Scotsman Fringe Firsts: We reveal six winners of our prestigious new writing awards

It’s week one of our Fringe First awards; here are the first winners in our special 50th anniversary year

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Scotsman’s Fringe First awards, which are now presented in partnership with the University of Edinburgh. The prizes were established in 1973 by late Scotsman arts editor Allen Wright to encourage theatre companies to premiere new work at the Edinburgh Fringe; half a century on they remain the most prestigious theatre awards at the festival and are recognised all over the world.

The Fringe Firsts recognise outstanding new writing premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe. They are awarded once a week throughout each year’s festival; there is no set number each week. Our judging panel is chaired by the Scotsman’s chief theatre critic, Joyce McMillan, and consists of Mark Fisher, Susan Mansfield, Sally Stott, Fiona Shepherd, David Pollock and Jackie McGlone, all of whom have decades of experience of writing about the arts. We are very grateful to them for all their hard work in seeing, and debating long into the night, dozens of shows that have been nominated for the award by our wider team of critics.

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Our first Fringe First winners of 2023 will receive their awards today at the Pleasance Courtyard, at a ceremony featuring special guest presenter Apphia Campbell, a former Fringe First winner for her extraordinary solo show Woke (and who is back this year with a revival of her earlier show Black is the Color of My Voice). We would like to thank the University of Edinburgh for continuing to support the awards, and also the Pleasance for hosting our awards ceremonies. We will announce more Fringe First winners on Friday 18 August. This week’s winners are as follows:

The Grand Old Opera House Hotel PIC: Tommy Ga-ken WanThe Grand Old Opera House Hotel PIC: Tommy Ga-ken Wan
The Grand Old Opera House Hotel PIC: Tommy Ga-ken Wan

The Grand Old Opera House Hotel

Traverse, until 27 August

What we said: “The Fringe makes space for every kind of love story; usually the complicated and star-crossed variety, fraught with difficulties, disappointments and betrayals. In Isobel McArthur’s brilliant new comedy The Grand Old Opera House Hotel, though, the Traverse and co-producers Dundee Rep offer up nothing less than a pure and heartfelt boy-meets-girl romantic comedy, inspired by the rapturous power of great music; although in a setting that offers endless scope for the sharpest kind of social criticism and wisecracking satire…. What follows is a wild and sometimes beautiful farce of slamming doors, lustful or raging guests, and wild misunderstandings, as Aaron and fellow room attendant Amy gradually find their way towards one another, borne along on waves of the fabulous operatic music she loves, and which he comes to love as the story unfolds.” (Joyce McMillan)

A Funeral For My Friend Who is Still Alive, theSpace

Kasen Tsui in A Funeral For My Friend Who Is Still AliveKasen Tsui in A Funeral For My Friend Who Is Still Alive
Kasen Tsui in A Funeral For My Friend Who Is Still Alive

theSpaceUK @ Niddry Street, until 12 August

What we said: “Over the course of A Funeral for My Friend Who Is Still Alive, we learn that actor Kasen Tsui’s dear friend left their shared home city suddenly, secretively, and out of necessity, following his involvement as an activist in what she discreetly labels “a social movement”. She never got to say a proper goodbye, and so she gleefully describes this performance as “emotional blackmail”… and the only way she can pay tribute to such a formative friendship… Performed by Tsui, and co-written with producer and director Cathy Lam, both from Hong Kong, A Funeral is absurd, sweet, and bitterly painful. Comic relief masks the trauma of running from teargas, while a night spent camping on the ghostly campus of an unpopulated university becomes a legacy of their friendship; a freeing memory, and a monument to an impossible future. And all the while, the spectre of their shared metropolis looms large, coming into focus only in the production’s final goodbye.” (Katie Hawthorne)

JM Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K

Assembly Hall, until 27 August

Craig Leo and Carlo Daniels in Life & Times of Michael K. Picture: Fiona McPhersonCraig Leo and Carlo Daniels in Life & Times of Michael K. Picture: Fiona McPherson
Craig Leo and Carlo Daniels in Life & Times of Michael K. Picture: Fiona McPherson

What we said: “The Baxter Theatre of Cape Town’s new version of JM Coetzee’s mighty 1983 novel The Life And Times Of Michael K is a great tale of oppression and the struggle to overcome it, set in a fictional South Africa during the dying years of apartheid. In Lara Foot’s exquisite production of her own stage adaptation, Coetzee’s quietly momentous story is told with supreme skill by a magnificent company of nine actors, each playing multiple roles. Every detail of this perfectly-made show is worth treasuring.” (Joyce McMillan)

England & Son

Roundabout @ Summerhall, until 27 August

What we said: “This year’s solo show by much-loved Fringe favourite Mark Thomas is also a passionate plea for humanity; but here, the central character is not only a victim, but also - in a classic white working-class dilemma - the son of a man who was himself involved in the worst kinds of oppression, both domestic and colonial. England And Son marks a departure from Mark Thomas’s usual role as writer-performer, in that this monologue has been written for him by Ed Edwards, a playwright with lived experience of Britain’s prison system, using material from both Thomas’s early life and his own. The result is a heartbreakingly powerful, sharp and tragic monologue for a man full of wise-guy working-class energy.”


Zoo Southside, until 27 August

What we said: “For the bold artists of Belgium’s award-winning Ontroerend Goed, the task of making the personal universal, in these traumatic times, points straight towards the ancient need for rituals that will bring us together and help to make sene of our experience, and for a reinvention of these rituals that still carries meaning in secular times. Their latest show Funeral, directed by Alexander Devriendt, offers just that; a collective ceremony of mourning and remembrance, in which the company lead an audience of perhaps 60 people through a performance in which we are invited both to remember individual people we have lost, and to consider the transience of all things… Together, we perhaps begin to find the courage to face the idea of humankind itself as transient, or potentially so - an astonishing species, with the power to create such beauty, in reflecting on its dilemmas; but never exempt from the great rule of creation, that all things must eventually pass, and dissolve into something new.” (Joyce McMillan)


Traverse, until 27 August

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What we said: “In Irish company Fishamble’s lates show Heaven, writer Eugene O’Brien makes his personal story soar through the sheer lyrical strength and whip-smart allusiveness of his language, as he traces a matching pair of midlife crises through the entwined monologues of 50-year old Mairead, a social worker in the Irish midlands, and her similarly middle-aged husband Mal… At heart, the theme of the play is erotic passion, and how we accommodate it to the other kinds of love that shape our lives - friendship, parenthood, the comradeship of a long marriage. It's the story, in other words, of almost every adult human life, told with immense affection, candour and brilliance.” (Joyce McMillan)