Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen | Hiding Anne Frank | Mama Love | Dick | What Keeps You Awake At Night | Kevin Flynn: Fear of Heights

The top picks from our latest round-up of Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews are a compassionate play about the pain of confessional stand-up comedy, and a powerful piece based on the recollections of the woman who helped Anne Frank’s family to hide from the Nazis. Words by Susan Mansfield and David Pollock.

Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen ****

Roundabout @ Summerhall (Venue 26)

In a city which is currently full of stand-up comics, some of whom are working out their issues at the mic, this show is an intriguing proposition: a one-man play in which an actor (Samuel Barnett) plays a stand-up comic with enough issues to fill every inch of the Gilded Balloon. In Marcelo Dos Santos’ turbo-fuelled monologue, brought to the Fringe by the producers of Fleabag and Baby Reindeer, his life and his act flow seamlessly into one another.

Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen. PIC: Mihaela BodlovicFeeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen. PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic
Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen. PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic
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Our nameless protagonist seems to pass his days in a barely contained state of panic. He sees death everywhere, and sabotages his chances of happiness with cocaine-fuelled Grindr hook-ups with strangers. But then he falls in love, with an American working on a PhD who has “arms like a Disney prince” and “John Singer Sargent eyes”. The only drawback is that the American suffers from cataplexy, a rare nerve condition: if he laughs he could actually die.

“Heard the one about the stand-up whose boyfriend can’t laugh?” There are times when it feels as if the show was written in order to work its way up to this kind of gag, but in fact it’s much cleverer and more compassionate than that. The question is, can our hero break out of his cycle of self-sabotage, both personal and professional, and grasp the tender invitation to a real relationship?

Dos Santos seems to have an intuitive sense of how stand-up is structured, and Barnett, who was one of the original cast of The History Boys, is utterly convincing in his delivery. His character’s razor sharp observations hurtle out at nineteen to the dozen, but he is also self-aware enough to turn his gaze on himself. This isn’t the point, of course, but there are plenty in Edinburgh right now who could learn a trick or two from him. Susan Mansfield

Until 28 August

Hiding Anne Frank ***

RSE Theatre (Venue 431)

In 1996, Miep Gies, then in her eighties, accepted the Oscar for Best Documentary Film for Anne Frank Remembered, along with director Jon Blair. Miep was a secretary in Otto Frank’s office when the family made their decision in 1942 to hide from the Nazis in the “Secret Annex”, and helped them daily for the next two years.

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New York-based actress and writer Prudence Wright Holmes chooses this moment for Miep to tell her story. Her one-woman play delivers a lot of information, powerfully conveying the dangers of living in Nazi-occupied Holland in Miep’s unassuming, matter-of-fact voice. When 13-year-old Anne has filled her diary, Miep is the one who buys her a new one.

While her delivery is understated and occasionally halting, she takes us vividly into the world of the Secret Annex, noting the pressures under which the family lived. By cruel irony, the Nazi raid on the building in 1944 came even as the joyful news of D-Day spread through occupied Europe. While the production isn’t perfect, the power and relevance of the story is as clear as ever. Susan Mansfield

Until 28 August

Mama Love **

Summerhall (Venue 26)

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There’s much that’s powerful and heartfelt in Lea Blair Whitcher’s one-person show about birth and new motherhood, which was built around Switzerland’s 2020 vote on whether new fathers should have paternity leave. She simulates the pain of childbirth as a ‘durational performance’ and brings men from the audience onto the stage to help her get things done, but the generally thought-provoking air around the demands on a mother is undone by the structure of her dialogue with the audience.

If, for example, a mother who will speak positively of the experience or a man who will represent the patriarchy can’t be found in a small audience, the text stumbles, apparently not designed to lean back on rhetoric. David Pollock

Until 28 August (not 22)

Dick ***

Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236)

You’ll laugh, you’ll empathise and you’ll certainly wince at performer Richard Stamp’s real-life show about his discovery of a pea-sized lump at the base of his penis while off working in Cambodia with the British Council.

Despite the discomfort it caused him, he put off seeing a doctor for months. When he eventually did in Australia, he was told his entire penis would have to be removed due to a cancer which affects only one in 100,000 men. That’s what eventually happened, although here Stamp takes us on his own emotional and medical journey to get there, and his subsequent quest towards reconstruction.

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Stamp has previously discussed his experience on television on This Morning and Channel 5’s rather sensationally-titled Shopping for a New Penis, and despite a certain rawness as a performer, his frank nature and eager willingness to tell us where he’s been leaves the audience full of sympathetic admiration by the end.

The irreverent comedy video inserts (one introduces us to ‘70s action hero ‘The Cockless Man’) are also well-made and extremely funny. As “a performer and a cheeky git”, Stamp comes across as a powerful advocate for a particularly sensitive form of male cancer which is far less discussed than the testicular or prostate varieties. David Pollock

Until 27 August

What Keeps You Awake At Night **

Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236)

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A young woman named Eliza hasn’t come home, and her parents and siblings are worried. In flashback we see the background issues which have brought the family to this point, including her bold sister Felicity’s coming out, her brother Sam’s anxiety and especially their dad’s affair following a cancer recovery which their mother nursed him through.

This production by the University of St Andrews’ Mermaids Performing Arts Fund is baseline student drama and has an underlying unevenness for that, but still, there are some nice ideas and capable performances here. David Pollock

Until 27 August (not 21)

Kevin Flynn: Fear of Heights ***

Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)

Comedian Kevin Flynn’s storytelling memoir piece begins with a fascinating piece of biographical information. He shows us the famous 1932 photograph ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’, of steelworkers perched in a precarious row along a steel beam far above the New York skyline, and points to the man on the left. This is Paddy Flynn, his grandfather, a tough steelworker just like Flynn’s father, both from the Irish-descended immigrant stock which literally helped build America.

Fast forward to the present, and Paddy’s grandson Kevin is scared of heights. He didn’t go into the family business because of this, instead chasing his own heights of fame and fortune in Hollywood after a period as a professional footballer (hardly a ticket to riches in soccer-averse America). He won the 1988 Boston Comedy Riot over the likes of Louis CK and Marc Maron, briefly became an American household name through the cable show Go for It! and appeared in films by the Farrelly Brothers, listed as producers here.

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Yet along the way, he gave up many of his best opportunities to be a father after his marriage split. A warm, witty and well-prepared storyteller, Flynn takes us on a very relatable journey. David Pollock

Until 28 August