Edinburgh Festival Fringe cabaret and music reviews: The Tiger Lillies | Will Pickvance | Shirley Gnome | Final Baby Girl!

From a ghoulish tribute to Brecht and Weill to a twisted search for romance from a towering drag queen: Fiona Shepherd, Claire Smith, Kate Copstick and Ben Walters survey cabaret and music shows to shock, scandalise and entertain

The Tiger Lillies: One Penny Opera ****

Underbelly Bristo Square, until 28 August

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Having recently taken a scythe to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, psycho-vaudeville trio the Tiger Lillies now take Mackie’s messer to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s murky Threepenny Opera, and its satirical Augustan source, John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera.

The Tiger Lillies PIC: Adrey Kezzyn
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It’s a marriage made in purgatory, but this One Penny Opera is no cheap knock-off. The threesome, often described as a Brechtian street opera trio, are on home turf anyway, setting their song cycle in their familiar stomping ground of Soho, with (mostly) new songs but an old story of murder, exploitation and gleeful corruption sparked by the amoral MacHeath, or Mack the Knife to give him his cabaret sobriquet. Never has the Underbelly felt more appropriately named.

The band, daubed in their trademark ghoulish and sinister white face, set the scene of abuse and degradation with a song of patricidal revenge – and then it gets really dark, with a jaunty paean to a serial killer who specialises in murdering Biblical figures and desecrating their graves.

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Martyn Jacques, their creepy clown frontman, sings with a nasal sneer and theatrical relish, revelling in the chaos. The soundtrack is gothic jugband, with drums, double bass, accordion drone, theremin, chaotic waltzes, a “murder is easy” singalong and a lonesome tune on piano and singing saw, because the Tiger Lillies can do sensitive too, with anti-heroine Jenny Diver seeking her own revenge over soft, almost romantic guitar.

In additional to original simpatico songs, the band accompanies news of MacHeath’s possible fate with a near-hysterical cover of Shel Silverstein’s 25 Minutes to Go. This slice of noir-folk gallows humour was made famous by Johnny Cash, but in this version there’s a stay of execution. Don’t you love a happy ending? The Tiger Lillies certainly do, romping through an oompah closing number asserting that “crime pays”. Fiona Shepherd

Will Pickvance: Half Man Half Piano ***

Assembly George Square Gardens, until 28 August

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On his posters, Will Pickvance is portrayed as a dangerous cyberpunk piano player – but the element of anarchy has been seriously overstated. He’s a virtuoso player, who slips easily between styles, going from jazz to Beethoven to Sondheim. Pickvance plays and speaks simultaneously, using his piano to create emotional atmospheres for his storytelling. While the piano playing is clever and the musical crossovers are enjoyed by the piano-loving crowd, the story Pickvance tells is rather confusing.

It all hinges on a row with his neighbour over his playing – and his annoyance at being expected to play at a wedding where he is a guest. Pickvance gets lost in his hurt and resentment, and spends far too long exploring his wounded feelings. The confusion in his narrative is not helped by a bizarre dream sequence.

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The musical mash-ups are good fun and Pickvance clearly has an unusually close relationship with his instrument. But the story he has chosen to tell lacks ambition – although it may well resonate with other musicians. Pickvance has an original style of performance that would work far better with a more imaginative tale, with much less focus on the suffering of the tortured artist. Claire Smith

Shirley Gnome: Decoxification ****

PBH’s Free Fringe @ Voodoo Rooms, until 28 August

Shirley Gnome is a self-confessed “lady who enjoys the company of men” and, much to our surprise (given that her appearance makes Dolly Parton look like Joni Mitchell), the world's least likely Canadian. Shirley is an absolute blast, back with us after a nine-year absence. From Minnie Riperton to MIA, down the “douche vortex” and through some impressive twerking in High Waisted pants, to the Best Bucket Speech of the Fringe 2022, she fills her Voodoo Room with the expertly harnessed energy of the oestrogen-blessed blonde bombshell. Full disclosure: I think the “blonde” might be a wig. Shirley is what my father would describe as “all woman”. And Shirley knows how to work it. Her songs are like nothing else you will hear, and her voice kicks musical ass all the way down her hour. Decoxification is the name of the show and “singing songs about f***ing” has been the name, she tells us, of Shirley's game. Just for us she adds a Yappy Dog, some unexpected – and ridiculously funny – “ventriloquism”, and a clever number about stolen hit pop songs, which is just too close to the Axis of Awesome's genius Four Chords for me to enjoy it more. Dirty texting with emojis alongside STDs and emotional support babies, Amish sex and the most smartest, sassiest song about #MeToo you will ever enjoy, keep this hour belting along. But even if you cannot make the beginning of the show, it’s worth whatever you might fold and put in her busket just to see Shirley strip down to her big High Waisted pants and do things through the medium of song and stretch cotton that will live in your laughing parts for ever. It is a glorious experience and, absolutely not to be missed. Kate Copstick

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Final Baby Girl! ****

Assembly George Square, until 28 August

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Love comes in many forms, some more visceral than others. Final Baby Girl! is a notably twisted search for romance that comes courtesy of Baby Lame, a towering drag queen whose babydoll make-up and dress are matched with a shock of back-combed blonde hair, big black beard, combat boots and a taste for horror. A deeply wrong upbringing and a job in a video store at an impressionable age have, we learn, left Baby with strange ideas about love: she can imagine nothing more fulfilling than being adoringly slaughtered by a monster-movie-style paramour. So in Final Baby Girl!, she embarks on the search for a psychotic soulmate, matching up with a range of wrong’uns, corresponding to different eras of screen horror, and one or two of the real-life monsters stalking this country today. She might even learn a little something about herself along the way…

It’s not a genteel show, then. But buckle up and there’s plenty to relish in this serving of horny drag horror with heart. Baby can come on strong, no question, but she’s a sweetie underneath, welcoming the audience warmly and roping us into participating in some deliriously inventive scenarios. The production values are impressive too, from cleverly sustained prop-based gags to set design that could be described as “Texas chainsaw mascara”. Suitably for a story inspired by horror movies, there’s also an impressive range of sophisticated video-projected material, from tongue-in-cheek advisory notices to grotesque animated backstory.

And you don’t have to peel back too many layers of tissue to find the real humanity underneath. It’s not just larger-than-life fantasy creations who’ve had their ideas about healthy relationships and self-worth screwed up by a troubled upbringing and bad choices. Beneath the gore, and the OTT pop covers, beats the heart of a Baby who just wants to be loved. Ben Walters