Edinburgh festival 2019: the shows we recommend

Morning shows

Summerhall, 10.20am, until 25 August
An exploration of brotherhood through the motif of boxing, Chang Dance Theatre’s show is performed – literally toe-to-toe at times – by three siblings and has the same grace and depth as last year’s Bon 4 Bon. They spiral between stances as their handstands and other childhood poses become more literal boxing bouts, with one of them taking the role of referee: familiar to any sibling who has ever played peacekeeper. At its best, Bout floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. CW
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Assembly Checkpoint, 10.30am, until 26 August
At the fringe with kids? Even without them, this could be the feelgood hit of your summer – a joyous gig for over-fives from a Belgian indie band who prove there’s more to children’s concerts than the Wiggles. Adults can sit back or join in with the mini-moshers encouraged to bust their best moves and squeeze in as much hand-clapping and head-banging as possible. All three guitarists and the drummer take a turn at the mic. The genial group comprises members of Girls in Hawaii, Hallo Kosmo and Italian Boyfriend; they play their own tracks as well as the Beatles, the Clash and Françoise Hardy. Your kids might even learn a little French – not least the meaning of “encore”. CW

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass
Pleasance Courtyard, 10.45am, until 19 August
Les Petits’ musical for the over-threes has a couple of roof-raising, timber-shivering tunes, poop-deck gags and puppetry that’s packed with personality. It’s framed as a school play rehearsal gone wrong and puppet designer Max Humphries and costume-maker Zahra Mansouri have dreamed up some delightful dinosaurs, including a delicate diplodocus and a tyrannosaurus made from oven mitts and a broom. CW
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Poop-deck gags ahoy! … Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Are We Not Drawn Onward to New ErA
Zoo Southside, 11am, until 25 August
Ontroerend Goed’s production is a visual expression of a troubling question. Now we agree that the way to avert climate catastrophe is to wind back the clocks, how much of the environment have we permanently damaged? It begins in a garden of Eden, where a man pulls an apple from a solitary tree and gives it to his companion to eat. There are moments when the show tries the patience, but by the end we are dazzled by the company’s clever conceit and also challenged by the scale of the eco problem ahead. MF
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Summerhall, 11.40am, until 25 August
Adrian Jackson’s gutsy, ferociously acted production jumps back and forth between a sequence of not-quite-verbatim scenes that remind us of the way homelessness has become a bit-part player in the news cycle, as if it is now an acceptable part of everyday life. Bystanders is a memorial to the fallen in the war of attrition taking place on our streets. MF
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Sea Sick
Canada Hub @ Kings Hall, 12.30pm, until 25 August
You thought you had enough on your plate with global heating? Think again. Canadian journalist Alanna Mitchell’s lecture-theatre show is a clarion call about a related, but underexplored phenomenon: the rocketing acidity of the world’s oceans. It’s bad news for sealife – but bad news for us, too, whose every second breath comes from plankton in the sea. Mitchell casts herself as an accidental discoverer of this biggest story of her career, turned dogged pursuer of the truth, as she observes coral spawning, deep dives to the sea bed and investigates all-new undersea dead zones where marine life once teemed. The balance between biography and science is adroitly done, turning terrifying data into a story of a woman wrestling against the weight of the tale she has to tell. She tells it superbly. BL

Afternoon shows

Pleasance Dome, 12pm, until 26 August
Five years ago, Amy Booth-Steel was a jobbing actor when she was diagnosed with stage-three cancer and told she could be “dead by Christmas”. So began a journey through the depths of physical and mental ill-health, which Booth-Steel took to chronicling in musical form when her mum bought her a ukulele. The result is a lovely showcase for Booth-Steel’s warmth and stoical wit. But it trades in cliche, and its narrative ambition extends only as far as sharing “some of the darkest moments of my life”. BL
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F Off
Underbelly Cowgate, 12.50pm, until 25 August
A week is a decade online, as the National Youth Theatre demonstrate in this scatty meditation on social media, politics and data usage. The audience are asked to be the jury in the trial of the people v Mark Zuckerberg; a mum standing to be MP starts working with a conniving tech company while her daughter starts DMing a stranger on Twitter. Tatty Hennessy’s script attacks both ends of the political spectrum and delves smartly into racial politics, hypocrisy and questions of accountability. KW
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Reflective thinking … F Off.

Smart snapshot … F Off. Photograph: Helen Murray

The Accident Did Not Take Place
Pleasance Courtyard, 1pm, until 26 August
Actor Jim has been invited on stage for a pivotal role in a show that uses drama-school exercises to investigate the nature of truth. He hasn’t seen the script before; on another day, it’ll be a different guest. “Tell me what you will look like when you’re old,” he is asked in a blitzkrieg of demands. “Tell me what you look like when you’re relaxed.” In the end, this is not exactly about fake news, but something to do with the uncertainty of truth in a mediated world and the unknowability of people when all you have to go on are appearances. It’s lively, exploratory and done in good humour, but could be more explicit about the connection to our post-truth world. MF
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Life is No Laughing Matter
Summerhall, 1pm, until 18 August
Semi Nandhra’s show focuses on her experience of depression and the inadequate care she was offered when she sought help. One doctor prescribes exercise and bananas; another suggests that Nandhra might feel better if she got married. For all its deceptive lightness, Life Is No Laughing Matter is making a serious and necessary intervention. As Nandhra stresses in a rage-fuelled closing monologue, depression won’t be solved through stories of recovery, expensive “wellness” products or inspirational hashtags. CL
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Beach Body Ready
Pleasance Courtyard, 1.10pm, until 26 August
This won’t all be cheesy inspirational mottos and #bodypositivity, warn performers Rachael Abbey, Jess Morley and Sarah Penney. Beach Body Ready is a show about finding joy in your body, but it’s also honest about all the forces eroding that joy, from women’s magazines to Instagram filters. It’s less about labels such as “fat” or “skinny” and more about the myriad ways in which society polices women’s bodies and saps their energy. By unapologetically taking up space with their bodies and their experiences, the performers refuse to be shamed into silence. CL
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Unapologetic … Beach Body Ready.

Unapologetic … Beach Body Ready. Photograph: T Arran Photo/Alex Brook

Assembly Roxy, 1.20pm, until 25 August
Breffni Holahan gives a searing performance as Essie in Margaret Perry’s corrosive play about a woman’s disintegration. Essie is trapped atop a stone plinth dusted in dirt. Gigantic spikes of rock splinter the air around her. Her feet dangle. Having lost her job and broken up with her girlfriend, she is in every way ungrounded. This is where Perry’s play is rooted: in the queasy gap between her feet and the floor. Perry’s writing is as sharp as the rocky spikes, exact in its disdain for the ways the modern world overwhelms. KW
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For All I Care
Summerhall, 1.30pm, until 25 August
The spirit of Nye Bevan floats over Alan Harris’s monologue for National Theatre Wales. The architect of the NHS is there in the historic leaflet Hannah Daniel’s Nyri finds among her late mother’s belongings, promising medical care free at the point of use for the first time. And he’s there in the uncritical attention the doctors give to the same actor’s Clara, a vulnerable young woman who has set herself on fire during a shoplifting expedition. The script is limited in its political range. But, in Jac Ifan Moore’s clean, spare production, Daniel is bright, lucid and engaging, bringing life to Harris’s vivid script. MF
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Art Heist
Underbelly, 1.55pm, until 25 August
Art Heist looks like a slight but entertaining crime caper. Borrowing playfully from films such as Mission: Impossible, its opening minutes present us with three would-be art thieves, each on a quest to steal the same famous painting. One is a slick professional robber; another is an art heist aficionado who’s been waiting his whole life for this moment; the third has fallen desperately in love with the artwork in question. Immediately, the comic possibilities are ample. But beneath its often hilarious gags and comic chaos the show worries away at questions of value, meaning and expression. CL
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Broad brushstrokes … Art Heist.

Broad brushstrokes … Art Heist. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Like Animals
Summerhall, 2.15pm, until 25 August
At a moment when we urgently need to reassess our relationship with the natural world, an exploration of human-animal connections feels timely. Kim Donohoe and Pete Lannon’s sweet two-hander blurs the usually sharp division between human and not-human, while posing the question of how much we can ever really know another being. What makes us think we are entitled to rule over animals yet also communicate with them like friends? CL

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3pm, until 26 August
Sheila Atim might have stumbled on a new radio format. It’s like Desert Island Discs but instead of playing records the guests pick up an acoustic guitar and sing their favourite songs. That’s the idea behind this fictional broadcast in which a virologist interviews fellow women in science, showcasing their achievements so it isn’t always men who get the attention. Her first guest, in a time-bending conceit, is Cleopatra, who turns out to be no mean singer-songwriter. They engage in a smart-talking debate about misrepresentation and making themselves heard – and why, if they’re so confident in their abilities, they keep going on about the men. MF
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Smart debate … Anguis.

Smart debate … Anguis. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

All of Me
Summerhall, 3.10pm, until 25 August
Nothing about depression – the subject of Caroline Horton’s show – is comfortable or crowd-pleasing. All of Me used to be one kind of show about depression. But during the making of this show, Horton became ill again. So now All of Me is unashamedly bleak, resisting the redemptive narrative arc that is so often expected from plays about mental health. It’s messy. It could hardly be otherwise. And, perhaps more surprisingly, it’s beautiful. So much about depression is ugly or simply blank, but Horton is able to find a strange sort of magnificence in the darkness. CL
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George Fouracres
Pleasance Courtyard, 3.30pm, until 25 August
This is an autobiographical set about Fouracres’ upbringing in the post-industrial Black Country, a hymn to a world he thinks is disappearing, a rumination on class identity and social mobility – and a distinctive maiden solo show. Fouracres emerges as much pen-portraitist as either actor or standup. Proceedings only occasionally shade into working-class cliche – and, when your grandad is both a brickie and pigeon fancier, how can you avoid it? It’s a tender-hearted paean to The Way We Lived Then, with jokes that are by turns joyous, barbed and unresolved. BL
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If You’re Feeling Sinister
Gilded Balloon, 3.45pm, until 26 August
Eve Nichol’s eccentric play with songs is somewhere between Willy Russell’s Educating Rita and David Greig’s Midsummer: her central characters, Kid and Boss, have a pupil-teacher relationship that’s uncommonly intense, even as it falls short of romantic. The whole play is troubled by the fuzzy limits of their affair. Alan McHugh and Sarah Swire play punchily across the generation divide, singing the songs sweetly and proving themselves accomplished stars. MF
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Disarming drama … If You’re Feeling Sinister.

Disarming drama … If You’re Feeling Sinister. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Assembly Roxy, 4.05pm, until 25 August
In a lecture-style monologue, working-class artist Scottee adopts an abrasive tone as he schools his predominantly middle-class audience, demanding we scrutinise our attitudes towards the postcode lottery of class. While some of the dramatic techniques he uses are trite – leaving moody, puppy-eyed pauses for the sad bits to sink in and wheeling a mirror on to ask us to check our privilege – his berating monologue on the cultural capital of misery is a topic that needs more space on stage. Class knots inside you and makes you feel like crap for an hour. KW
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Lola and Jo
Assembly George Square, 4.15pm, until 25 August
“93% of people would rather go to an escape room than see any kind of sketch comedy,” say Jackie and Leslie, facilitators of this hour-long escape room experience. Comedians Lola Stephenson and Jo Griffin have gone awol. Might the sketch scripts they left in their wake indicate their whereabouts? Solve the mystery, we’re told, and we can leave the room. It’s a playful conceit, even if the sketches in question (posh sisters win a literary prize; wannabe tenants interview – OK, beg – for a flatshare) don’t meaningfully contribute to it. It might be stronger still if Lola and Jo’s bickering – forever breaching their Leslie and Jackie disguises – had the slightest emotional significance. But it’s good fun, and delivered with a likable twinkle by the not-so-disappeared duo. BL

First Time
Summerhall, 4.15pm, until 25 August
Nathaniel Hall is a Mancunian writer and performer in his early 30s with an easy wit and charm. The story he’s telling, however, couldn’t be heavier – aged 17, he was infected with HIV by an older boyfriend the first time he had sex. Hall tells the story of how he struggled out from under the stigma still imposed on people with HIV, and gives a gentle – and funny – sex education lesson on the way. It’s a real tribute to Hall that this story is told without self-pity, but this is a show that packs an emotional punch that resonates even after you’ve left the theatre. AN

The Incident Room
Pleasance Courtyard, 4.30pm, until 26 August
Olivia Hirst and David Byrne’s play retells the Yorkshire Ripper story, turning away from the killer and examining his would-be captors by focusing on the much-criticised investigation by West Yorkshire police. Set in the titular room, the nerve centre of the hunt for an elusive murderer, it follows the long and frustrating search for clues that are far from forthcoming. CL
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Ripping yarn … The Incident Room.

Ripping yarn … The Incident Room. Photograph: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

Pleasance Courtyard, 4.30pm, until 25 August
Audiences may get more than they bargained for with Typical. First, it’s intense and ultimately heartbreaking; second, it’s performed by an uncredited Richard Blackwood – yes, that one. His hair now flecked with grey, Blackwood has lost none of his charisma, and his depiction of a black British former soldier struggling to find his place in ordinary life has subtlety and power. Typical is based on the real-life case of black ex-serviceman Christopher Alder. Blackwood and writer Ryan Calais Cameron carefully trace a day that, like a Greek tragedy, moves inexorably from hope to disaster, with hard questions to ask about institutional British racism. AN

The Last of the Pelican Daughters
Pleasance Courtyard, 4.40pm, until 25 August
There’s lots to love about this show from the Wardrobe Ensemble, creators of Education, Education, Education. It’s in the way the four sisters (surname Pelican) represent their late mother in identical red dresses and take turns to maintain her haunting presence. It’s in the bursts of unexpected choreography to the beat of Grace Jones and in the fluid company spirit. It veers from one polished and fizzy scene to the next, delighting with a dance, a comedic exchange or an inventive twist, but never quite declares its purpose. MF
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The Chosen
Dance Base, 5pm, until 25 August
The weighty issue of mortality informs Kally Lloyd-Jones’s latest work. An hour-long piece with six dancers in everyday clothes and trainers, it earnestly attempts to confront the incomprehensible certainty of non-existence. Dance is so often about youth, but Lloyd-Jones offers some thought-provokingly mature alternatives. In one particularly effective sequence, a single dancer prepares, with jittery intensity, for a series of balances and turns, each time crashing to the floor. It evokes not only the brevity of a dancer’s onstage life, but also something broader about futility, achievement and carrying on regardless. AW
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Emotional clout … The Chosen.

Emotional clout … The Chosen. Photograph: Nadine Boyd

Daniel Kitson
Stand Comedy Club, 5pm, until 25 August
He makes his entrance singing “I haven’t thought about this show at all”, and delivers an hour of non sequiturs, half-formed thoughts and quarter-baked routines. It’s funny – when is he not? – even as it made me pine for a good old-fashioned Kitson standup show, for a difference split between his two modes of over-involved and under-rehearsed. Who knows when – or whether – we’ll get it? But it’s a pleasure to be entertained by a brand of humour that – in the subjects it addresses; in the quality of Kitson’s thought – is unlike anyone else’s. BL
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Four Woke Baes
Underbelly Cowgate, 5.05pm, until 25 August
With three friends, Des is toasting his imminent marriage. Enter Emma: a gorgeous, intellectual writer on sex and free love, camping alone in the woods and now obliged to share riverside space with Des and his bros. She’s a spur to debate – about the compromises we make in monogamous partnerships; about the relationship between love and sex. Her radical honesty picks apart the little lies that bind their band together. Moment to moment, Teddy Bergman’s production is a pleasure to watch, powering up a palpable sexual and ideological charge. BL
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Roundabout @ Summerhall, 5.05pm, until 25 August
Planting saplings has been proposed as part of a DIY solution to the climate crisis, for those of us who can’t approve legislation. So what direct action can be taken when councils lop down precious trees? That’s one of the questions posed by this eco-musical of small scale but with moments of mighty power. It’s colourful in its approach to complex material, asking how theatre can play a role in sustainability. And, in a show fizzing with youth, one other question stands out: if 16-year-olds can legally become company directors and have sex, why on earth can’t they vote? CW
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Mighty power … Parakeet

Mighty power … Parakeet Photograph: Jane Hobson

Underbelly Cowgate, 5.30pm, until 25 August
The Edinburgh fringe is good at bringing forth harrowing personal stories, moving testimonies of overcoming obstacles, surviving illness, abuse and addiction. Safe to say, the list of harrowing subject matter doesn’t usually include growing up as the youngest of five siblings in a comfortable middle-class home. That one of those siblings is Chris Martin of Coldplay might add to the intrigue but little alters the stakes. The show’s saving grace is its considerable charm. Wren is an easy actor to like and she makes you feel her minor-league demon is worth wrestling with. Taking the advice to write what you know, she tells her not-really-showbiz story of childhood pantos and movie bit parts as a way of coming to terms with herself. MF
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Janine Harouni
Pleasance Courtyard, 5.45pm, until 25 August
The Lebanese-American comic’s dilemma is that her dad voted for Donald Trump. Her show sets out to resolve it. By the end of a set conspicuously constructed for emotional catharsis, she’s done so – even if it requires a sleight of hand you barely notice till you’re halfway home. Harouni pulls off with supreme smoothness and control an autobiographical hour on her Staten Island upbringing and on the road accident that almost paralysed her for life. BL
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Daddy Drag
Summerhall, 5.45pm, until 25 August
Dressed in drag as a bearded, beer-bellied father, Leyla Josephine dad-raps and teases audience members. This everydad is silly, laddish and affectionate, a manchild who’s used to being the “fun” parent, free of responsibilities – the manifestation of society’s expectations of fatherhood. As the show goes on, it becomes clear that this both is and isn’t Josephine’s own, larger-than-life father. Because stereotypes can’t contain a person. Gradually, uncomfortable facts spill out and erode the crumbling facade of the character Josephine has created. The costume is dismantled as the truth starts to emerge. CL
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Evening shows

Who Cares
Summerhall, 6.20pm, until 25 August
Brutal but beautifully done, this emotionally raw and theatrically slick verbatim play lays blame on austerity for the agony and overwhelming loneliness young carers are exposed to. It is heartbreaking at every turn. Detailing how easy it is for young carers to slip through the net, Who Cares paints a picture of our government going round with scissors and cutting bigger gaps for them to fall through. Young carers deserve attention, money and recognition. Supporting this humane tear-jerker of a play is a start. KW
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Austere brilliance … Who Cares

Austere brilliance … Who Cares. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Assembly Roxy, 6.35pm, until 25 August
In Charlotte Josephine’s play, the real drama lives and breathes in what’s not said. Josephine and director Ali Pidsley are unafraid of silence, painting as much with pauses as with words and shaking off the baggage of familiar, sensational depictions of what addiction does to families. Josephine refuses to even voice the word “addiction” – the slowly accreting power of this suffocating silence and repetition feels more truthful than the sobbing and hair-tearing more common to portraits of substance abuse. Tiny twitches, glances and strained smiles say more about their relationship than any volume of words could. CL
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Toyko Rose
Underbelly, 6.55pm, until 25 August
While it would be overselling this show to call it Hamilton meets Angels in America, it has the hip-hop firepower of the former and, like the latter, it explores the state’s injustice to its outsiders – especially when they’re accused of treason. Performed by an all-female cast, Tokyo Rose tells the story of Iva d’Aquino, a Japanese American woman charged with broadcasting propaganda during world war two in order to demoralise Allied troops. With smart retro visuals and songs that snap like a GI’s chewing gum, this tells a complex story with admirable economy and shines a light on a particularly murky corner of American history. AN

Kai Samra
Pleasance Courtyard, 7pm, until 25 August
How do you prosper in a world rigged against you from the start? Those are the themes of this autobiographical hour, which conjures with race and class as it recounts Samra’s West Midlands upbringing with his brother and single mum. In the telling, there’s nothing grim about this: Samra wears his social commentary lightly in an arresting debut show that takes him to thoughtful conclusions about how he fits in, about comedy, revolution and self-acceptance. BL
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Sophie Duker
Pleasance Courtyard, 7pm, until 24 August
Duker is a fast-rising standup who runs the Wacky Racists club night, and her full fringe debut is adroitly pitched somewhere between autobiographical calling-card and show with a big-hitting theme. We meet the pansexual comic with daddy issues and a lack of brown-skinned role models. And we learn how black people are used as props in white narratives – not least, the 19th-century freakshow celebrity and so-called “Hottentot Venus”, Sara Baartman, who gives the show its title. It’s a confident and likable hour. BL
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Adroitly pitched … Sophie Duker.

Adroitly pitched … Sophie Duker.

Jack Rooke
Assembly George Square Gardens, 7.30pm, until 24 August
Set to a live harp, Love Letters places platonic love up high alongside the romantic kind. Rooke is an epically intimate storyteller; even if we don’t have long, it is a pleasure to spend time with him. Though tinged with sadness and shame, Love Letters is a buoyant comedy about pleasure. With dangling fairy lights and falling roses, the comedian and self-confessed “recovering spoken-word artist” gives friendships and sibling relationships the romantic treatment that is usually reserved for sexual ones. KW
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The Wild Unfeeling World
Pleasance Courtyard, 7.30pm, until 25 August
A bite-sized, one-woman version of Moby-Dick, told in part with animal figurines? All it would need to be a bigger fringe cliche is a few musical numbers. But this buoyant solo show, reimagining Melville’s epic as a young woman’s nocturnal journey from Hounslow to the South Bank, isn’t as twee as it sounds – even if Ahab has become a three-legged ginger cat. The story’s real quest is not for the great white whale but for joy and calm in a chaotic world. It comes with a full-hearted performance from our host – call her not Ishmael but Casey Jane Andrews. She bewitches an audience of 20, huddled around lantern-like lights, in a performance that will sweep you away. CW

John Robins
Pleasance Courtyard, 7.30pm, until 25 August
Robins’ fall-guy shtick mustn’t obscure that he is a top dog at standup. Hot Shame is the title of a book he displays stage right, mordant readings from which punctuate the hour. Each story details a mortifying incident in our host’s life – such as the time he cancelled a gig because he was addicted to online golf, or when, aged 15, he mistook flirting for saying the word “knickers” over and over. It is a masterclass in tempo, tone and character, as apoplexy ebbs to stunned disbelief, before terminating in Robins’ wordless horror at how badly he’s failed at home improvement. Another winning show from a man who can’t stop losing for our entertainment. BL
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Standup fall-guy … John Robins.

Standup fall-guy … John Robins. Photograph: Rachel King

Zoë Coombs Marr
Monkey Barrel Comedy, 7.30pm, until 25 August
No gimmicks, promises the absurdo-feminist comic at the start of Bossy Bottom, her first standup show as “herself” for seven years. Suffice to say, the embargo lasts about a minute and a half, in a show that delights in upending expectations and scrambling modes of comedic presentation. It’s an enjoyably dizzying experience, with strong material on her queer feminism – her confusion at the connection straight people make between sex and babies, her inability to tell white men apart. It’s pleasingly outrageous stuff, delivered with the kind of stare that says: I’m just kidding – or am I? BL
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Lucy McCormick
Pleasance Courtyard, 8pm, until 25 August
Utterly indelicate and completely unpredictable, Post Popular is a wild ride. Lucy McCormick’s ludicrous performance-lecture-cum-cabaret-cum-rage-room is built with so many layers of irony and mockery that its core would be rotten by the time you dug down to it. If only more history lessons were like this. This singalong search for a hero is a sabre-toothed comedy about women’s place in the limelight. Armed with acerbic wit, an extraordinary poker face and a bag of interval snacks, she takes us through a highly participatory alternative history of the greatest hits of womankind. KW
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London Hughes
Pleasance Courtyard, 8.15pm, until 25 August
London Hughes is a force of nature, a rampaging ego with the personality to fill the Pleasance Attic several times over. So why is she still single? That’s the question posed by this raucous 30-year-old’s sexual and romantic history. One man in the audience is grilled about his sex life and obliged to mime oral sex on stage. Hughes’ show rejoices in flouting whatever proprieties are left around female sexuality. This is a woman who loves sex, loves glamour, loves herself and wants the world to know it. If this roof-raising performance is anything to go by, they soon will. BL
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Huge Davies
Pleasance Courtyard, 8.15pm, until 25 August
The brand of musical comedy – where the music rather than the lyrics supplies the funny – recalls Bill Bailey. The delivery is more Jack Dee. The comedian is Huge Davies, strapped to a floating keyboard, delivering deadpan jokes about Daft Punk and the way the movies soundtrack gladiators’ deaths. It’s very funny. Davies bosses us about schoolmaster-style, takes apart the lyrics to Busted songs and fails to perform his autobiographical musical about child abduction in a carpark. One or two gags are over-explained, and it gets a bit scrappy towards the end. But it’s an arresting debut from this offbeat authoritarian. BL

Josie Long
Stand Comedy Club, 8.20pm, until 25 August
Long’s new show Tender does make you realise how seldom pregnancy and childbirth are given this attention on the comedy stage. She takes us through the ride from choosing a name to applying for “Baby on board” badges to her improbable analogy for the pain of contractions: childbirth is “like a cross between MDMA … and death”. In the closing stages she weighs up how to be hopeful for your kids at a time of climate crisis. For a show made under the shadow of the apocalypse, it is full of love and defiant joy. BL
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Defiant joy … Josie Long.

Defiant joy … Josie Long. Photograph: Nick Wright/Rex/Shutterstock

Camille O’Sullivan Sings Cave
Pleasance Courtyard, 9.15pm, until 25 August
“I don’t like him either,” Camille O’Sullivan whispers to the front row in mock horror. She has just wrapped up a raucous run through Stagger Lee, alternately tickled and thrilled by our hero’s bloodthirsty odyssey. O’Sullivan may not like Lee but she loves Nick Cave and the prospect of a whole covers show will delight anyone who has ever been sent back into the night singing her set-closing version of The Ship Song. Here, she delivers an eerily weary Mercy Seat, loosens up the macabre Red Right Hand and makes even the most fleeting characters in his tales come alive. The result is an evening that veers from lullaby to prayer to howl, with O’Sullivan’s voice as breathtaking as ever, like a star exploding in the sky. CW

Simon Brodkin
Pleasance Courtyard, 9.30pm, until 24 August
This is a big gig for Simon Brodkin, his first as “himself” rather than as cockney cheeky chappy Lee Nelson. We get a behind-the-scenes look at the occasion of his bombarding Donald Trump with Nazi golf balls. But the most striking section addresses Brodkin’s Judaism, and the history – and revival – of antisemitism. It’s done with a light touch but he doesn’t soft-soap his hurt at the Labour party’s current travails, nor the difficulty of explaining anti-Jewish hatred to his children. BL
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Assembly Rooms, 9.40pm, until 24 August
Frances Barber stars as a fictional pop icon Billie Trix in this one-woman spinoff from the 2001 musical Closer to Heaven. As she says herself, she’s a “zeitgeist for sore eyes” and, just as she captured the disco market with the Sister Sledge-like pulse of Ich Bin Music, so she caught the eye of the YBA scene when she hung out with Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin in the 90s. She has been courted by everyone from Dalí to Trump, and no less a figure than Jean-Paul Sartre called her pretentious. Time and again, she has proved the naysayers wrong and has had the power not only to reinvent herself, but to bring peace where there is conflict. We laugh – a lot – in support of her resilience. MF
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Outrageous songstress … Frances Barber in Musik. Photograph: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

Courtney Pauroso
Underbelly Cowgate, 9.40pm, until 25 August
This is a show you won’t easily forget, particularly if you’re selected as her stooge. Gutterplum introduces us to Dale Ravioli, a gawky tomboy showing us what she can do with an exercise ball. A punter is summoned to join in – and thus begins an hour-long/lifelong relationship leading us from smouldering sex, via loneliness and the rekindling of love, all the way to old age and death. Whether she’s doing sexy pushups, miming a drive to the abortion clinic, or playing air guitar on a pubic wig – it never stops being ridiculous. BL
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Jamie Loftus
Pleasance Courtyard, 10.45pm, until 26 August
Is it feminist to demand more women in corporate leadership roles? Not necessarily, as many a reader of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In concluded – US comic Jamie Loftus among them. Loftus’s late-night show Boss, Whom Is Girl sends up feminism a la Sandberg, which invites women to beat macho male fat cats at their own game. She presents herself as Shell Gasoline-Sandwich, founder of surveillance tech firm Pee-Pee Smarthomes. This seminar for wannabe “girl bosses” – subject to the gradual subversion of Shell’s digi-slave Patricia – is in need of direction but winningly oddball, and enjoyably alert to the limits of empowerment Silicon Valley-style. BL

Catherine Cohen
Pleasance Courtyard, 10.45pm, until 24 August
Cohen’s personality hits you like a hurricane as she burlesques the tension between the carefully curated wonderfulness demanded of her tribe, and the rampant anxiety it strives to conceal. The songs are the anchor, and they crackle with attitude. Scansion and rhyme are secondary: Cohen’s lyrical scheme is never too strict for a self-adoring aside or stream-of-consciousness tirade. It helps that her voice is a terrific musical – and comic – instrument, her words dilating at will into nonsense vocal stylings. A sense of silly is high in the mix. BL
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Tricky Second Album
Pleasance Dome, 11pm, until 18 August
At once a love letter and a massive screw-you to theatre, this punk-rock manifesto is not a play for the faint of heart. KLF’s infamous stunt of burning a million pounds is used as a springboard for a ferocious takedown of our capitalist consumer culture where the elite, with money to burn, set the rules of engagement. Though the theatre-makers’ anger ricochets deeper into our society, their specific target is the Edinburgh fringe, of which their show is a part, and its exorbitant cost for performers. There is a terrifying, electric sense that anything could happen next. KW
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Friendly fire … Tricky Second Album

Friendly fire … Tricky Second Album. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Times vary

Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran
Traverse, until 25 August
The sensation of racing a high-performance car along a swanky boulevard in Tehran is surely akin to watching this hi-tech, high-octane production by Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley. With our phones open on Instagram as well as seeing images projected on stage, we’re subjected to a fact-laden, multimedia collage – all hashtags, live feeds and rapid scrolling – almost overwhelming in its detail. MF
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Dazzling … Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran.

Dazzling … Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. Photograph: Peter Dibdin

Traverse, until 25 August
Stef Smith’s latest play depicts a world trembling on the brink of change, but suggests women are ready to cast off their competitive singularity to become a collective force. It is one of those plays where patterned, poetic writing takes precedence over actual drama. Smith’s two characters are female flight attendants. Often seen as stock farcical properties in plays like Boeing-Boeing, here they are long-term friends who offer soothing reassurance in the air but whose lives on the ground are unravelling. MB
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Crocodile Fever
Traverse, until 25 August
You’ve seen plays set during the Troubles before, and this one, set over one night in a Catholic home in rural South Armagh, might easily have turned out to be just another domestic drama about life on the sectarian divide. Everything is in place: the devout sister, the returning gun runner, the paras on standby to raid any house on the slightest pretext. But where those pressures would normally produce a fraught drama with tragic leanings, here they lead to an explosive comedy. The actor turned playwright co-opts Tarantinoesque violence and magical-realist fantasy for ferociously feminist ends. MF
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Tarantinoesque feminism … Crocodile Fever.

Tarantinoesque feminism … Crocodile Fever. Photograph: Lara Cappelli

How Not to Drown
Traverse, until 25 August
Dritan Kastrati has an extraordinary story to tell. As an 11-year-old Kosovan-Albanian refugee, he was entrusted by his father to people smugglers to make his way by boat, train and lorry across Europe. We know he survived because he and Nicola McCartney have fashioned a play out of his story in which he appears. But, while the piece is partly an adolescent adventure story, it also explores the dilemma of what it is like to be caught between two cultures, countries and languages. MB
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Traverse, until 25 August
Behind Travis Alabanza is a container full of cardboard boxes, each lined with pink tape. In front of them, a box to put a burger in. “Do you feel boxed in?” they ask. By the end of this humane and heart-rending show, they will have forced their way through the roof of the container – literally thinking outside the box. The impetus for the show was an incident in 2016 when an unknown assailant threw a burger at them in a transphobic attack. Much of it is very funny, but the angry and intelligent script is also underscored with the real pain of exclusion, of being trapped in a world where sexual and racial violence is prevalent and tolerated. MF
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Baby Reindeer
Summerhall, until 25 August
Richard Gadd’s solo theatre debut recounts his horrifying experiences with a stalker. We never see Martha but we hear her voicemail messages and her emails scroll across the venue’s ceiling and we’re played testimonies from the saga’s collaterally damaged: Gadd’s parents, partner, landlady. What elevates the story is Gadd’s initial complicity in the abuse. H presents himself as a disturbed soul, finding strange solace in Martha’s attraction to him. A haunted, haunting hour. BL
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Ahir Shah
Monkey Barrel Comedy, until 25 August
The ardent polemicist of Shah’s early work gives way to a more conflicted thinker, but the emphatic tones remain. He drifts towards his ancestral Hinduism, saying myths are more consoling than facts and “belief helps” in his battle against depression. If that doesn’t sound like a truckload of laughs, he finds both humour and poetry in his existential angst. There are no pat conclusions but there’s a real ring of truth and hard-won humour in this portrait of an overthinker marooned between youth and adulthood, materialism and faith, between distant dying suns and holes in the floor of heaven. BL
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Humour and poetry … Ahir Shah.

Humour and poetry … Ahir Shah.

Your home, Edinburgh, until 25 August
When the show stars a five-month-old boy, as it does in Daniel Bye’s riveting two-hander, there is no predicting how all the sleeping, feeding and playing will pan out. Arthur has the added variant of being staged in your living room; performances are by request via the number in the fringe programme. Bye’s theme is nature versus nurture and the way the exact same set of genes can produce very different looking plants, animals and human beings, according to the tiniest environmental variant. They build a funny and thoughtful show about the qualities we inherit and bequeath, the psychological effect we have on our children and the advantage such factors as class, health and wealth bestow. MF
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Summerhall, until 25 August
The title of Charley Miles’s play is somewhat misleading. Yes, its two female characters are each struggling with how best to be a daughter to their deteriorating father, but really Daughterhood is about what it means to be a sister. Miles sharply observes the complex, envy-laced relationship between siblings to forge a slender, tightly focused play whose nonlinear structure cleverly serves the material. Details are revealed at precisely the right moment, uncovering the reasons for long-buried resentment or flipping earlier assumptions on their heads. CL
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Until the Flood
Traverse, until 25 August
Dael Orlandersmith uses the 2014 shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer as the catalyst for Until the Flood, which digs into the aftermath of the shooting and unearths ugly truths about race in the United States. The play is based on interviews with people in St Louis, but Orlandersmith has turned these real people into fictionalised composites. She transforms into her characters one by one and we get a glimpse of these people’s lives, their struggles and dreams. CL
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‘A collection of folk jokes’ … Roots

‘A collection of folk jokes’ … Roots Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Church Hill theatre, until 25 August
Drawn from the Aarne index, an archive of traditional tales in the British library, Roots bills itself as a “collection of folk jokes”. There’s the one about the cat that won’t stop eating, the morality tale of the man who shares a house with Poverty, and the fable about an ogre who challenges a town to a laughing contest. Although unfamiliar, they have the recognisable tone of the fairy stories we grew up with. Lillian Henley’s live score is performed on an oddball assortment of fiddles, saws and bass guitars, while Paul Barritt’s animations allude to everything from children’s picture books to 50s French fashion and 60s psychedelia. MF
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The Patient Gloria
Traverse, until 25 August
If you search online for Three Approaches to Psychotherapy, you’ll find a set of 1965 recordings in which a patient, Gloria Szymanski, goes through sessions with three psychotherapists. By rights, you shouldn’t be able to see them at all: the single mother was reportedly taken aback when they wound up in cinemas and even on television. For playwright Gina Moxley, the casual exploitation of a woman’s private life is symptomatic of a society in which women exist to be framed, examined and exploited. She cross-dresses as the three psychotherapists, presenting them as smug egotists taking voyeuristic pleasure in their subject’s revelations. MF
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