Edinburgh Festival 2019: 10 top-rated theatre and dance shows returning to the Fringe this year

Apphia Campbell in Woke PIC: Gilded Balloon
Apphia Campbell in Woke PIC: Gilded Balloon
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Want to know what theatre and dance to see at the Fringe this year? Here are some returning shows that come strongly recommended by Scotsman critics.

Woke

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 13, 16, 18, 20, 23 and 25 August, 4pm

What we said: “It’s perhaps not surprising that the Fringe features more young black voices than ever before, looking forward in anger, and back to the civil rights and black power struggles of the 1960s and 70s with a mixture of admiration and despair. Apphia Campbell’s is perhaps the most powerful of all these voices, making itself heard through the stories of two very different women – the 1970s black power activist Assata Shakur and, in the present day, a young, enthusiastic and naive black student called Candice, who arrives to study music in St Louis in the autumn of 2014, just as the riots following the murder of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson are reaching their peak. The story of Shakur’s arrest and imprisonment forty years ago provides a powerful historical backdrop to the 21st century story of a young middle-class black girl who believes in America and its values, but is forced onto a sharp learning-curve by the systematic police and judicial abuse of black people . By the end, her grief at America’s failure to deliver on the promise of the Sixties deepens into a furious political resolve.”

What Girls Are Made Of

Assembly Hall, until 25 August, 2:30pm

What we said: “The star quality of Cora Bissett has been a driving force in Scottish theatre for at least 15 years. Long before any of that, though, Bissett was a teenage rock star, lead singer of the 1990s indy band the Darlinghearts, and it’s around that extraordinary experience that she builds the storyline of her joyful and radiantly energetic new biographical show, which also represents her own debut as a playwright… The poster image features Bissett with her guitar, in full rock-star mode, and her little daughter reaching up towards a mum who is herself a remarkable role model for the next generation of girls, and who also fully understands her own debt to the people who made her, repaid in full in this beautiful, passionate and exhilarating show.”

Electrolyte

Pleasance Courtyard, until 26 August, 5:20pm

What we said: “Mental illness in the best stories appears a journey, often one that begins with a traumatic event; finding a way back through therapy, medication, the vital support of friends. For Jessie, in Electrolyte, it’s the suicide of her father that takes her to London, to a warehouse party hosted by her new musician friend Allie, and to track down her missing mother. Electrolyte is gig theatre, loud and driven. The score goes from blasts of sound to lyrical sweetness; good enough that I wanted to hear Allie Touch do a solo gig of her own.”

Dressed

Pleasance Courtyard, 20- 25 August, 12:10pm

What we said: “What do you do to mend your life after you’ve suffered a horrible, destructive assault? That’s the question that brings together the four creator-performers of this beautiful, searching, painful, and sometimes joyful show. The four young women have been friends since the age of ten, when they met at a dance class. One of them, though –Lydia, a gifted costume designer and seamstress – has a story to tell about something that happened a couple of years ago. What makes Dressed so memorable, though, is the way Lydia eventually begins to rediscover her sense of control and agency through sewing and dressmaking; she sets herself the challenge of discarding all her shop-bought clothes, and remaking her own wardrobe within a year. The result is a tremendously vivid show full of life and colour.”

DUPed

Sweet Grassmarket, 9-10 August, 4pm

What we said: “Fife-based playwright John McCann was was infuriated by the realisation that members of the public in Britain knew little of the political figures and arguments of his “home home” in Northern Ireland. Much like Mark Thomas’ annual Edinburgh Fringe shows, his show works because of its strongly theatrical storytelling sensibility. Leading us through four interviews with prominent religious, activist and journalistic figures, McCann offers a social, political and recent-historical primer on Northern Ireland, including the rise of Rev Ian Paisley as a divisive populist leader whose political strengths aren’t unfamiliar in today’s landscape; to the nausea-inducing violence of the Troubles; and up to and including the DUP’s ongoing resistance to birth control and gay marriage rights on religious grounds. He is a clear and evocative orator and storyteller, and the journey he takes us on is captivating.”

Square Go

Roundabout at Summerhall, until 25 August, 9:15pm

What we said: “Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair bring a blast of rowdy playground comedy and radical analysis to the question of how masculinity is constructed, and how men often internalise the need to be tough, violent and unfeeling. In a school playground somewhere in Scotland, we meet Max, who is about ten or eleven, and his weird wee pal Stevie Nimmo, who has volunteered to be his second in an arranged fight or “square go” with the terrifying school bully, Danny, who is much bigger and hairier than either of them. In Finn den Hertog’s fast-moving production, with soundtrack by Frightened Rabbit and vivid lighting by Peter Small, Scott Fletcher and Gavin Jon Wright deliver a perfectly balanced pair of performances, with Max at the show’s thoughtful centre, and Stevie acting as the hyperactive link between his pal and the wider world of the playground and streets.”

The Archive of Educated Hearts

Pleasance Courtyard, limited dates until 26 August, 7:30pm

What we said: “The Fringe wouldn’t be the Fringe if there wasn’t something magical happening somewhere in a shed, and the tasteful, grey-painted shed at the back of Pleasance Grand is well worth seeking out. Here, writer and performer Casey Jay Andrews has created an intimate home for her story of families living with breast cancer. Her mother is one of four sisters who have an unknown form of the disease. Their battles inform her story, as do others such as Emma Cairns, Andrews’ drama teacher and a prominent campaigner for secondary breast cancer treatment. The Archive is not a campaign: it is more like a record of love and kindness and survival gathered in from remarkable individuals who happen to be affected by the disease.”

Kathryn Joseph: From When I Wake

Summerhall, 13-15 August, 8pm

What we said: “Music and theatre have long been happy creative bedfellows, with each medium feeding off the other’s particular energy.

The partnering of spectral songwriter Kathryn Joseph with Glasgow’s music/theatre cross-over specialists Cryptic is an inspired marriage. Joseph makes music to lean into anyway but from the outset the audience were craning their necks to fathom what was involved in James Johnson’s striking hall of mirrors stage set, a beautifully conceived attraction in its own right, with vertical strips surrounding Joseph’s fabulous upright piano organ and a couple of quirky black candelabra made from the limbs of anglepoise lamps.”

The Believers are but Brothers

Assembly George Square, 19-24 August, 11am

What we said: “Javaad Alipoor and a silent technician sit at desks, exploring a part of the internet most people have never seen. We log in to a network called “brothers”, and our phones spring to life; then Javaad swivels towards us and begins to talk about his quest to understand the members of his generation who have become radicalised through the internet, sometimes travelling to Syria to join the organisation that calls itself Islamic State. Javaad Alipoor is a genial and overwhelmingly thoughtful young performer, as he takes us on this 55-minute journey into this world. In the end, though, it’s the texture of his writing – combined with stunning visual images by Jack Offord and Adam Radolinski – that makes this tentative but brilliant show a vital Fringe event, full of dark poetry and sheer analytical power in its understanding of how the internet can alter the minds of a generation at frightening speed, and begin to shake our world.”

My Land

Assembly Rooms, until 25 August, 7:30pm

Paris De Nuit

Assembly Hall, until 25 August, 10:30pm

What we said: “If you saw Recirquel Company’s 2017 Fringe hit, Paris de Nuit, you’ll know this is a company with skill and talent running through its veins. What you may not know is that the Budapest-based team has the capacity to create circus with a profound beauty. Whereas Paris de Nuit was wall-to-wall sex set to a live jazz band, My Land is stripped back, measured and almost ritualistic in its delivery. It’s also distinctly Eastern/Central European, capturing not just the company’s Hungarian base but the acrobats’ Ukrainian roots… Recirquel’s founder Bence Vági was inspired by Ukrainian folklore when creating the show, and although you’ll struggle to find any kind of narrative here, a sense of place is conjured up by the gorgeous soundtrack of Tatar and Moldovan music.”