Edinburgh Fringe theatre reviews: Growler | MANikin | Garage Warriors | Scaredy Fat | The Madwoman

Irish artist Dee Mulrooney's giant shamanic vulva brings our reviewer to tears and laughter, while a frank and open-hearted look at life as an obese man in the modern world shines an important light on a little-discussed subject

Growler *****

Summerhall (Venue 26) until 26 August

Growler, the creation of Irish artist Dee Mulrooney, is a giant shamanic vulva whose hilarious yet sublime trip spans the beginning of time to the end of everything. Delivered by a voice that sounds like your mad Irish auntie, her opening monologue is a poetic meditation on the cosmological accident that led particles of matter finding each other. She enters like a cross between the blessed virgin and a bag lady, wearing pink fuzzy slippers dragging a shopping trolley topped with a shrine and adorned with fairy lights. ‘Where ye from?’ she intones in between philosophical and spiritual proclamations.

She’s the M.O.G, the mother of God blethering to anyone on the bus, on the train, ‘any feckin train’. It is part comedy show, but mostly, howling righteous anger at the loss of our spiritual and visceral connection with the real messy stuff of being alive. Nothing escapes her vitriol and fire, not the Catholic church, nor God, the witch-hunters, happy clappy positive mental health affirmations, or the very idea of heaven or hell, or the notion that purity is desirable or even possible. Underneath the blessed blue cloak she is the dark source of all life - the sateen folds of a vagina. Your Growler experience would be perfectly brilliant as a night at a very surreal comedy gig, but at best, you might also feel like you’ve seen the light (or dark, in this case) and go through the portal into Growler’s cathartic transformational elegy.

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Live guitar and pedal loops soar above Growler’s shamanic drumming and vocals in original songs by Mulrooney, and, in what has become even more resonant following her tragic death, songs by Sinead O’ Connor, whose brave and painful life is memorialised in Growler’s testimony. There are triggering moments, there is ecstasy, there is hilarity, joy, and total sublimation. I cried ugly tears and laughed like a drain. Growler’s key message is that abjection and pain are the beginnings of new life, and if nothing, you will leave knowing only that Growler loves you and wants you to love yourself. It is an alchemical magic which opens the portal on your own grief and ecstasy courtesy of Growler’s cauldron of transcendent batshittery. Rest assured you don’t need no holy dove to transcend, Growler prefers pigeons anyway. Laura Cameron-Lewis

MANikin ****

Leith Arches (Venue 324) until 22 August


Fraser Patterson, the lead character in this one-person show, introduces himself naturally as ‘Porky’, as though bearing a nickname relating to his size is just part of who he is. He takes us through his life from the very beginning, literally from birth, and on into schooldays in Ellon, Aberdeenshire (at an institution he refers to as “the Azkaban of Scottish schools”), which bring companionship on the rugby field and cruel, merciless bullying in the changing rooms.

A course appears to be cemented for Fraser from these formative years; doing his best to get by in life, despite the natural disadvantages of being judged for his size and how he appears, with growing anxiety, insecurity and anger mounting in the background. His stern but loving single mother tells him she doesn’t want him to end up like her, referring to her diabetes. When he gets a girlfriend, he fears taking his shirt off in front of her. When adversity strikes, Fraser’s greatest comfort is in eating.

Presented by the exciting and always worthy of recommendation young Edinburgh company Saltire Sky, Nathan Scott Dunn’s play is a frank and open-hearted look at life as an obese man in the modern world, taking in the effect upon Fraser’s physical and mental health, as well as the collateral damage of others’ stereotyping of and disregard for him, placing him in a social box marked ‘the Big Guy’.

Alongside the smart script – which does get a little overwrought near the end, although this mirrors the internal scream that Fraser has clearly been dying to let out – the real highlight of the piece is actor Josh Brock. He plays against the stereotype inherent in a character of Fraser’s size with a performance marked by boundless agility and energy, to go with the emotional peaks and troughs and hopeful humour of the character’s daily existence. It feels like an important piece about a little-discussed subject. David Pollock

Garage Warriors ***

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53) until 19 August

“Alexa, delete my digital footprint!” Two weeks ago, Archie lost his job to a machine. Now he’s going off-grid, and he needs his mates to help him fulfil his dreams of a power-to-the-people, anti-technology revolution. Played manic and idealistic by Grant Ritchie, it’s a joy to watch Archie assemble his lads and implore them to smash their phones. Garage Warriors is a brilliantly goofy sit-com from Raw Toast Productions, an exciting young Scottish company with a real knack for comic timing.

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The squad, with panicky Rory (Jordan Kielty), liability Finlay (Lewis Aitkin, also the playwright) and resourceful Greg (Martin Mitchell), is a friendship group ripe for spin-off stories, and although a mildly holey plot requires some suspension of disbelief – nothing could persuade me that these men would use voicemail – the jokes come thick and fast. There is an enjoyably cartoonish logic to the gang’s shared emotional rollercoaster and directed by Matthew Atwood, the cast keep the action feeling fluid despite the confines of a tiny stage. Ultimately less about the onslaught of big tech than the importance of sharing a burden, Garage Warriors talks about men’s mental health with sensitivity and wit – a quieter but no less important form of revolution. Katie Hawthorne

Scaredy Fat ***

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) until 28 August

Northern Irish writer-performer Colm McCready throws a lot into this bubbling cauldron of a solo show, which arrives in Edinburgh with plenty of support: it is produced by Belfast-based outfit SkelpieLimmer, whose production Two Fingers Up was a hit last year; a recipient of influential company Les Enfants Terribles’ annual award; and supported by The Pleasance and Belfast’s Lyric Theatre through the inaugural Edinburgh National Partnerships programme. The result is a monster mash-up.

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Director Seon Simpson’s production essentially sees McCready, a horror afficionado, recast his life as one of the movies he loves. Heavily made-up in a red jacket, he flirtatiously flits through myriad theatrical devices – clips from classic horror movies, dance sequences, villainous versions of his conscience projected onto a big screen, and more – as he exuberantly explores his intertwined relationship with scary cinema, his own sexuality, and his relationship to his body.

There are a lot of ingredients in this mix – an autobiographical account of McCready’s upbringing in County Antrim, a lecture on the representation of overweight people in horror, and several sketches exposing the fat-phobia he has experienced since his early childhood. Scaredy Fat emerges as a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster – rough and unrefined but exhilarating and entertaining all the same. Fergus Morgan

The Madwoman ***

Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29), until 27 August

Writer and performer Cara Johnston gives a spirited performance as Théroigne de Méricourt, an unlikely heroine of revolutionary France. A peasant girl from Liège and an erstwhile courtesan, Théroigne nevertheless managed to make her way into the heart of the politics of the time. She speaks to us from the asylum at La Saltpêtrière where she spent her last decade, attempting to write her magnus opus, an opera about the Revolution. As she succinctly puts it: “Everyone else lost their heads. I’m the lucky one, I just lost my mind.”

Théroigne is an unreliable narrator. It’s unlikely she travelled Europe as a celebrated singer. But the wealthy lover who abandoned her, the tenor who jilted her and the singing teacher who stole her money are all real enough.

Johnston and her sister, Courtney Miles, the show’s co-producer and designer, have made a compassionate and visually impressive show about a woman history has almost forgotten. In Johnston’s portrayal, she is bright-eyed and guileless, resolutely optimistic, determined to believe the best of those around her even when the evidence suggests otherwise. Susan Mansfield

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