Edinburgh Fringe: 8 shows based on true-life stories

'Based on a true story.' Hard to imagine a phrase more likely to draw audiences in. Other than maybe, free drinks! True-life stories have become a big strand of the Fringe. Here's our pick of shows inspired by real lives.
A Very British Lesbian, Gilded Balloon TeviotA Very British Lesbian, Gilded Balloon Teviot
A Very British Lesbian, Gilded Balloon Teviot

A Very British Lesbian * * * * *

Fiona Goodwin's story of repressed sexuality and doomed love affairs is writing of such skill and precision it could have been done with a diamond cutter.

There is no actual imperative to be lesbian (or even lesbian-ish) to be enthralled, although it helps. Fiona Goodwin – for the Very British Lesbian, ?tis she – takes us, by the heart, though a childhood and teenage so mired in guilt and confusion that she became a Born Again Christian and ended up being exorcised by a gangster pastor and a woman with elephantitis.

A Very British Lesbian, Gilded Balloon TeviotA Very British Lesbian, Gilded Balloon Teviot
A Very British Lesbian, Gilded Balloon Teviot

Gilded Balloon, Teviot until 26 August

Typical * * * *

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Ryan Calais Cameron’s new Fringe play is based on the true-life story of Christopher Alder, a decorated ex-paratrooper who died in police custody in Hull in 1998 after being attacked outside a nightclub.

This is a vital piece of theatre about a brutal racist attack, followed – at best – by a criminal act of police negligence for which no one was ever seriously brought to book. And 21 years on, there is ample shaming evidence that such attitudes continue to survive and thrive, both here in Scotland, and across the rest of the UK.

Pleasance Courtyard until 25 August

Crystal Rasmussen presents The Bible 2 Live! * * * * *

"This is me" as it should be.

Tom and Crystal tell you a story about how a boy from Lancaster, who was called names, ridiculed and pelted with oranges, and a divine and outrageously promiscuous diva (James Franco fans will need smelling salts) who was raised by wolves outside turn-of-the-century Moscow, found each other and, in the end saved each other, with a little help from Madonna.

This is identity politics writ blood red in sequins and lame.

Underbelly, Cowgate until 25 August

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James McNicholas: The Boxer * * * *

A richly entertaining debut from the sports journalist and member of sketch trio BEASTS as he draws upon the tale of his own grandfather, Terry Downes, 1961 middleweight champion of the world.

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Dramatising the Paddington Express' story by appropriating the tracksuit and focused aggression of a man who fought for the US marines and went up a weight division to challenge his nemesis, McNicholas contrasts his grandfather's hard-fought success with his own, equally hard-fought failures.

Pleasance Courtyard until 25 August

Cora Bissett: What Girls Are Made Of * * * *

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.

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Read more: Cora Bissett Interview: 'I bet my glorious f***- ups are worse than y...

Fix Us, Underbelly, Cowgate * * *

Sir Ian McKellen is in the bath, and with Magneto off the stage three minor players go rogue with their own inner superheroes.

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Zara swaps her awkward body for Zia, a sex-bomb who stubs out cigarettes on her sultry bosom, with a film career as a femme fatale in hits such as Shoeshank Redemption. Kirsten has grown up keeping quiet, because not speaking out is the best way to be; now she’s trash-talking Killer KK, tough and tattooed and purple-haired, dealing in drugs and dishing it out with a machine gun.

The debut from the Bareface Collective, it's a semi-autobiographical show, drawing on the real experiences of Zara Jayne, Kirsty Adams, and Lee Philips, with CHARGE syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism.

Underbelly, Cowgate until 25 August

A womb of one's own * * *

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THE IRISH REFERENDUM debate of 2018, which opened the way for safe and legal terminations of pregnancy in Ireland after centuries of prohibition, seems to have sent a shock-wave through the younger generation of women in Britain, as they reassess the culture of shame and silence that still seems to surround the subject in the UK, even though terminations have been legally available here for more than half a century.

Claire Rammelkamp’s semi-autobiographical show A Womb Of One’s Own follows the experience of a first-year student who gets pregnant during Fresher’s Week, and of the other women - mainly her new would-be girlfriend Miranda - who help her get through the termination that follows.

Pleasance Dome until 26 August

LipSync * * * *

The show’s only character, Kirsty Young, is telling us about her experience of living with cystic fibrosis, a disease which gradually robs sufferers of lung capacity and therefore of the ability to breathe, leaving them with a life expectancy of around 36 years, and often less.

Gradually, we come to understand both the limitations Kirsty faces, and the precious understanding it gives her of the sheer value of life, and in particular of the singing and music-making she loves; against all the odds, she has succeeded in becoming a music teacher.

Until 17 August (run ended)