Mark’s, 3-26 August.

19 The Ugly Sisters: Young company RashDash have come to Edinburgh twice now, and won Scotsman Fringe First awards both times, for Another Someone in 2010 and last year’s Scary Gorgeous. Can they make it a hat trick with their latest show, described as “a sinister and sensuous cabaret”?

Northern Stage at St Stephen’s, 4-25 August.

20 Greg Proops: Here briefly last year, the improv star and renowned podcaster is back in Edinburgh for a longer run, promising “an hour of vitriol and profanity”. Sounds great. As well as his Assembly show he’ll be recording his podcast in front of a live audience at the Gilded Balloon on 16, 19 and 22 August. Expect him to show up at Paul Provenza’s Setlist too.

Assembly George Square, 16-25 August.

21 Eastend Cabaret: Notoriously Kinky: Musical comedy duo Bernadette Byrne and Victor Victoria return to Edinburgh fresh from winning Best Cabaret award at this year’s Adelaide Fringe.

Underbelly, 2-26 August.

22 One Rogue Reporter: Rich Peppiatt was once a reporter for the Daily Star; he’s now making a name for himself by exposing the worst vices of his former profession – in print, at the Leveson Inquiry, and in a Fringe show.

Pleasance Courtyard, 1-27 August.

23 Michael Winslow: Noizeyman: Vaguely remembered by Fringe audiences as one of the cast of the Police Academy movies, Winslow stormed Edinburgh last year with an hour of jawdropping impressions – noises rather than voices, taking in everything from a Jimi Hendrix wall of feedback to a battle scene from Star Wars. He’s back this year with a new show.

Udderbelly, 1-27 August.

24 Billy the Mime: The Boy with Tape on his Face has competition this year, from a darker, more twisted mime act from the USA. Billy the Mime does sketches inspired by the deaths of Whitney Houston and Anna Nicole Smith, and by Osama Bin Laden. Expect his Fringe debut to create a stir.

Just the Tonic Caves, 2-26 August.

25 Sean Hughes: Life Becomes Noises: Like Mark Thomas, Sean Hughes is doing a show about the death of his father. Stylistically, he’ll also be revisiting ideas from his much-loved TV sitcom, Sean’s Show. It’s an intriguing combination; although if you prefer straight stand-up, he’s doing that too in a separate show at the Gilded Balloon.

Pleasance Courtyard, 1-27 August.

26 Sarah Kendall: Get Up, Stand Up: It’s been five years since the Australian stand-up did the Edinburgh Fringe, but now she’s back, fresh from a sell-out tour of her home country.

Pleasance Courtyard, 1-27 August.

27 Susan Calman: The Glaswegian comic makes a welcome return to the Fringe, in a year that has seen her appear on Have I Got News For You and in the BBC3 sitcom Dead Boss.

Underbelly, 1-27 August.

28 Liz Lochhead: Making Nothing Happen: Scotland’s makar is a familiar face at the festival, but this is something different from the norm – a solo show of poems, monologues and more, with a different special guest each day.

Assembly Rooms, 3-26 August.

29 Brazil! Brazil! Presents Favela Funk Party: Those still missing the non-stop party that was Toby Gough’s World festival at St George’s West should make a beeline for this show, by the company behind Fringe hit Brazil! Brazil!

Assembly Rooms, 2-26 August.

30 Dusty Limits: Post Mortem: Being rather cheeky about The Scotsman while performing at our Best of the Fest show last year hasn’t put us off Dusty one bit. Whether performing solo or hosting the Bongo Club Cabaret, he’s one of the most witty and engaging (and rude) performers at the Fringe. This year he’s here for a two-week run, with a new show of songs about sex, drugs and death.

Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, 2-19 August.

31 Jonny Woo: Wonder Woo-Man: Last year’s breakout cabaret star, Le Gateau Chocolat, paid heartfelt tribute to the influence of this multitalented, London-based drag performer. Now the man himself is in Edinburgh for the full month.

Assembly George Square, 1-26 August.

32 Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown and His Singing Tiger: Doctor Brown’s shows for adults are so impenetrably eccentric that they have divided audiences in half; children, though, seem to get him completely. He’s back this year for another hour of silliness, fresh from winning awards in both Adelaide and Melbourne.

Assembly George Square, 2-26 August.

33 The Blanks: If you’re a fan of TV hospital comedy Scrubs, you’ll know The Blanks, although you might think of them as Ted’s band or The Worthless Peons. The a capella four-piece are now making their Edinburgh debut, with a mix of songs and sketch comedy.

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 1-27 August.

34 Nina Conti: Dolly Mixtures: The star ventriloquist just gets better and better, and is back this year with a new hour of puppetry and filthy humour.

Pleasance Dome, 1-27 August.

35 Tony Benn: Will and Testament: Is Tony Benn really doing a Fringe show? Not quite, but the venerable politician is in town for two nights to be interviewed by Mark Thomas, following screenings of a new documentary film about his life.

Assembly Rooms, 21-22 August.

36 The Loveboat Big Band Album Launch Extravaganza: An annual, one-off treat at the Fringe, The Loveboat Big Band are a loveable, spirit-lifting part-time supergroup featuring members of Orkestra Del Sol, Mr McFall’s Chamber and The Bevvy Sisters – this year you’ll be able to take an album home afterwards.

Queen’s Hall, 11 August.

37 Tom Thum – Beating the Habit: The Tom Tom Crew star goes solo for an hour of vocal beatboxing gymnastics.

Underbelly, 2-27 August

38 Anthony Rapp – Without You: A treat for fans of Rent – the star of both the stage and screen versions is coming to Edinburgh with a memoir about the early days of the iconic show, accompanied by a five-piece band.

Underbelly, 1-26 August

39 All That is Wrong: After dividing people with last year’s Audience, the Belgian provocateurs Ontroerend Goed are back with the final part of the trilogy about teenage life that began with Once And For All… and Teenage Riot, this time focusing on just two of their young cast, Koba Ryckewaert and Zach Hatch.

Traverse Theatre, 2-12 August.

40 Old Vic New Voices: The London theatre is bringing five new plays by emerging writers to the Underbelly – Bitch Boxer, Chapel Street, Glory Dazed, Strong Arm, and One Hour Only. Subjects tackled range from female boxing to the impact of war on soldiers returning home.

Underbelly, 2-26 August.

41 An Evening With David Hasselhoff Live: Every Fringe needs a show like this – an evening of “song, dance and audience interaction” with the star of Knight Rider and Baywatch. It’s in the music section, so brace yourself for Hasselhoff the pop star (he’s big in Germany, in case you didn’t know). At very least, it’ll be kitschy fun.

Pleasance Courtyard, 21-27 August.

42 Jigsy: Les Dennis knows more than most about the ups and downs of the comedy business, so he seems perfectly cast as Jigsy, a stand-up comic who’s worked with everyone from Tommy Cooper to Tony Hancock, but never quite achieved stardom himself, in this new play by Tony Staveacre.

Assembly Rooms, 3-26 August.

43 Shopping Centre: Matthew Osborn’s suburban comedy, Cul-de-Sac, was well received at last year’s Fringe (The Scotsman’s four-star review likened it to an episode of Terry and June written by George Orwell). He’s back with a new show, and stars in it this time too.

Gilded Balloon at Third Door, 1-26 August.

44 Miriam Margolyes – Dickens’ Women: To mark Charles Dickens’ bicentenary, the Blackadder and Harry Potter star revives her Olivier-nominated solo show in which she brings two dozen of his female characters to life.

Pleasance Courtyard, 8-25 August.

45 One Man Lord of The Rings/One Man Star Wars Trilogy: 
You can’t help but admire the singlemindedness it must take to recreate two blockbuster movie trilogies on stage using nothing but your voice. Be warned: if you’re not a devoted fan of either series, Charles Ross’s shows will come across like a crazy person gibbering impenetrably to himself. If you are, though, they’re a hoot.

Underbelly, 13-27 August (alternate dates).

46 The Letter of Last Resort/Good With People: The Traverse doesn’t have a big, homegrown, main stage premiere this year, but this is a very acceptable substitute: a double bill of recent work by two of Scotland’s best playwrights, David Greig and David Harrower, with – without giving too much away – a shared interest in nuclear weapons. Harrower’s Good With People, which began life at Oran Mor in Glasgow, is the story of a man reluctantly returning home to Helensburgh; Greig’s The Letter of Last Resort, premiered at the Tricycle Theatre earlier this year, is a political drama in which a newly elected Prime Minister wrestles with what she might do in the event of a nuclear war.

Traverse Theatre, 4-26 August.

47 Nick Helm: This Means War!: 
The man who won the award for funniest one-liner on the Fringe last year (“I needed a password eight characters long so I picked ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’.”) is back with a new show promising “a blood-spattered tour of duty through the carnage-filled battlefields of his love life”,

Pleasance Dome, 1-27 August.

48 Eddie Peppitone’s Bloodbath: “A powder keg of social outrage” is promised in this debut Fringe show by the American comic, who you might have seen on Flight of the Conchords or in the movie Old School.

Just the Tonic at The Tron, 2-26 August.

49 Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro!: 
The comedian and activist tries something a little different: a heartfelt theatrical tribute to his late father.

Traverse Theatre, 1-26 August.

50 Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells For Two: Can you really perform the 1970s prog rock instrumental classic with only two people? Apparently so, as Sydney musicians Aidan Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth demonstrated at this year’s Sydney Festival, to a rapturous response. Find out how they did it when it comes to Edinburgh.

Assembly George Square, 2-27 August.

AND FINALLY…

The Scotsman Best of the Fest: Well, of course we were going to mention this show. Our guests in 2011 included Sammy J and Randy, Camille O’Sullivan and TEAM. This year? We’ll tell you nearer the time, but book early. It sold out completely last year.

Assembly George Square, 6, 13 and 20 August.