Liz Kingsman: One-Woman Show *****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15) until 28 August
While perhaps nothing could quite live up to the fanfare that has greeted Liz Kingsman’s solo debut, earning a run-out in Edinburgh after rave reviews in London, One-Woman Show is unquestionably a phenomenal piece of work. Whether one needs to have seen Fleabag to fully appreciate the send-up is open to debate, as it parodies every female-led performance cliché that has lodged in the culture since Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s creation was adapted for television. While hardly blind to Fleabag’s excesses, it's a wry, affectionate spoof that celebrates its source material.
Formerly of sketch trio Massive Dad, Kingsman reveals herself to be an exceptional writer and performer here, her postmodern, meta-theatrical conceit full of arch, knowing wit about the marginalisation of women’s stories, hilariously overblown inspirational psychobabble and the primacy of laying bare all of one’s flaws in the quest for empowerment.
Given all that though, the piece is also packed full of big, regular belly laughs, from the start to the finish of its beautifully crafted but instinctively silly 70 minutes. Kingsman’s alter-ego, unnamed like Waller-Bridge’s, is similarly a first-person, fourth wall-breaking narrator, who pridefully prizes her relatability. Though a typical, metropolitan, middle-class woman in her late 20s with little to be worried about, she pursues drama with self-conscious abandon, airily sharing the most superficial observations on her generation’s arrested development, sex, relationships and the toxicity of social media as if they were divine pearls of wit for the ages.
With the show endlessly feeding back on its own parody, the protagonist's Australian boss acts as a kind of voice of reason and further critique of basic, underlying issues with the sort of story Kingsman is pulling apart, very much having her cake and eating it. Making strong points about the place of women in the arts, One-Woman Show is intricate, impressively detailed and demands your complete attention with its multi-layered narrative. Over and above everything else though, it’s gloriously, dizzyingly funny. Jay Richardson
Jen Ives: Peak Trans ***
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Snug) (Venue 24) until 28 August
Following a run-out at last year’s reduced festival, Jen Ives’s Fringe debut proper comes with a considerable amount of baggage, which she navigates with an appealing mixture of sprightly wit, defiant mischief and outré set pieces. A target of vilification for celebrity transphobe Graham Linehan – the pair having encountered each other at the LGB Alliance conference last year – she shares passages of the blogs he’s written about her.
Pondering at length the agenda and psychology of the Father Ted creator and his ilk, she ultimately has the last word with an outrageous romp of physical comedy that also serves as a rebuttal to JK Rowling, having previously faced down those who get their knickers in a twist about gender and toilets.
Inbetween, she relays the rather sweet tale of her father’s gradual embrace of her transition, intimate details of the journey she's been on and that of the culture too, with an insightful routine about what changing search priorities on the Pornhub website tell us about trans people’s position on the spectrum of fetish and acceptance. Struggling to relate both her own story and to represent a wider community coming under flak, Ives can’t contrive a neatly packaged hour. But this is a highly promising introduction. Jay Richardson
Michelle Shaughnessy: Be Your Own Daddy ***
Underbelly, Bristo Square (Jersey) (Venue 302) until 29 August
As a candid, sex-positive, cosmetic surgery-extolling Canadian émigré living in London, it’s difficult not to be reminded of Katherine Ryan when watching Michelle Shaughnessy. Yet she barely suffers by the comparison and in this winning debut, suggests that she’ll quickly outstrip such reductive appreciation of her stand-up.
Intriguingly, for reasons that are far from fully explicable, even to the comic herself, she’s having a mid-life crisis and has decided to go all-in on comedy in the UK, leaving her “nice” husband back in Canada. Rather than dwell too deeply on this, Shaughnessy instead relays in some detail how she became the person she is today, via bullied childhood, hedonistic single days, relationships with much older men and a lingering appreciation of toxic masculinity objectifying her as she navigates middle-age.
With smooth skill at engaging the audience, getting them to respond to her frankly shared vulnerabilities and admissions of her mistakes, Shaughnessy is nevertheless clearly still calibrating and refining her routines for UK sensibilities. Yet just as clearly, she’s obviously got a raft of stories to share and the fire of a performer in resurgence, suggesting she’ll nail her act down for these shores before too long. Jay Richardson
Gabe Mollica: A Show About Friendship ****
Laughing Horse @ Bar 50 (Venue 151) until 28 August
It is generally agreed that Woody Allen’s moose story is the apotheosis of the art of performing tall tales for laughs. Gabe Mollica has no moose. And there are no Berkowitzes. But the comic cadences, the linguistic rhythms, the gentle delivery and even a lot of the body language echo Allen’s unforgettable performance. It is beguiling. And that is not a word I often use.
Mollica’s extraordinary hour dances all over the creative spaces that lie between stand up and storytelling, between happy and sad, between hilarity and heartbreak. He has a brilliant idea for getting the right therapist, has the best advice about understanding Bitcoin and has problems mixing his musical theatre friends with his straight friends. Although he claims not to have made a new friend since Obama was in the Oval Office, his relationships are the beating heart of this show.
The people in Gabe’s story live in his performance like no other I have seen. We become so invested in Emma and Tim and Kate that there is a genuine, audible outpouring of… I won’t tell you what, because that would spoil the story. We laugh a lot, we care a lot, and then we laugh some more. For the first time I can remember this August, I really did not want the hour to end.
What is not to love about a guy who loves Sondheim, got caught wearing a corset, doing the dirty on the school library floor, and once got so drunk he threw up on his flip flops. Mollica offers us all the loves of his life wrapped in laughter and a unique, soft, silken delivery. This is one of those hours here where there is no dividing line between performer and performance. They are one. And what a one. Kate Copstick
Jeremy Segway: A Life Out of Balance (Presented by the Duncan Brothers) ****
PBH’s Free Fringe @ Legends (Venue 96) until 28 August
Jeremy Segway’s boys are a delightful, if almost certainly insane pair. Their childhood dream to build “a stronger, safer, more sustainable future”, their love for “breathing each other’s air” and, most of all, the fact that they move around entirely on Segways, sets them apart from your average pairs of brothers. After their father’s accidental death /suicide, they go their separate ways, one to the Tesco car park followed by a meteoric rise to perishable goods, the other via what can only be described as the plot of Titanic to selling skin cream.
There is something extraordinary about the Duncan Brothers that turns niceness into a super power. I am aware of the Gaulier “silence” trope that is hopelessly overused by clowns ever since Dr Brown showcased its power, but these guys could melt the ice in your (reasonably priced, here at Legends) vodka and Red Bull, before saying a word. Add to that their skill with silliness, their ability to sprinkle in just enough darkness to make you wonder and their obvious delight in tearing holes in their own script if they suddenly have a funnier idea onstage and you get a joyful comedy experience with them.
This might seem to be just 50 minutes in a black box on Cowgate but there is an epic tale being told here. Through the decades, the ever changing taste of snack foods and several extraordinary inventions, past a hideous vision of a dystopian future of genetic synchronicity, featuring a traumatic “docking”scene, to Jeremy Segway’s stolen stapler and a moving re-enactment of his death (Jeremy, not the stapler), the ambitious narrative sweep of this show will move you to, well, something. Theatre, as we are reminded by the Duncans (for, at the end of the show, we realise it was actually them all along) is hard. Kate Copstick
Richard Todd: Transferable Skills ****
PBH’s Free Fringe @ Legends (Venue 96) until 28 August
Richard Todd’s brilliant show has pretty much everything. It is funny in the way that elicits a permanent smile, a rolling chuckle at the constant flow of idiosyncratic comic ideas and more big out-loud laughs that you could possibly imagine could be crammed into an hour that seems to be mainly about baths and time travel. There are even special effects. There is only one thing lacking in this brilliant, beautifully crafted 50 minutes of some of the most creative comedy in Edinburgh. An audience. You. This is why we end up with the TV comedy we do. Because you do not go and enjoy the extraordinary talents in the smaller venues. You really should go and see this.
Anyone who can sympathise with being dumped, anyone who gets dodgy tips for stain removal from online videos, anyone who understands the art and craft of bath preparation and, of course, anyone who is into time travel, will love this show. Even if you have never ordered a box from Get Fresh, Todd’s frustrations will tickle you into a giggle.
The exuberantly creative laughs that Todd flings at us, are frequently crafted around his family and his extraordinarily sparky Nana Jean. Trying to explain the concept of time travel to Nana Jean gives us a big chunk of laughing time that I would happily go back and enjoy again. Unfortunately, according to Todd (and his time-machine instruction from one of Margaret’s many online instructional videos) even a tiny amount of uranium can be dangerous. So I might just go and see the show again.
This is a comic with the ability to do surrealism, storytelling and exquisitely crafted wordplay all in the same few minutes. And at the end of the show, the kicker gag in the ending is a little bit of brilliance to take away and giggle about later. Kate Copstick
100% Cotton: In a Spin ****
Paradise in the Vault (Venue 29) until 28 August
Liz Cotton may have given me my Fringe Experience of 2022. She collars me in the Cowgate, she is charming – posh, but charming. For some reason I go along with her and watch her show. I love “speak softly and carry a big stick” comedy and Cotton is like some sort of incredible mashup of Felicity Kendall and Mark Thomas with wardrobe by Laura Ashley and vocabulary via Kathy Burke. It is a killer mix.
She sings sweet songs. Mainly about sex. But most recently about crimes against the environment. Specifically, Anglian Water’s plans to relocate the Cambridge Sewage Works (fully functioning where it is) less than a mile to arable farmland within the Cambridge Green Belt. A lovely place called Honey Hill, to be precise.
Until this year, the delightful Cotton was singing songs about Bridgerton, blow up dolls, her lovely husband Phil and her love of the colour green. Her style is less jaunty than Victoria Wood but we can hear a hint of that kind of funny, as well as a great deal more swearing. There is something uniquely thrilling about hearing a nice lady with a posh voice drop the C-bomb.
The multimedia element comes into its own showcasing the protests that have been going on to try and stop the absolute devastation of one of the most bio-diverse bits of England. Initially providing visuals for Fifty Shades of Green and Liz’s naughty romps with her Bridgerton blow up doll, the screens then show horrendous images of the vast sewage plant and its tunnels and discharges.
But giant protesting poos are walking the streets around Anglian Water’s HQ and the local church has become the recording studio for the protest song that we all end up singing, enthusiastically. Suddenly Greta Thunberg has competition. And she dresses better. Kate Copstick