THE Scotsman’s Fringe First awards are the longest-running and most prestigious theatre awards at the festival, and are recognised across the world.
For those unfamiliar with the prizes, we award Fringe Firsts every Friday throughout the festival – today, on Friday, 21 August, and Friday, 28 August.
The final week’s winners will receive their prizes at the Scotsman Fringe Awards, our annual awards show, which will take place at The Famous Spiegeltent in St Andrew Square on Friday, 28 August at 11am – you can claim free tickets for the show by filling in the form below and taking it to the box office at the Assembly Rooms on George Street.
This week’s choice of winners reflects the dominance of solo shows at this year’s Fringe – a sign of our straitened times, perhaps.
But the variety of work on offer is still hugely impressive, and – as demonstrated by Fishamble’s extraordinary Underneath, for example – a solo show can still feel like an epic theatrical spectacle.
We would like to say a huge thank you to our judging panel – Joyce McMillan, Mark Fisher, Jackie McGlone, Susan Mansfield, Fiona Shepherd and Sally Stott – for all their hard work this week.
Our judges are now working their way through a list of recommendations from our team of critics, and we will announce a second set of winners this time next week.
A Gambler’s Guide to Dying
Gary McNair’s monologue at the Traverse is a witty and thoughtful account of the last months of the life of his grandad, an inveterate gambler who, on being told he had only a month or so to live, decided to make his last days more enjoyable by betting on the length of his own survival.
And there’s something about the idea of the bet – the risk, the bravado, this particular human way of plunging towards life’s absurd chances – that gives the show a sinewy quality, a sense of real insight into how we strive to give meaning to our lives.
McNair is a truly impressive performer, charismatic, relaxed and fascinating to watch, as he plays both grandad and grandson, as well as other characters they encounter.
Daniel Bye’s deceptively simple monologue, at Summerhall, is about an ordinary bloke who gradually realises he is the “super-spreader” who, without contracting the illness himself, is gradually infecting the entire world with a potentially fatal weeping sickness. Bye’s storytelling is vigorous and complex, as he conjures up the image of a world increasingly cruelly divided between weepers and non-weepers. And in the end, there seems almost no limit to the deep political resonances of this apparently light-touch show, as Bye brings a rare mix of science, artistry and compassion to bear on a neurotic and self-absorbed western culture, that often seems to be looking for any excuse to seal off the possibility of real human contact and empathy.
Lucas Hnath’s play at the Traverse tells the story of Pastor Paul (William Gaminara), who triggers an explosive response from his congregation by suggesting that there is no hell, and that a good deed represents as sure a way to heaven as any profession of faith. What’s most striking about this passionate, timely and riveting 80 minutes of drama is how it reflects not only a vital debate within the world of faith, but much wider questions of leadership and belief – and the harsh truth that groups so often seem to need a sense of an “other”, a flawed and damned enemy, in order to maintain their sense of community.
Stef Smith’s new play at the Traverse is an elegant and glowing piece of 21st century magic realism, in which three women struggling with the pain and alienation of modern city life find at least some answers, not in men, but in one another. Rebecca is a fortyish legal secretary abruptly dumped by her lifelong partner for a younger woman, Anna is going quietly nuts in the flat upstairs, and Sam is a woman who wants to be a man, but eventually finds him/herself occupying a place between genders that seems more comfortable than conventional masculinity. What the show has to say about loneliness and redemption in today’s unforgiving cities is a message with a fine radical edge, as timely as it is heartening.
In this immaculate conclusion to the great Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy, developed by Scotland’s female-led Stellar Quines company over the last half-decade, its sole female character (played, once again, with terrific power and compassion by Maureen Beattie) has to confront bitter truths about her own childhood, dominated first by a glamorous, elusive father who left his family, and then by a bullying stepfather who quickly came to hate both his new wife and her daughters. You can see the whole trilogy at Assembly Roxy throughout the Fringe.
In Fishamble’s stunning solo show at Dance Base, Pat Kinevane portrays a life lived in torment, the circumstances, cruelty and disappointment that can shape a person, and the glimmers of hope and happiness that come from human kindness. But it is also very funny – connecting with the audience throughout, he takes us into his confidence, sharing the life story that led him to his current location (the details of which we’ll let you find out for yourself). The result is 90 of the most perfect minutes you’ll spend this Fringe.
The History of the World Through Banalities
Johan De Smet’s play for Belgian company Kopergietery, performed (at Summerhall) in English for the first time, is by turns surprising, funny and poignant in evoking the world of Philip, as he tries to take care of his mother, a physicist at Cern, as she struggles with Alzheimer’s. Belgian actor Titus De Voogd gives a compelling performance as a young man damaged by his experiences and yet apparently limitless in his capacity for wonder. Never before has the Higgs-Boson particle been explained with a metaphor of chips and mayonnaise.