Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Bianca Del Rio: Unsanitized | Nikki Britton: One Small Step | The Awkward Silence's Big Break | Simon Fanshawe: The Power of Difference

Our latest round-up of comedy reviews plays host to a refreshingly venomous drag queen, some bulldozing stand-up, a musical jailbreak, and a returning Fringe veteran. Words by Kate Copstick, Jay Richardson and Claire Smith.

Bianca Del Rio: Unsanitized *****

Pleasance at EICC (venue 150)

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Bianca Del Rio blasts into town like a toxic storm. Wearing a glittery acid yellow pant suit, with Joan Crawford fright make up and a huge concoction of black curls piled on top of her head, this hate-fuelled drag queen is a breath of fresh air.

Bianca Del Rio: Unsanitized
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She has no time for mental illnesses, strange new sexual preferences. She has no interest whatsoever in people who might be on a ‘journey’. Bianca is a high octane, megamouth bitch of the highest order. She tears apart the crowd for their fashion choices and body types, she bemoans the dull, unironed drapes of the venue.

While elsewhere Fringe performers shed tears of love and gratitude as they perform in stationery cupboards, Del Rio lambasts the Edinburgh International Conference Centre as a ‘dump’ - with a furious glittery snarl. After interrogating and hurling insults at various audience members, Del Rio embarks on the show proper. She explains that the pandemic has not only sent her into drink and drug hell, it has also derailed her career - and she’s desperate to be back centre stage.

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What’s worse is the world now seems to be full of drag queens. Del Rio lays into these pretenders with an explosion of unrestrained venom. She unleashes some especially personal and graphic descriptions of those who, like her, came through Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Even Mama Ru herself is the victim of a devastatingly funny impersonation. “Why would anyone trust me?” she asks. Why indeed.

Del Rio has a voice like a jet engine. With every whirl and shriek she unleashes a fresh barrage of rage and she doesn’t let up for a second. It takes huge energy, wit and skill to pull off this sort of character and Del Rio has all in abundance. This isn’t just ‘shade’ - it’s nuclear scale destruction - and it’s refreshing, cathartic and very very funny. There isn’t time for anyone’s feelings to be hurt. Del Rio has no time. In any case everyone is laughing too much and too hard in the face of her audacious and outrageous fury. She may be the hero we’ve all been waiting for. Claire Smith

Until 26 August

Nikki Britton: One Small Step ***

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Assembly George Square Studios (Studio Four) (Venue 17)

The fateful step of Nikki Britton's show title was a stumble she took onto an Italian train platform. The Australian had landed her dream job, touring UK hospitals, performing to kids, and had decided to treat herself to a solo holiday beforehand. A self-help book devotee, trying to manifest a better life with positive thoughts to the universe, she instead found herself largely trapped in a budget hotel, persecuted by the happiness of honeymooning couples and the eccentric diagnoses of a dubious local doctor.

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Still troubled by the experience, the likeable Britton presents it as a formative one, taking the stage with great energy and a big, bold persona, the atmosphere turning a bit tense whenever she tries to browbeat the crowd into matching that energy. She capably brings her account to life, hanging off it a story of an embarrassing trip she took with her mother and other holiday misadventures, while elsewhere building up a mixed picture of her sexual escapades.

Yet for her Edinburgh debut, Britton's bulldozing style is ill-served by the relative inertia of her narrative, which rather traps the listener in the feeling of thwarted dreams she experienced. Although she recovers somewhat, it's an inexplicable choice of introductory show for an established performer in her homeland. Jay Richardson

Until 28 August

The Awkward Silence's Big Break ***

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Gilded Balloon Teviot (balcony) (Venue 14)

The biggest crime with regard to The Awkward Silence's old-fashioned jailbreak romp is that it's taken this long for the sketch duo to do a musical. Ralph Jones and Vyvyan Almond have rich, resonant voices, an acute understanding of the artform and know all the conventions and cliches of the cinematic jail tale inside out, while also demonstrating the dramatic skill of contriving a solid story as the sole cast members.

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Aided and abetted by the music and lyrics of Henry Carpenter, whose unfussy, plinky-plonk score supports some varied and witty lines, Big Break won't knock any socks off. But it's enjoyable, escapist fare if you'll indulge the pun, as Jones and Almond frequently do. At least as much of the comedy emanates from the character relationships they set up, chiefly that of career crim Mike Voller (Jones) and his son Louis (Almond), who tries and fails to keep his nose clean from his dad's nefarious trade, but gets banged up alongside his father.

Tried by an archetypal, hang 'em and flog 'em old judge, hilariously leading the jury, Louis at least is disappointed to find that their incarceration conveys little street cred – it's not so much enlightened as holistic, the prison promoting yoga, meditation and a nutritious diet.

A nice spin, that generates a good few laughs of its own, the tale is populated with a fine array of characters that Jones and Almond render distinct, from pensionable and clueless, would-be serial escapees to one inmate's pet parrot. The plot is necessarily hokum. But it bounds along at a decent clip, while tunes such as Thick As Thieves are borderline memorable. Certainly, Big Break is a showcase of The Awkward Silence's all-round abilities and an appreciable further string to their bow. Jay Richardson

Until 29 August

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Simon Fanshawe: The Power of Difference ****

Assembly Rooms (venue 20)

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This is a fascinating audience. The average age is probably about 60, and we are predominantly female. Cis-gendered, for those who are interested in that sort of labelling, except for my companion. I do not think I have ever sat in an audience like this. Then I imagine us 40 years ago, and I realise that I have, with the smell of burning bras lingering in the air. The Bijou Spiegeltent is just over half full. Simon Fanshawe is full on.

It has been 30 years since he last stood up for laughs at the Fringe. His comeback is not, strictly speaking, stand-up comedy. Generously peppered with the famous Fanshawe wit and refreshed with jokes about Pinot Grigio, posh people and butter, his hour is beautifully written and tighter than a (please insert acceptable simile because, frankly I have given up and do not wish to make anyone 'feel uncomfortable').

His theme, his passion and the reason for his 'hatemail' inbox being so full nowadays is difference, and how important it is, of itself, as a fact, and not as any indication of more or less, better or worse. We get powerful, lived examples from his life and the hope that we can learn to “describe but not define” and “convince but not impose”. He remembers when “total conformity” began to be a requirement for support and shares a thought from the times when he co-founded Stonewall: “We didn't march to all be the same, we marched so we can all be different.”

We get inclusiveness training leaflets (terrifying), the tyranny of the personal pronoun and the AZA method of argument. Yes, there are a couple of moments that are brave if you agree with him and appalling if you don't. But opening discussion, dialogue, communication about that difference is pretty much his aim. Kate Copstick

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Until 23 August