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Fringe Faves 2023

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 is done!

How are you feeling about it? Enthused, or exhausted? Buzzing, or broke? Fired-up, or frustrated? Some combination of several of those things?

(Us too)

If you haven’t already, check out our Fringe Week One blog, which includes some of our thoughts on the festival, after several years of attending in both pre- and post-lockdown eras, plus an open invitation to take part in a facilitated (online) meeting, Tue Sept 12th, 7pm.

This meeting will provide a space for anyone with feelings on the future of Edinburgh Fringe to think together about the festival’s role within our sector, envision what could be done differently in future, and concoct plans for how we might drive change from a grassroots level.

Til then, here are 10 of our fave shows from this year’s Fringe that we took the time to write about in more detail.

Check out these artists’ work whenever you get the chance!

So much more than the tongue-in-cheek ‘Monologues’ of its title, 52… is a magnificent audio, visual and physical collage of trans womens’ experiences, combining impressive choreography that’d hold up in a larger-scale space, with moments of bodily-fluid-splashing on a par with the visceral intimacy of the Fringiest Live Art.

Through a series of verbatim interviews intermingled with personal stories, performers Charli and Laurie voice snippets of trans women’s lives including and beyond their own - covering a range of experiences from being objectified, to yearning for motherhood. The strength of these two performers’ relationship - clearly shown in their shared humour and active moments of care for each other - enables the pair to tackle head-on some memories of horrendously cruel treatment, that may otherwise feel too raw to share with strangers in such a close space. Their friendship is creatively centred as an ongoing thread throughout this piece, expressed both implicitly: in the ease with which they crack each other up, and explicitly: when they hold each other and tell the story of how they met. These moments place laughter, tenderness, and solidarity firmly at the centre of our minds and hearts, as not just a beacon of hope for survival, but a vital part of any path to liberation.

Two women with shoulder-length hair (one dark and curly, the other straight and blonde) wearing bright pink outfits and cats-eye style sunglasses leaning against a wall, their mouths open in shocked/scandalised expressions
52 Monologues For Young Transsexuals

A highly interactive show about a Queer, Autistic, Latinx caterpillar could be tricky for a 22:30 slot at Fringe - when crowds can be tired and/or rowdy - but Dre Spisto’s years on festival stages means they’ve honed an exquisite ability to reliably rouse peals of raucous laughter punctuated beautifully with moments of vulnerability. They’re in their element in El Dizzy Beast, with scenes of bug-juice-chugging and air-guitar-waving giving way to reflections on self-doubt and the loneliness of migration.

Amidst kaleidoscopic projected video design, riotous bursts of rock music, and inventive prop-based gags, Dre has a gently magnetic presence: their unruly punk energy bringing a truly anarchic teenage vibe, while their sensitivity and maturity as a performer holds it all together. You can almost see their antenna shivering as they respond so attentively to us that we remain consistently rapt, as they lurch from one improvised cocoon after another, attempting various evolutions, yet always remaining a caterpillar to the core. El Dizzy Beast is a gorgeous hug from a mighty bug, a triumph of a live performance, and a masterclass in turning an audience into a community.

Anna Piper Scott’s playful irreverence as she greets her audience pre-show perfectly puts us in the mood for a sharply honed stand-up hour, packed with jokes that squeeze laughs from where you’d least expect (eg, in being trans yet idolising Dave Chapelle). She also warns of a “Nanette turn”, preparing us for a Gadsby-inspired segment, where laughter falls silent for a gut-wrenching account of intimate partner abuse.

Such An Inspiration is structured around the limited roles assigned to trans women in stories: punchline, villain, or victim. Anna wrings out each trope, building a clear sense of the smart, gentle personality behind her acerbic humour. Avoiding becoming a punchline herself, she uses wit to take down transphobia; a “trans women in sport” joke is excavated to show her extensive research into gender pay gaps (this knowledge leading to a show-stopping punchline about goat herding). It’s also clear she’s someone who cares about people too much to be a villain; a large portion of the show is affectionately dedicated to her “Chaos Demon” flatmate.

Getting such a strong sense of Anna, the social groups she moves in, and her trust in people she loves, makes the “Nanette” moment truly devastating. However, the spark in her eyes as she closes with the show’s promised happy ending, assures us that sharing her pain is a positive and powerful act of resistance.

Cerys Bradley’s latest stand-up show is “about” divorce: they tell stories of their parents’ breakup, throwing a birthday bash for a child-of-divorce in the audience. Bubbling beneath the divorce/party theme (complete with balloons, cake, and a perfectly-measured undercurrent of mayhem) is the guessing game Cerys plays, as an autistic person navigating farcical neuro-normative social rules.

Turning their overthinking into a participatory party game, Cerys asks us to help gauge if they’re “too mean”, or “not mean enough” in the stories they tell.

Measuring this meanness with a home made, balloon operated “Mean-ometer” is a fantastically DIY stroke of Fringe-budget genius, providing increasing hilarity as the balloon inflates, and a strong conversational bond builds with the crowd. As the party surreally culminates in a deeply existential round of pass-the-parcel, the ridiculousness of inconsistent social expectations are revealed (to the recognition of anyone for whom party-going can feel like playing an impossible game of ever-shifting rules). Self-consciousness falls away, as we’re comfortable to laugh with Cerys, and at ourselves - the glorious result of a meticulously devised comedy show that feels risky and spontaneous enough to frequently take us by surprise, but safe enough to let us unmask and enjoy the ride.

Dual دوگانه could’ve been a straightforward autobiographical tale - of Peyvand’s childhood holiday to Iran as a child, where she was assigned an Iranian passport and new name (Parisa, as Peyvand is a banned name) by a government who didn’t want her to return to London.

However, this show goes beyond the personal ‘story-telling’ structure of many Fringes shows, taking a multi-faceted multi-genre approach that combines puppetry, poetry, animation, drag, and frequently involves the audience, to create a remarkably activating piece of political theatre.

Peyvand’s memories represent one shard of a complex web of narratives, shattered by the countless perspectives we see of it - we quickly realise that we’re looking at so much more than one child’s personal experience; we’re encountering thousands of lives interconnected by macro-political threads.

Her story is so emphatically contextualised on a global stage that by the end it’s clear that, whatever passports we hold, none of us are passive observers of a formative tale belonging just to Peyvand/Parisa. Instead, we’re all potential revolutionaries - incited not just to empathise with a young person stranded in a far away country in the 1990s, but to consider when and how we might rise up against the very system of states that control human freedoms via passports and borders.

Initially a solo show, Kill The Cop Inside Your Head became a two-hander when Subira Joy broke their ankle ahead of Fringe. The addition of their identical twin (Wandia Nduku - a skillful performer in their own right) for the movement sequences, adds extra layers to this poetic and galvanising examination of police violence and cop mentality. Spoken-word artist Subira takes familiar phrases from the cop-script (recognisable to anyone who's been subjected to police questions), and repeats the words in their own voice, illustrating the link between damage done by police forces - especially to Black and trans people - and ways such harm is replicated by anyone thinking/acting like police. Wandia’s presence further extends the theme of duality and reflection, emphasising this connection.

Zip-ties painfully recall physical restraints as the performers battle out of them, but later, they apply the same ties to a table full of papayas. As the flesh oozes from damaged fruit skins, we consider what compels ordinary people to replicate oppressive legal systems.

During Wandia's joyful closing dance of resistance, Subira, seated, smiles warmly and sways in their twins’ rhythm - this show of physical and psychological togetherness becoming an expression of how to challenge oppressive ways of thinking; a living example of unity and mutual support, in opposition to a culture that tells us to aspire to wield power.

2 actors on a grey stage under bright stage lights, one with long dark hair in a long white dress holding a red cup crouching as if to speak to another actor sat on the floor with cropped light blonde hair wearing a colourful floral shirt, a daisy-crown, and heavy black lace-up boots. Another red cup sits beside them. They look tense and worried, making intense eye-contact.
Salty Irina [Alex Brenner]

A coming-of-age thriller about growing into activism, as well as adulthood, sparks fly from the opening seconds of Salty Irina - and in more directions than one, as writer Eve Leigh deftly snakes the plot down several unexpected pathways.

The Roundabout is used to brilliant effect by director Debbie Hannan - the intimacy of the space sweeping us up in the frisson of a burgeoning relationship; then as the air in the tent begins to heat up, and audience looms from our high raked seats, the characters’ position under our constant gaze becomes infused with a sense of impending danger. As they inch closer to the centre of the far-right festival they’ve semi-impulsively infiltrated, caught up in their passion for protecting their community as much as for each other, the young womens’ awareness of being observed is palpable and powerful.

It’s rare (and needed) to see a show that’s not just warning us that fascism is on the rise and compelling us vaguely to “take action”, but taking on an examination of how to fight it. A much more mature play than the youth of its protagonists first hints at, Salty Irina incites deeper consideration of what it means to fight fascism, and how we might sustainably embed activism in our lives and communities.

As their childhood friendship grows and blossoms, Santi & Naz understand little of the political turmoil that looms over their lives in pre-Partition India. But as they mature into young women, it becomes clear that decisions are being made around them, and for them, to divide their village, their families, and their friendship forever.

This is a beautifully-polished production that seems ripe for a national tour to follow in the footsteps of The Thelma’s previous Fringe hit, Ladykiller. Actors Rose-Marie Christian and Karendip Phull both bring whole-hearted performances to the title characters, as they age convincingly from giggling kids immersed in a playful private world that revolves around their own games, to curious and ambitious teenagers becoming excited about a world beyond school-work, and dreaming up passion-filled futures for each other. Throughout it all, they entertain each other (and us) constantly, riffing on hilariously over-blown impersonations of men in power. Their fondness for impressions is a smart device, allowing the actors to send each other into hysterics, solidifying their characters’ bond, whilst providing the audience with an insight into their social, political, and historical context - without event needing to take us out of the girls’ world, or break up the light-hearted tone and pace of the play.

The decision of co-writers Afshan D’Souza Lodhi and Guleraana Mir to focus on the perspectives of two young women in this country on the cusp of division, provokes vital reflection on how their fight - for independence, identity, and each other, mirrors a country/world-wide struggle. Centring their emotionally-driven personal narrative subtly but effectively links the global project of colonialism, its resulting inter/national state-led atrocities and the life-shaping impact of associated political decisions, with personal experiences of gender, sexuality, race, and religion-based oppression still experienced by so many people across the world today.

As you’d expect from a comic whose USP is revelry (so much so, she called her last show Life of the Party) Sikisa’s 2023 hour contains enough fun to give fans of her work what they’ve come hoping for: With a dynamically paced combination of punchline-laden sex party stories, rowdy crowd-banter, top-notch burlesque dancing, and even an emo scream-along moment - this a show offers something for audiences of a full range of different comedic tastes (except perhaps the most straight-laced). It all provides a stunning showcase for Sikisa’s incredible range of performance skills.

Building on and expanding outside of her established party-girl persona, Hear Me Out gives Sikisa more space to tell another side to her story, and explore a more cerebral side to her humour. Touching on the fact that, outside of being a performer, Sikisa also works as a Lawyer, this show looks at her experience of being diagnosed with dyslexia in adulthood, a revelation that gives her pause to reconsider moments when - despite being smart, qualified, and evidently witty - she’s sometimes struggled to find the right words to say exactly what she means.

With personal reflections sprinkled amongst the razzle-dazzle of memorably high energy crowd-pleasing routines, this show offers a thoughtful insight into what means to continue discovering and learning more about yourself, and what it takes for all those contrasting facets to be fully recognised by those around you.

Elisabeth Gunawan opens Unforgettable Girl as a “mail-order bride” from an Amazon box unleashing (in an exaggerated accent) a barrage of jokes mocking perceptions of East Asian women, “assisted” by a man, Kyll Anthony Thomas Cole holding a rope tethered to her waist.

Elisabeth’s bold comic presence elicits jovial laughter, but the sharp end of her buffon skills are revealed when her persona flips into a Lululemon-and-pilates white woman. Asking a majority-white Fringe audience ‘What do you like most about being white?’ provokes knowing nods, but demanding an answer turns chuckles into giggles, and digging into discomfort shifts the atmosphere from convivial to captivated.

Next, Unforgettable Girl peels back to a darker core. Elisabeth contorts in a visceral expression of the violence and control seeded from the beginning of the show. As her male co-performer murmurs into a megaphone (becoming the voice of men who sexualise East Asian women) she uses doll-limbs, unsettling live-filmed projections, and an uncanny mask to simulate objectification and dehumanisation.

As host, Elisabeth calls her show ‘Trash Theatre’ - it’s trash in that the stage is littered with debris, but is stylistically sophisticated, employing comedic, poetic, and grotesque performance to starkly expose deeply-embedded racism and sexism in our society, and lay bare the deadly consequences of “casually” perpetuating stereotypes of Asian women, and commodified standards of whiteness and femininity.

An East Asian woman with long hair wearing heavy makeup with mascara tears running down her face, on her head is a head-band with 6 barbie-doll legs sticking straight up and a headless barbie torso in the middle, making a crown shape
Unforgettable Girl

That’s all for now - thanks so much for reading our Edinburgh Fringe 2023 blogs!

Don’t forget to sign up to join our open meeting, on Tue Sept 12 at 7pm, to think about the role of this festival, envision what could be done differently, and plan for change.

PS. This blog was written by a dyslexic, if you spot a mistake, please email hello@bechdeltheatre so we can correct!


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