The best shows at the Edinburgh festival 2018


Woogie Boogie

Summerhall, 10am, until 26 August

A delight in doodling is at the heart of this inventive escapade for the over-threes from Korean company Brush Theatre. Our mischievous hosts, Youngkyun Yeom and Seungeun Lee, are wearing matching costumes – white T-shirts, black trousers and braces – and armed with marker pens and big imaginations. First, the duo invite us to sketch pictures of them on mini whiteboards, then they draw our portraits and we become characters in their show. Before long, they are animating their scribbles and smudges on a huge screen to create a nautical adventure. There’s a twinkle in both performances and in the jaunty keyboard accompaniment, too. CW

Fallen Fruit

Summerhall, 11.25am, until 26 August

Writer and performer Katherina Radeva lives between two places: the Bulgaria of her birth and the Britain she has called home for years. In Fallen Fruit, she journeys back there and then to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, in the dying days of communist power. The show weaves together Radeva’s childhood recollections of 1989 with her parents’ memories, the story of two family friends and the complex upheavals that rippled through the continent that year. CL
Read the full three-star review

Complex upheavals … Katherina Radeva in Fallen Fruit. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

Kika’s Birthday

Pleasance Courtyard, 11.30am, until 13 August

A kids’ show that captures the magic of cookery with cracking eggs, a shower of flour through a sieve and the irresistible smell of a cake baked on stage. This tale of mice planning a birthday celebration under the nose of a watchful cat is framed by the storyteller’s own preparations for her daughter’s 16th, and her memories of family birthdays give the show a lovely, wistful air. Danyah Miller quickly establishes a rapport with the young audience, inviting plenty of participation. If the puppets by Little Angel don’t have the wow factor of some of their other creations, they are appealing in their ingenuity, not least the colander cat. CW

After the Cuts

Summerhall, 12pm, until 26 August

The future Gary McNair imagines is a raggedy one, worn down and patched up with dodgy stitches. In 2042, when the NHS has long been dismantled and patients are charged for doctor’s appointments by the minute, most people can’t afford medical treatment. With sad warmth and dark humour, After the Cuts tests how far we’d go to save the person we love, anaesthetic or no anaesthetic. KW
Read the full four-star review


Assembly George Square Gardens, 12pm, until 26 August

Ever left kids alone to clean up their room and returned to find it twice as untidy? That’s the setup for the Australian company Hoopla Clique’s raucous circus show in the Piccolo tent. Two brothers – one shock-haired, the other floppy-fringed – are ordered to put away their toys, but within five minutes they’re hurling balls at each other, breaking out backflips and wielding homemade weaponry that sends toilet paper streaming every which way. Derek Llewellin and Julian Roberts’ sense of fun is infectious and their high-energy pranks thrill – and occasionally appal – the young audience. The result is a mess that, mercifully, you can leave someone else to tidy up. CW

Valentijn Dhaenens in Unsung.

Sharp … Valentijn Dhaenens in Unsung. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian


Summerhall, 12pm, until 26 August

The sharp-suited Valentijn Dhaenens cuts a convincing figure as a slippery, ambitious politician. The show opens with a speech bloated with metaphors and empty of content. It’s familiar stuff, eliciting wry laughs from the audience. Later, we see him talking strategy, giving statements to the media, making video calls to the family he barely sees, and sending regular, occasionally explicit missives to his lover. It recalls his performance in Ontroerend Goed’s Fight Night, another show about how we vote for the who rather than the what. CL
Read the full three-star review


Stoel (Chair)

Zoo Southside, 1pm, until 14 August

Fifteen junkshop chairs enter the stage: half are pushed on in a rickety procession by one dancer, the others are piled high and given an unwieldy piggyback by her partner. They are precisely placed around the space, creating an obstacle course for the duo, who discover unexpected worlds of play with these props. There’s plenty of mischief and gentle humour in this sophisticated show for the over-threes from Belgium’s Compagnie Nyash, choreographed by Caroline Cornélis and deftly danced by Miko Shimura and Colin Jolet. A sophisticated, spellbinding show for children that deserves to be seen by all ages. CW
Read the full four-star review


Summerhall, 2pm, until 12 August

Duckie, Le Gateau Chocolat.

First family show … Le Gateau Chocolat in Duckie. Photograph: Manuel Vason

Such is cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat’s following, there are plenty of child-free audience members to see him hatch his first family show. Whether they’re taken from Willy Wonka, The Lion King or the Pussycat Dolls, the songs he has chosen to cover – as in his grownup set, Icons – feel both personal and universal as they celebrate fun, fantasy and pride. Riffing on Hans Christian Andersen, this is the tale of a duckling who doesn’t quack and kick in quite the right style for a feathery circus troupe. There is some sparkle here, and a sprinkling of audience participation, but the show isn’t afraid of darkness – not least in its lugubriously lit and exquisitely designed set. You’re left savouring not just the singer’s voice – warm and deep enough to bathe in – but also the elegant drawl of Tommy Bradson’s narration. CW

Harry and Chris Save the World

Mash House, 2.25pm, until 25 August

Joke that you’re “the nation’s favourite comedy rap-jazz duo” and you’re bound to recall “New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk parody act” – as if it weren’t hard enough already for musical comedy duos to escape Flight of the Conchords’ shadow. But Harry Baker and Chris Read have made waves over the last year (Radio 2 appearances; guest slots on Russell Howard’s show on Sky) with their brand of peppy comic song. Provided you put Conchords comparisons to the back of your mind, their latest fringe offering makes for a pleasantly diverting hour. BL
Read the full three-star review

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True

Underbelly, 2.50pm, until 26 August

By rights, a verbatim report of a 17th-century court case should be no more compelling than one that happened last week. Yet the reverse is true in Breach Theatre’s tremendous three-hander evoking the 1612 trial of Agostino Tassi, who was accused of rape by Artemisia Gentileschi, a gifted baroque painter, who was 15 at the time of the alleged attack. MF
Read the full four-star review

Tremendous … It’s True, It’s True, It’s True.

Tremendous … It’s True, It’s True, It’s True. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian


Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3.15pm, until 26 August

The trick to writing a monologue is finding a reason for a character to speak. If they are alone, what motivates them to address us? Katherine Parkinson has a novel solution. Making her playwriting debut, the IT Crowd and Humans actor takes us into an artist’s studio where three models of different generations are posing. Sharing the stage, they speak out of embarrassment. Their words spill forth to fill the void. MF
Read the full three-star review

Ad Libido

Pleasance Courtyard, 3.30pm, until 27 August

Armed with glitter, songs and a diagram of her vulva, Fran Bushe is on a mission to kickstart her own libido and change how we think and talk about female pleasure. After trying to enjoy sex for 15 years and facing unhelpful advice from GPs, she is taking matters into her own hands. Though, of course, it’s not that simple. She wants a quick fix, a happy ending. Much of her solo show is about how life and sex don’t work that way – and all of this is surprisingly funny. We might finally be having more sophisticated conversations about consent, but Ad Libido makes it clear that we need to go further. CL
Read the full four-star review

Sara Barron: For Worse

Just the Tonic at the Tron, 3.40pm, until 26 August

“The reigning queen of New York’s live storytelling scene,” trumpets Jon Ronson from Sara Barron’s publicity. Odd then that For Worse isn’t a storytelling show, but no-frills standup addressing sex, marriage and new motherhood. It’s good too, although given the raucous subject matter and bar-room environment, it might fly higher in an evening slot. Barron misses few opportunities to flout propriety, waxing ambivalent about parenting, heaping scorn on other couples’ sweet nothings, and going dewy-eyed at the memory of her “two dicks in a day!” sexual peak. The brand of brazenness on show feels quite familiar, but this UK-based American carries it off with verve. BL

Lost Voice Guy: Inspiration Porn

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4pm, until 26 August

The Britain’s Got Talent star Lee Ridley’s new show, Inspiration Porn, is more political and vulnerable than anything you’d expect to see on the same TV programme as Simon Cowell. It is a distinctive mix of barbed disability comedy and self-mocking humour, in which Ridley caustically mocks the inspirational rhetoric that surrounds high-achieving disabled people, contrasting “yes we can” Paralympic mottos with the realities of his own life: lazy, lonely, he tells us, and “shit at everything”. The entwining of private and political is adroitly done, and Ridley’s call-to-arms to fight, not for heroic individual success a la Britain’s Got Talent, but for social justice is – irony of ironies – inspiring. BL
Read the full three-star review

Enter the Dragons

Pleasance Dome, 4.10pm, until 27 August

An award-winner at the Brighton fringe, this amusingly ramshackle two-hander recasts female ageing as a mythological quest. Armed with an invisibility cloak (a beige M&S cardie) and tongue sharpener, off set Emma Edwards and Abigail Dooley across the sea of apology and the bridge of tears, on a mission to slay ageing itself. Directed by Spymonkey’s Toby Park, Edwards and Dooley have gleefully improper fun mocking the expectations of fiftysomething femaledom, as clownish prop-comedy splices with confessional moments about growing old. It’s so DIY as to teeter, like the middle-aged body, forever on the edge of collapse, and the pace sometimes lags. But its up-yours spirit is as infectious as the don’t-take-yourself- too-seriously message it so cheerfully exemplifies. BL

Catherine Bohart: Immaculate

Pleasance Courtyard, 4.15pm, until 26 August

“I’m the bisexual daughter of a Catholic deacon. And I’ve got OCD.” So Catherine Bohart introduces – and sums up – her textbook fringe debut, Immaculate. The brand of OCD from which Bohart suffers is called perfectionism, which you might have guessed from the scrupulously accomplished nature of her show. Never less than meticulously, she wins our trust, sets up her character and themes, spins the plates awhile before closing in on a heart-warming finale (with obligatory comic sting). It’s a mite schematic. But Bohart is great company, milking her obsessive compulsions for featherlight laughs, and the tale she tells – of her parents’ courtship in repressive 20th-century Ireland; of daughter and dad learning to love one another’s queerness and Catholicism – is elegantly told. BL

Unbreakable bond with the audience … Denim

Unbreakable bond with the audience … Denim

Denim: The Denim Juniors

Assembly George Square Gardens, 4.35pm, until 19 August

Denim, the queens of subversive late-night drag cabaret, put on an afternoon kids’ concert in which they clean up some of the content, keep the inclusive message and lose none of their wit or glamour. For the over-fives, what’s not to like about a quintet with fabulous frocks, megawatt smiles, glittery facial hair and a gift for make-believe? They treat the cosy Piccolo tent as if they’re playing to 80,000 of their biggest fans. Aqua’s Barbie Girl becomes a slow jam (“Life in sequins, it’s got new meanings!”), Cyndi Lauper’s anthem is rejigged for the school run (Mothers Just Want to Have Fun) and Let It Go has seldom sounded so empowering. By the time they’ve given some of the kids a drag-queen makeover and mashed together Miley Cyrus and Bon Jovi in the closing medley, the bond between performers and audience feels just about unbreakable. CW

The Spinners

Richly crafted … The Spinners

The Spinners

Dance Base, 4.45pm, until 19 August

This collaboration between Scottish director Al Seed and Australian choreographer-dancer Lina Limosani is a richly crafted theatrical tapestry that cleverly questions notions of destiny and female agency. It transposes the three Fates of Greek mythology (who spin, measure and cut the cloth of life) from antiquity to a bleak cosmic sweatshop. Nigel Levings’ gloomy green-tinged lighting enhances the uncanny atmosphere, while Guy Veale’s strange electronic soundscape mixes bassline thumps with the insistent bleeps of some mythic morse code. AW
Read the full five-star review


Assembly Roxy, 5.05pm, until 27 August

At first sight it’s just your average bright-red halterneck jumpsuit, but the shiny H on the waist gives her away. Writer-performer Kate Kennedy plays superhero Hunch, whose gift for gut intuition gets her recruited to join the ranks of those protecting the metropolis of Hum (she takes the office next to the loo in the super-HQ). Directed by Sara Joyce, DugOut Theatre’s dynamic solo show has plenty of kapow, thanks to some stylised movement and scene transitions that mirror the action-packed panels of a comic book. Kennedy raises a range of questions about how we make decisions and who we trust. The storyline doesn’t have enough emotional punch, but Kennedy proves she could become a super-powered performer nonetheless. CW

Maureen Lipman.

‘Old-fashioned’ and all the better for it … Maureen Lipman. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

Maureen Lipman Is ‘Up for It’

Assembly George Square theatre, 5.45pm, until 12 August

“Old-fashioned,” Maureen Lipman calls herself at the start of Up for It, and the term certainly applies to her show, a medley of music and standup, character comedy and counter-revolutionary views on #MeToo. It is, she says, the kind of cabaret that she and co-star, jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth, would enjoy, and will likewise appeal to anyone drawn to big personalities, old jokes and music so smooth you could slide a whisky tumbler down it. BL
Read the full three-star review

Everything Not Saved

Summerhall, 5.50pm, until 26 August

Dublin-based Malaprop Theatre play mind tricks on us. In three discrete scenes, John Doran, Breffni Holahan and Maeve O’Mahony interrogate ideas about faking history, questioning absolute certainty and curating cultural memory. In each, they pick at a nugget of a conversation – their own or one remembered – smoothing the bumps of memory and creating a thin new film of fiction over fact. A stage manager bustles around the set, manipulating the story, and Malaprop’s deeply layered meta-theatricality dances a step ahead of the audience, teasing and probing. KW
Read the full four-star review

Malaprop Theatre’s Everything Not Saved.

Mind tricks … Malaprop Theatre’s Everything Not Saved. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian


Rose Matafeo: Horndog

Pleasance Courtyard, 6.20pm, until 26 August

Last year, Rose Matafeo cast herself as the perfect Sassy Best Friend. Now she explains why she’s never been quite right for romantic lead. Horndog is a history of the Kiwi comic’s brushes with love and sex – and, having kissed nine people in her life (she’s 26), that easily fits into a fringe hour. And what an hour it is: another storming set from a woman whose neuroses, intelligence and flamboyant sense of her own ridiculousness make her a near-perfect comedian. BL
Read the full four-star review

Sheeps: Live and Loud Selfie Sex Harry Potter

Pleasance Dome, 7pm, until 27 August

This gloriously silly show about growing up and growing apart, finely stitched into a series of unpredictable, beautifully performed sketches, leaves you light-headed with enjoyment. If you have seen Sheeps’ earlier work, or are familiar with Liam Williams’ dour persona elsewhere, the razzle-dazzle song-and-dance opener is intensely funny. Their sketches pull in all sorts of directions, from surrealist to clever-clever to a brand of political (one sketch is about Syria) that’s seething, sarcastic and ridiculous at the same time. BL
Read the full five-star review

Mistero Buffo

Underbelly Cowgate, 7.20pm, until 26 August

In the damp, dim space of Underbelly’s Big Belly, the stage seems to teem with people. Julian Spooner, alone in the gloom, embodies a restless crowd, moving fluidly from one person to the next. He is a shapeshifter – a ruthless soldier one moment, a cowering mother the next. In this updated take on Dario Fo’s famous performance piece, Spooner tackles a huge cast of characters, from rowdy drunks to Christ on the cross. Each is distinct with an astonishing sharpness and clarity. CL
Read the full four-star review

Sarah Higgins in Midsummer.

Love, uncertainty and stupid decisions … Sarah Higgins in Midsummer. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod


The Hub, 8pm, until 26 August

When Midsummer debuted at the Edinburgh fringe a decade ago, it was a quiet affair. Two actors on a stage with guitars, slowly falling in love. Today, David Greig’s explosive revival pairs young Bob and Helena (Sarah Higgins and Henry Pettigrew) with older versions of themselves (Benny Young and Eileen Nicholas) to create a joyful story of love, uncertainty and stupid decisions. A glorious tale of making the most of it. KW
Read the full five-star review

User Not Found

Traverse at Jeelie Piece cafe, 8pm, until 26 August

Tucked in a cafe off the edge of the Meadows in Edinburgh, a roomful of strangers stare down at their phones. Perched at a corner table, Terry (Terry O’Donovan) gets a text, and our phones vibrate. Terry’s ex-boyfriend Luka has passed away. His screen is shared with ours, and we see the flood of condolence texts, calls and emails pile up from people he hasn’t spoken to in years. Having been named Luka’s online legacy executor with the new app Fidelis, Terry has to choose whether to keep or delete. Exploring intimacy and loneliness, User Not Found is a beautiful song of love and letting go. With a smart actor and live technology, User Not Found makes use of a newly intimate form of storytelling. KW
Read the full four-star review

Garry Starr Performs Everything

Underbelly Cowgate, 8.10pm, until 26 August

“Theatre is dying. Garry is our only hope,” we’re told. Damien Warren-Smith plays Garry Starr: gangly of limb, quivering with sincerity, and frequently stripped down to nothing but a ruff. He’s here to rescue forsaken theatre by demonstrating every one of its genres in 60 minutes. You can almost hear theatre’s heart come pounding back to life – but defibrillation has seldom been this uproarious. BL
Read the full four-star review here

The playground is a battlefield … Square Go.

The playground is a battlefield … Square Go. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Square Go

Roundabout @ Summerhall, 8.20pm, until 26 August

The playground is a battlefield. Max and his best mate, Stevie, know that more than most. They’re the boys ducking punches and running from bullies, the boys who try to talk tough but feel scared. And for the hour we spend with them in Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair’s new play, they’re the boys hiding out in the school loos, waiting for Max’s imminent fight – his square go – with resident tough guy Danny. CL
Read the full four-star review

Emma Sidi: Faces of Grace

Pleasance Courtyard, 8.30pm, until 26 August

As a demo of comic and performing talent, you can’t fault Emma Sidi’s Faces of Grace. Whether it stacks up to more than the sum of its parts – these portfolio character-comedy shows often don’t – is moot. We meet five characters, from “kinetic-somatic movement practitioner” Cathy via a vacuous young American easily enthused by the banal (“Oh my God, how good is Pizza Express?!”) to a Love Island wannabe snogging Billie Piper at a bus stop. The show crunches realism and absurdism, and its significance remains largely elusive; the ostensible theme (all the characters are seeking a state of grace) feels tenuous. But Sidi’s transformations are pretty extraordinary – an ageing Hollywood grande dame comes to life with little more than a Blanche Dubois accent and two downturned corners of the mouth – and the writing and performing are pleasingly spry. BL

Jordan Brookes: Bleed

Pleasance Courtyard, 8.30pm, until 26 August

“I’m the riskiest comic in the biz,” Jordan Brookes boasts in his new show, Bleed. Then he tells us again, and again, until the phrase collapses into gibberish, and his self-esteem collapses, too. Last year’s gripping show Body of Work, nominated for the Edinburgh comedy award, had many hailing Brookes in just those terms. But on the evidence of this follow-up, which is even better, success won’t go to his head. There can’t be much room in there, after all, what with self-loathing, images of violence, playful impulses and limitless ideas for how to subvert a comedy show all jostling for attention. BL
Read the full four-star review

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

CanadaHub @ King’s Hall, 8.30pm, until 26 August

Time to bow our heads and contemplate the passing of inanimate objects. Let us remember the one-eyed space creatures consumed by monsters on German TV, the plastic farm animals strewn to the ground by careless children and the hot-headed balloon man who breathed in too deeply. These and many other death scenes are taken from the “greatest puppet shows in history” by Canada’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop with a style that goes from Looney Toons to Edward Gorey and all points in between. It’s as funny as it is inventive – perfect festival fodder – and all the richer for the darkness and poignancy that grows out of the laughter. MF

Ballet Ireland’s Giselle.

Zippy reworking … Ballet Ireland’s Giselle. Photograph: Maria Falconer


Dance Base, 8.45pm, until 19 August

Part modern murder mystery, part romantic ballet classic, this is a zippy reworking of the big 19th-century Giselle. Splicing enough pointe and arabesque drama into 100 minutes to validate its full-scale provenance, choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela (formerly of the Royal Ballet) takes a chamber group of 11 from Ireland’s national company on a contemporary urban glide down love’s slippery slope. AB
Read the full three-star review

Rob Oldham: Worm’s Lament

Pleasance Courtyard, 9.30pm, until 27 August

Memories of Liam Williams’ debut five years ago are stirred by this rookie set from Rob Oldham. The younger comic occupies similar territory, somewhere between depression, wry humour and millennial existential angst. He contrasts his relatively privileged, meaningless life with that of his grandad. One fought a war, the other sits at home talking to his dog and failing to write a novel. In lieu of that magnum opus, we get “tonal prose poems” about being young in 2001, sardonic alternatives to Brexit, and potshots at listicle culture. Sometimes it’s a bit underpowered. One or two routines (a strong one about, er, guns and butt-plugs; a more generic bit on the bronze age) seem to belong in a different show. But Worm’s Lament remains a vivid snapshot of being young and half-alive in the 21st century, and whets the appetite to see what Oldham will do next. BL

Fearless plain-speaking … Fin Taylor.

Fearless plain-speaking … Fin Taylor. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Fin Taylor: When Harassy Met Sally

Pleasance Courtyard, 9.45pm, until 26 August

Those who shoot from the hip can easily shoot themselves in the foot, but Fin Taylor seems happy to take that risk. He is one of those provocateur comics whose fearless plain speaking can shade into shock-jockery. But he’s a lively watch and often worth listening to: in recent years on the subjects of race and leftwing tribalism, and now – hold on to your hats! – on post-#MeToo gender politics. He strikes a decent balance between having fun, teasing at bien pensant limits and trying to progress the conversation on gender. Amid the garish sex comedy and loud disdain for fashionable opinion, he is making a striking effort to embrace the complexity of modern sexual behaviour. BL
Read the full four-star review

Alice Snedden: Self-Titled

Pleasance Courtyard, 9.45pm, until 26 August

New Zealand standup Alice Snedden makes her fringe debut with Self-Titled, and its keynote is confidenc, the show’s subject and its defining characteristic. Nothing about Snedden’s cool and capable delivery says debutante, as she talks us through her home-birth photo album, her sexually overactive parents and her unprecedentedly low Uber rating. There’s a great gag about PMS, too. Through it all, she sends up her self-satisfaction with a lovely light touch, but never backs away from it, as her short set comes up to date with some sacrilegious reflections on #MeToo. There are a couple of weak routines, but one of them is redeemed, as Snedden hits us with a crowd-pleasing party-piece finale. BL


Angry Alan

Underbelly Cowgate, until 26 August

Donald Sage Mackay as Roger could be your next-door neighbour, charming, even-tempered and tolerant. After stumbling across the Angry Alan website, he goes through a process of radicalisation and falls for the myth of a gynocentric conspiracy that blames feminism for his reduced status in the world. But there’s something about Roger’s cool-headed reasoning that quickly pushes the play beyond easy satire. His rationale, however misguided, is honestly felt. The play shows how the force of a compelling narrative might throw any of us into a spiral of self-deception. MF
Read the full four-star review

Mark Thomas.

A humanist … Mark Thomas. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

Mark Thomas – Check Up: Our NHS at 70

Traverse, until 26 August

Thomas made his name as a leftwing agitator, needling pomposity, fighting injustice, righting wrongs. There’s no edge missing here, but his boyish enthusiasm is a reminder that he is foremost a humanist. He makes a smooth transition, in Nicholas Kent’s carefully paced production, from a celebration of the NHS in its 70th-birthday year to a critique of the complacency, underinvestment and creeping privatisation that is poised to bring it down. MF
Read the full four-star review


Traverse, until 26 August

Shvorne Marks plays Irene, a devout young woman detained after performing a song in a coffee bar. Getting to grips with what offence she has caused makes up the play’s narrative intrigue. In a bleak concrete prison, she is visited by Scarlett Brookes as her best friend Anna and Amanda Wright as secular lawyer Gudrun. In a sequence of short scenes and very short sentences, Skinner shows how a small act of resistance can turn an independent thinker into a political revolutionary. MF
Read the full three-star review

Natalie Palamides: Nate

Pleasance Courtyard, until 26 August

It is a potent cocktail: a goofy interactive comedy about a macho “douchebag”, with a confrontational sting in its tale. Nate starts superbly, as Palamides – disguised under a lumberjack coat, biker boots, shaggy moustache and marker-pen chest hair – motorbikes on stage to a cock-rock soundtrack. She is chugging cans, toting fake phalluses and flaunting her 2D masculinity. BL
Read the full four-star review

On the Exhale

Traverse, until 26 August

In the Alice-in-Wonderland logic of the National Rifle Association, “guns don’t kill people, people do”. Martín Zimmerman’s On the Exhale is an attempt to get under the skin of a debate that tells you more about America’s fraught relationship with its history and constitution than it does about reasoned argument. In this story about a bereaved mother, there is a mesmerising performance by Polly Frame. Still, matter-of-fact and measured, her delivery is gripping in its economy and hits home like a bullet. MF
Read the full four-star review

The Greatest Play in the History of the World …

Traverse, until 26 August

Ian Kershaw’s science-fiction fantasy follows an apparently accidental romance that turns out to have been written in the stars. What makes it special, in Raz Shaw’s good-looking production, is the superb performance of Julie Hesmondhalgh as the unnamed narrator, meticulously colouring in the stories of neighbours, friends and love rivals whom she identifies by the footwear she finds in the shoeboxes of Naomi Kuyck Cohen’s set – and also by the shoes she borrows from a willing audience. MF
Read the full three-star review

Kieran Hodgson.

Enlightening and heartfelt … Kieran Hodgson. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

Kieran Hodgson: ‘75

Pleasance Courtyard, until 26 August

Arguments about Europe, sovereignty, Britain’s place in the world – they’ve all happened before, says Kieran Hodgson. The 2016 referendum was just a cover version. In his new show, ’75, the two-time Edinburgh comedy award nominee traces the roots of our current Brexit malaise back to the 60s and 70s. Few comedy shows since Mike Yarwood’s heyday have leaned so heavily on impersonations of Barbara Castle, Roy Jenkins and Ted Heath. But if Hodgson’s latest is research-heavy – a quality he cheerfully sends up – it’s never fusty. He has created a set that’s enlightening, heartfelt and jam-packed with funny. BL
Read the full four-star review


Traverse, until 26 August

“I thought I’d be called,” says Sarah Morris as Donna, as she stumbles apologetically into Mr McCafferty’s classroom. Despite being 29, when she wants to ask a question she instinctively raises her hand. Stephen Jones as her estranged husband, Brian, is scarcely more confident, though he has a bullish swagger to cover his insecurity. In Iseult Golden and David Horan’s fraught and quarrelsome three-hander, this primary school represents a schism. It is not just about the educated and the unread, but the haves and the have-nots. In a society organised to benefit the better off, the school is the site of class warfare. MF
Read the full four-star review

Ulster American

Traverse, until 26 August

Lucianne McEvoy in Ulster American.

Heady black comedy … Lucianne McEvoy in Ulster American. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

David Ireland’s heady black comedy is a satire as timely as it is riotous. If Jacobean revenge tragedies were played as uproarious comedy, they’d look like this. It’s rare to hear an audience repeatedly gasp out loud at the wince-inducing action on stage. Like Jerry Sadowitz, Ireland can make you laugh and doubt the wisdom of your laughter at the same time. MF
Read the full five-star review

Sticks and Stones

Roundabout @ Summerhall, until 25 August

In this dystopian satire, to deviate from the politically correct rules is to initiate social and professional suicide. B (Katherine Pearce) makes a misjudged joke and trips into a world of cultural landmines and magnified consequences. B’s caricaturish colleagues live in a perpetual state of forced, grim wokeness, wearing anonymous suits and tight corporate grins. Under Stef O’Driscoll’s direction, virtue signalling becomes a tangible action: every time an actor says a particular word, their arms wave or knees dip like exaggerated air quotations. The absence of banned words makes the audience fill in the gaps, and allows for the debate to work for any social issue. Let’s start talking to each other, the play begs, before our words start slapping us across the face. KW
Read the full three-star review

Island Town

Roundabout @ Summerhall, until 26 August

Jack Wilkinson, Katherine Pearce and Charlotte O’Leary in Island Town.

Stuck … Jack Wilkinson, Katherine Pearce and Charlotte O’Leary in Island Town. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

The unnamed setting of Simon Longman’s play is a dead-end place, robbed of jobs and hope, where getting drunk is the only way to pass the time. Sam’s focused on survival, while Pete just wants to get laid. Only Kate plans to escape – if the town will let her. In the encircling space of Paines Plough’s Roundabout theatre, Stef O’Driscoll’s staging creates a clammy sense of imprisonment, making us feel the constraints of geography and circumstance. Kate, Sam and Pete are vivid personas from the moment we meet them, slugging cider and taking the piss out of each other. The laughs keep coming until suddenly, with a shock, they start to feel like kicks to the gut. CL
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