For those that have no idea what the Fringe is, I’m going to use the description from the official web site:
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the single biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet.
Every August for three weeks the city of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, welcomes an explosion of creative energy from around the globe.
With 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows in 300 venues in 2017, it is the world’s greatest platform for creative freedom.
Every year thousands of performers take to hundreds of stages all over Edinburgh to present shows for every taste. From big names in the world of entertainment to unknown artists looking to build their careers, the festival caters for everyone and includes theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events.
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up! 2017 was the Fringe’s 70th anniversary: it’s the oldest event of its kind in the world!
Expect the unexpected! For example, when most people think Scotland, what’s one of the first things they think of?
That’s right: bagpipers in kilts! But you’ll never find these guys at the Fringe: they’re a little too “normal” for Fringe entertainment. Instead, you’re more likely to see:
He calls himself “The Bad Piper“, and he really is bad in just about every way you can imagine (including playing the bagpipes!)
One of the cool things about the Edinburgh Fringe is the street entertainment. You get all kinds of stuff out there:
This one was amazing: I can’t even do ONE hula hoop!
This was my fourth year visiting the Fringe. I first visited in 2014. This year I saw around 50 shows. Here are my Top Ten.
#10 Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one. But it looked just weird and off-the-wall enough to be interesting. I’m here to tell you: it was so much more than that! Funny, thought-provoking, sobering, gut-wrenching, uplifting: it was the kind of show that more people need to see. I thought this reviewer put it very well:
Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World is a hidden gem of the Fringe that starts off all fun and games (literally) before delving into an account of living with depression that is so heartfelt and honest that it left this stony-hearted critic a tearful mess.
You might not think that putting gaming and depression together to make a show would work, but it was an impressive performance. Here’s a trailer that Amy made for the show:
#9 Teasing the Funny Bone: A Seminar (For Professionals, Amateurs and Anyone In-Between)
The title of this show looked funny to start with, and it was a FREE SHOW! I totally enjoyed it: it was a typical comedy venue in the UK: a small room over a pub. There was room for 20-30 people at the most, and the performers were right in front of you! I laughed the entire time: these guys have a great act! They really involved the audience too: I was even named in one of the jokes! This is a group I’m going to keep an eye on: they’ve got real talent.
Here’s a trailer they made for their show.
#8 Our Man in Havana
This show is a spoof of the 1958 Graham Greene novel of the same name. In 1959 a movie was made of the film, featuring some serious stars:
Considering that the book was itself a spoof of intelligence agencies, it is remarkable that this show made a spoof of the spoof! Outrageously funny, non-stop high-energy acting, lots of laughs and some incredibly creative uses for an old vacuum cleaner and the various attachments!
#7 Ben Hart: Belief?
I’m not much for magic. Magicians to me are usually just smiling con men that have good patter but (unlike con men) won’t take more money than you paid for admission. Which makes me wonder why (a) I chose to go to a magic show at the Fringe and (b) how it made my Top Ten.
I picked this show because the description in the Fringe programme was so intriguing:
His performances are a dark, beautiful, baffling and wickedly funny treasure trove of impossible mysteries, visual alchemy, outrageous lies and brutal honesty. Magic shows just aren’t supposed to be this… real.
That wasn’t a review. That was written by the performer to describe his show. I was very interested, and when I saw the words “outrageous lies” I was hooked! What’s not to like?
If all magic shows were like this, I would love magic. Unlike the vast majority of magicians, Ben Hart creates all of his own tricks, so you’re seeing stuff you’ve never seen before. And what amazing tricks! Ben Hart is also a very funny guy. By the time the show was over, I realized that I’d been laughing most of the show, and when I wasn’t laughing, I was sitting there with my mouth open, in awe. This is what magic SHOULD be like!
This clip is from a live TV show called “Impossible”.
#6 Mars, Actually
Mars, Actually was one of the most creative shows I saw this year. It’s the story of people that were recruited to take part in a settlement on Mars. These three are children of the original settlers, and the story of how they discovered that, in fact, “Mars” was just an elaborate hoax, built in the Arizona desert. All their lives they’ve believed they were Martians, and now are having to adapt to life on an Earth they have never known.
The show has music, comedy and drama, along with physical theatre and a huge dose of pathos. Funny, full of energy, and very heartwarming. This show, like all of my top ten, was unmissable.
This video clip is from their Kickstarter campaign. You get characters from both their shows (Mars, Actually and Jurassic Parks.) The first ones are from Jurassic Parks and the ones doing the singing are from Mars, Actually. Though of course it’s all the same people!
This is one of the best, funniest, cleverest, most creative improv comedy shows I have ever seen! The basic concept is this: have audience members write down possible titles for a “new” Jane Austen novel, then choose one at random, and perform that novel in an hour! As you can see from the picture, the costumes are authentic, and the actors manage to do voices just like you’d imagine in such a novel.
Two confessions here: I’ve never read a single word of any of Jane Austen’s books, nor seen any of the many TV productions. It must also be said, from what others have told me about the books, that I probably will never read one! Having said that, though, I’d heard so much about this show over the years that I thought that I needed to see it.
It doesn’t matter whether you know anything about Austen, or her books, or even care: this is just REALLY FUNNY! It never drags, you’re laughing the whole hour, and when it’s finished, you wish you could see it again. But of course you can’t: because the next show will be completely different! Improv is really my favorite form of comedy, if done right.
This clip is from the 2016 Fringe, but all the same people are back, and you’ll get a good idea of what to expect!
#4 Brennan Reece: Everlong
Brennan Reece might be the hardest-to-characterize comedian I’ve ever seen. He is hilarious and tender, often in the same sentence. His show consists of “stories, thoughts and jokes” (as he puts it) and never did I spend a more meaningful hour at the Fringe.
Reece is a bit over six feet tall, but he looks like a little kid: goofy smile, mop of curly hair, and always smiling. He was basically raised by his grandmother (his “Nana”) , an aggressive chain-smoking, bingo-playing, never-acting-her-age lady that often protects Reece from bullying. His story about his Nana popping one of those bullies in the nose is unforgettable!
Very early in the show Reece says, “people don’t die if you keep telling stories about them“, and not surprisingly we later learn that his Nana died earlier this year. He tells about nursing her through worsening dementia, and dealing with her death.
Reece is a comedian that leaves you happy you went to the show, yet also thoughtful. He wears his heart on his sleeve like no other comedian I’ve ever seen. He puts himself out there for the audience, and just hopes no one tramples on him. Brennan Reece is a rare comedian.
This video clip is from Reece performing in Australia earlier this year. A lot of this material was in the show I saw!
I can imagine that picture raises some questions! Bruce is the name of that yellow block of foam, made into a puppet, and the puppeteers are two young Australians that turn that simple block of foam into the most amazing puppetry I have ever seen. The video clip is actually a few years old, but it’s a scene from the show.
#2 Foil, Arms and Hog: Oink
Foil, Arms and Hog are a comedy trio from Ireland that are VERY funny. I’d seen some of their videos on YouTube (they do a new video every Thursday!) and thought they’d be worth seeing. They definitely were: this was another show where I laughed the whole hour!
It is very interactive comedy, too: these guys are never standing still (and often aren’t even on “stage”!) They sit in the audience, talk with audience members, yell at each other from all corners of the theatre, and all the while maintain a non-stop level of high energy and goofiness that has you gasping for breath.
This video is one of their weekly clips: hope you enjoy it!
#1 Michael Stranney: Welcome to Balleybeg
Here’s the premise of the show: Irishman Michael Stranney performs as Daniel Duffy, a young man from the fictitious town of Balleybeg, Northern Ireland. Daniel is here to do a presentation for the Balleybeg Tourist Office. His grandfather had the job, but he died, so Daniel is taking over. He wants to just introduce the video from the Tourist Office, but the VHS machine keeps breaking down, and he has lots of other technical problems, so he mostly has to “wing it” for an hour. I literally have not laughed so much in years: and we’re not talking chuckles here! I saw the show in a small room about half the size of a typical classroom, and I was right on the front row. I could not believe that this comedian could stay perfectly in character through the whole show. Everyone in the audience was screaming with laughter, yet he kept a perfectly straight face and carried on as if there were no laughter at all. An impressive performance in character acting, this.
The Telegraph newspaper of London published an article entitled, “The 60 funniest one-liners from the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe.” Michael Stranney came in at #45 with this one: “Every morning I picked up my friend on the way to school. Which wasn’t easy because he was really fat.“
Here’s a short video from this year, where he’s introducing his show to people. It’s not his actual show, just sort of a promotional blurb he made. Enjoy!