2018 Edinburgh Fringe

Final Fringe Reflections

Edinburgh Fringe 2018 programme

As the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe ends, it's oddly poignant to get home and find your physical copy of the Guide still sitting there, all those fresh faces staring out, once so full of potential but now awaiting recycling. Still, it takes you back.

Flicking through that Guide, it's easy to get sucked into the countless comedy pages and find it all a bit daunting. But for a change of pace, the theatre section invariably features a fair bit of quality comedy too (and at least one high-profile stinker this year, which we'll skip here). It comes in all shapes and sizes.

On one hand there was Infinita at the big old Pleasance Grand, an impressive production from the German collective Familie Flöz, with their trademark whole-head masks, plus suitably grand props, lighting and backing film. Now touring, that show takes you through one man's first and last weeks on earth; it's often poignant but usually playful and laugh-heavy.

On the other there's Timmy, Roxy Dunn's two-hander that looks at a low-key but intense fork in one very relatable couple's road. No props or fancy tricks required, the Fringe version featured Dunn and Joz Norris - usually a prop-loving comedian, whose own work is becoming increasingly thoughtful - projecting their internal issues (or curious lack of them, in Timmy's case) directly at each other or the audience. Starkly effective.

Mark Thomas

And then there are the one-person shows, which vary too. At the tremendous Traverse Theatre, Mark Thomas took us through his ride-alongs with various NHS professionals, in Check-Up: Our NHS at 70. And over at the similarly well-curated Summerhall, Lauren Hendry's Tetra Decathlon was a one-woman show about a rank amateur trying to compete in a 14-discipline athletic event. Both are well-staged, often very funny, and hugely inspiring.

Back on the comedy stages, it was interesting to see seemingly niche shows get good audiences. The JustUs League may not be well-known generally but their Marvel-movie show MarvelUs packed out a big room the day I wandered along. And made good use of onesies. Meanwhile Sooz Kempner's Sega-fuelled Super Sonic 90s Girl was more of a trojan horse, attracting a lot of video game fans to a curtained-off tunnel in a sports bar, but then working in less-gamey autobiographical stuff: the gamers sitting next to me clearly enjoyed the whole thing.

That show also benefited from a nice lunchtime slot - honestly, why compete with all those 9pm types? A non prime-time slot certainly didn't do Ciaran Dowd any harm: the BEASTS member won the Best Newcomer award for his splendidly silly Zorro-type affair Don Rodolfo, which was just about the most fun you could have after 10pm.

Norris & Parker definitely benefitted from a late slot too: their new hour Burn the Witch is tremendous filth, a surrealist romp about sex witches that felt a bit like the sketch duo equivalent of when your parents would pop out to see some random '80s TV comic do their racier material in a social club attached to a non-league football ground; a little bit of blue and all that.

But the sketch troupe zazU found it a bit more hit and miss. Their late-night quiz show ZazUtinany was full and rocking on the Saturday night I reviewed it, but that was after a false start the Sunday before, where it was called off due to a complete lack of punters. Serious swings and roundabouts, there.

There are a million rooms in Edinburgh now, so it's odd how at some Fringes you find yourself in the same one, over and over. I saw a fair bit of the programme at Assembly Studio Five this year, which was a pretty fascinating mix of Fringe comedy.

Kate Berlant. Copyright: Stephanie Gonot

John-Luke Roberts managed not to get himself nominated for the big award, despite a brilliantly silly show that also mused on comedy as a career. Perhaps they just couldn't be bothered to write out the awkward title. Witt 'n' Camp's debut Swag was an eye-poppingly confident non-stop erotic cabaret (to nick the name of an old Soft Cell album). But bravest of all, perhaps, was Kate Berlant's Communikate: a different-each-night affair that admittedly ended up as an hour of name-guessing the night I attended.

The other shows that floated my boat this year? Ben Target's swimming-based concept hour Splosh and Helen Duff's more-personal-than-previously How Deep is Your Duff (they really should tour them together, perhaps around the nation's municipal pools), both at Heroes' ever-busy hub, The Hive.

Wonderfully silly were Aussie absurdist Demi Lardner's uptempo weird-fest I Love Skeleton (in Assembly Studio 4, where I often ended up too); Olaf Falafel's There's No i in Idiot at the new Pear Tree pub venue, which looks like a room built for comedy; Lucy Pearman's Punch & Judy-style worm drama Fruit Loop, at the definitely-built-for-comedy Monkey Barrell, and Mr Twonkey's song-and-dance epic Night Train to Lichtenstein, over at the worth-the-walk Dragonfly.

And the more thought-provoking productions: Laura Lexx's fascinating but always joke-filled look at pre-natal trauma, Trying; Cora Bissett's stupendous life-in-a-band play What Girls are Made Of, which also looked at the pains of potential pregnancy; and Natalie Palamides' mind-bogglingly impressive clown-in-character comedy about consent, Nate.

Roll on next year's Guide, and all of its wide-eyed possibilities.

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