A small pre-lunchtime audience in the Mash House were a friendly bunch, keen to see Kayla MacQuarrie, as was I. For just under an hour, her Fringe debut show Traumatised recounted all the many reasons she has to feel just that – as she invited us to share her world of otherness and unluckiness. At the tender age of 24, she’s a survivor alright.
Kayla’s sharp self-deprecating Steven Wright-style humour runs through the show and her dry wit and movie-and-gaming-culture references will have great appeal to other more introverted and marginalised LGBTQ+ people seeking to understand and navigate the world. It’s a dark, survivor goth humour, peppered with imaginative twists and heaps of extremes, but a fantastic way for Kayla to own her story and find the gems of humour in all her many difficult moments.
There’s a controlled anger in there, and justifiably so – Kayla’s here despite the odds. Kayla’s tackled school bullies, a kleptomaniac alcoholic father, the movie franchise of three-year friendships, not to mention surviving a multiplicity of “different”: as a lesbian, autistic, trans woman, wrestler. Yes, WRESTLER. I had flashbacks of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks but soon it becomes clear that wrestling is Kayla’s contact sport and physical fightback.
Add a few more mishaps to the list – like neck cysts, muggings and rat infestations, and you do worry that life is throwing Kayla just a touch too much shade. The mention of a girlfriend did give me hope that everything might just turn out OK. I had hoped for a wee bit more light in the darkness, even if black humour is Kayla’s way of coping with it all.
This is her first show at the Fringe, and the first time the show has run in longform. Some of the episodes and events showed really well-crafted imaginative absurdist humour, a favourite of mine, while others zoomed in on nerd culture references unfamiliar to me, but certainly appreciated by other audience members. The final third of the set needed a touch more structure as it did begin to lose its narrative thread towards the end.
In all, Kayla’s lonely fightback made me think that a shorter form would work well in an ensemble setting – perhaps in with a few other LGBTQ+ comedians, offering a shade in the rainbow comedy spectrum, rather than out on her own. I hope she’ll be ok with whatever life throws at her next.
11.45AM | 16+
JUST THE TONIC AT THE MASH HOUSE, 37 GUTHRIE STREET, EDINBURGH, EH1 1JG
Roann McCloskey welcomes her audience with a warm smile and some Haribo. We’re off to a good start! It is this friendly and non-confrontational manner that holds your attention for the next hour, as we are told about her relationships with sex throughout her life.
Along the way we hear as much about her Algerian-Muslim straight-talking mother and her reserved father who attends a life changing tantric massage course in Thailand and likes to update the family on his spiritual reflections via WhatsApp. The latter of these tales offers the show its title, however it is just one of several stories that McCloskey shares with us on this rainy festival evening.
As you would expect there is humour in many of McCloskey’s anecdotes, including worrying about what tense to use during dirty talk, accidentally accessing internet porn for the first time and sex tips from her mum about tricking men into having a shower.
But this is also a woman who is talking about her history with sex and her sexuality. Whilst not explicitly a content warning, she makes a point of encouraging the audience to take care of themselves, and although the descriptions of sex are mostly consensual and those that are not are handled sensitively and are not graphic, it might feel too much for some theatregoers. Her disclosures did not feel sensationalised but an essential and very real part of her narrative.
As we come closer to modern day dating history, we also learn that she is not straight and hear about the coming out inevitably required and the sometimes subsequent confusion from people receiving this information.
McCloskey brings to life her family in this one-woman show and we see her parents’ attitudes to sex and relationships evolve as well as hers.
McCloskey is skilled with the audience interaction required for some parts of the show to work and most people seemed to be smiling as much as her, which is definitely saying something. My Father the Tantric Masseur offers a mixture of meaningful reflections on family whilst still being able to relatably laugh at the fact your dad can’t use Facebook properly.
10.10PM | 14+
ASSEMBLY GEORGE SQUARE STUDIOS, GEORGE SQUARE, EDINBURGH, EH8 9LH
The doors creak open at the Greenside Infirmary. A folded ladder provides a nest for Activising for Change performer Ink Asher Hemp as they sit slumped and facing away from the arriving audience. An exposed light bulb dangles beside a small projector, displaying the scribbles and life lyrics from Hemp’s lens on discrimination, society and injustice. Words pop up to the rhythm of the narrator’s voice; the show has begun despite much of the audience still not seated. ‘I don’t want to inspire you’ flashes on the screen – it’s clear this show isn’t about theatre etiquette of welcomes and applause; there will not be a comfort break or ice cream ushers. This room is for reality and all its sharp and piercing edges.
Sad Eyes to Smile With offers a concoction of Hemp’s inner ramblings and profound examination of life in the UK. From the bleakness of magnolia furnished homes, our obsession with busyness and quest to be ‘responsible’ citizens. To the cruel lack of legislation for non-binary and trans people and the containment of individuals, characterised only by their psychiatric reference numbers. In an age where we are taught to dream big, but playgrounds are replaced with commercial hobbies; this performance runs to the uneasy but engaging pace of Ink Asher Hemp’s frustration and anger with the inequality they experience everyday.
There are touches of light and humour. The audience need the relief of exhaling through a smile. Notes of wanting to be a window cleaner on a ferry and fascination with the old lady in the yellow nightie pull us closer to the narrators personality and lets us into the quirk amongst the hopelessness.
Most impressively, every word uttered appears on the projector, allowing us to reflect on the flood of detail and layers spoken. The rolling words provide an escape to those who need to glance away from the restless figure, who is pleading for fairer and accessible hormone treatment. A bitterly bleak reminder that people need to wait three years for treatment here in Scotland.
Sad Eyes to Smile With is an uncomfortable, intense and utterly necessary hour of truth. The audience are left suspended in silence as Hemp exits the room and there’s no return for adoration or applause. ‘Feeling abandoned is awkward...’ glows on screen as we wander back out to the city streets and bubble of sauvignon and selfies.
12.35PM | 12+
GREENSIDE @ INFIRMARY STREET, 6 INFIRMARY STREET, EDINBURGH, EH1 1LT
Debuting at the Fringe two years ago, and returning for a 2019 run, award-winning slam poet Hannah Raymond-Cox’s Polaris is a force of poetic nature. It chronicles key moments in Hannah’s coming of age, of finding herself and her own sense of place, through a series of brilliantly-devised vignettes. It is a fifty-minute immersion into a world where we are held captive in her captured moments and liminal spaces, enveloped by finely-crafted verse and powerfully evocative stories.
Polaris takes us on a journey beginning with Hannah’s “falling down a wiki-hole” while researching Polaris, stumbling on Polari, and culminating many scenes later in her claiming and owning her own power and own queer identity in amongst the noise and anonymity of London. We share her pain of her first time in a gay bar, entering in with fragile hope and excited frisson of self-discovery, only to be met with judgement and the complexity of queer politics head on. We hear of other tough times; struggles with mental health, an emerging queer sexuality, being painfully “culturally alone” and out of place as a San Francisco emigrant to England, but they are balanced with insight, humour and overriding optimism, in hyperreal detail. Hannah is a fighter.
Like zooming into high-res memories, this is word painting at its best. Hannah’s characterisation is fantastic – I loved the boarding school girls terrified of their own vaginas – and the description of Auntie Daph who sounded so enticing I almost wanted to find her on Facebook and meet her for myself. It is also clear from the piece that she loves food – connecting with people through it, understanding the world through it, and reaching her own feelings through it. Food and emotions both require digestion, after all.
Hannah is a rare breed. At just 23 years old, she is a young person with such a seasoned command of her performance, and ease of expression in her delivery. She has a natural warmth, is engaging and compelling to watch, and is Dr Who-like in transporting us through jumps in time with such skill and dexterity.
This is a really fascinating piece, brilliantly performed. An absorbing queer afternoon delight.
The show was developed originally in partnership with The Trevor Project, the fantastic US-based LGBTQ+ organisation helping young queer people, and this year it is in collaboration with charity LGBT Youth Scotland.
5PM | 14+
SCOTTISH POETRY LIBRARY, 5 CRICHTON'S CLOSE, EDINBURGH, EH8 8DT
The award-winning queer comedy The LOL Word is back at the Fringe - where the queer and non-binary comedy group formed three years ago. As the show starts we're introduced to two of its original members, Chloe Petts and Jodie Mitchell, who on the night we attended are joined by special guests Mary O’Connell and Len Blanco.
Packed into the Gilded Balloon Old Tolbooth’s attic, the heat is high as we duck to find our seats. Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff is appropriately blasting from the speakers. The energy is high and and there is excited anticipation from the audience, it’s not every day you get to see queer and non-binary comedians on the stage.
The show is introduced and guided by the chilled and charismatic Chloe Petts. Setting the scene for the show ahead, they connect with the audience with promises not to ridicule the couple forced to take the front seats whilst welcoming ITV’s The Chase fans to make themselves known. Petts isn’t afraid to self-sabotage as they pull out prom photos and their attempt to ‘fit in’ as a teenager. There’s a roar of laughter as many of us relate to the uncomfortable posing with pink puffy dresses, combined with heavy side fringe and the attempt to be dainty with a sparkly clutch bag. I’m laughing. This was once me. To cringe with a queer collective is a new and interesting experience, something I’ve never experienced at other comedy nights.
Up next is Jodie Mitchell, addressing the ‘sweaty queers in the attic.’ We are given an insight into Jodie’s upbringing, brought up in an Ayrshire town with high levels of poverty, before they were sent down south and into private schooling. Frank and entirely self-aware, Mitchell pokes fun at ‘the scheme’ and characters they grew up with and mocks themselves as a social mobility mascot. Their comedy effectively debates societal assumptions of being in queer relationships and the wonderment of God looking down on fragile male ago – all heavy topics impressively spun with irony and humour.
The show takes a more staggered and less cohesive turn with guests Mary O’Connell and Len Blanko. It distinctly feels like the gears have changed with less flow and finesse to the delivery.
Mary O’Connell has punchy and interesting themes about ‘friendly but racist’ people in York and curious Wiki How cartoons topics – but I’m left longing for more content and depth. There’s a sense of pacy storytelling to beat the clock.
The final act is moustache sporting Len Blanco, the Welsh pop-star formerly of fictitious boyband M4. Len’s character is sleazy, inappropriate and deluded as we are welcomed to wave our hands along to cringeworthy lyrics about calling women ‘baby’ and the sharing of pixelated private photos.
The LOL Word promised to make us laugh out loud. And that we did. Comedy is often most effective when the audience can relate to every-day observations and stories. To be able to laugh out loud at queer concepts, crafted by queer comedians makes for an authentically fun and important experience.
Note: Special guests vary for each show
7.15PM | 14+
GILDED BALLOON AT OLD TOLBOOTH MARKET, 179A GLADSTONE COURT, EDINBURGH, EH8 8BN
Pink Lemonade is a story about the relationships we have with ourselves and others, at the same time as being othered and fetishised for who you are.
Queer culture, gender identity and clashing expressions of sexuality are the central themes in Mika Johnson’s theatrical Edinburgh Fringe debut. I actually forgot at one point it is not an ensemble piece, but a one-person show, as the production is so able to bring to life the other personalities in this tale, with the narrative positioned from writer and performer Mika Johnson’s perspective of a queer person of colour.
They do this through an effective use of lip-syncing other characters which complements the overall storytelling delivery style, complete with accompanying dance, spoken word and a minimally designed, but effective, stage set that still manages to offer us surprises. The different elements of the show might make it sound busy, however it was beautifully paced and offered the audience contradictory, but not confusing, states of simplicity and complexity alongside expressions of power and softness.
Johnson’s real skill is in their engagement with the crowd. Though not interactive, it feels like there’s no fourth wall and as an audience we feel comfortable audibly cheering, groaning, and sometimes answering Johnson back - on one occasion causing them to break their composure to laugh along with the crowd, heightening our connection.
I didn’t feel like the queerness was just happening on stage, the room was full of it and it is a welcome change from the oppressively heteronormative social spaces illustrated in the performance.
Questions are raised about to what levels we are all always performing and the pain of experiencing denial alongside love is stunningly demonstrated in the writing.
Pink Lemonade is intimate without being intimidating, and there are even some LOL-worthy one liners in there. It’s really queer, and it’s really good. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
AUGUST 21, 23, 25
3.45PM | 14+
ASSEMBLY ROXY, 2 ROXBURGH PLACE, EDINBURGH, EH8 9SU
We’re half way through the Fringe run, and it’s a cool dry evening outside. There’s a warm, friendly buzz of anticipation and camaraderie in the plentiful audience in the airy Monkey Barrel 3 venue; secure in the knowledge that we’re in for a treat. That’s just it with Jen Brister – you know you’re in safe hands and everyone else here knows it too.
A seasoned favourite on the LGBTQ comedy scene, and now making us laugh on the national telly and radio, Jen’s offering to us this year is Under Privilege. The show is the latest instalment of her parenting journey, now her twins are approaching 5 years old. Let’s just say life’s not getting any easier, and hilariously so.
Our Jen’s worries are piling up, so what better than to have a show that’s part therapy, part support group? At last years Fringe she was releasing her battlecry for womankind on to us, and this year we’re in a full-on privilege audit - on Jen, her young kids and on us. She’s understandably world-weary given she’s out there, fighting for our rights, being a woke “other” mum, tackling the patriarchy, angsting about her kids’ moral compasses, getting bored shitless at the playground, worrying about her pubic hair, AND dealing with the drama of broken biscuits. ALL FOR US.
In amongst all the fantastic right-on lesbian Other Mother stuff (also the title of her forthcoming book), Jen recounts her parenting reality check: resignedly admitting that when it comes to children “there is just no reasoning with these people”. And her being painfully and hilariously aware about how privileged she and her family are, delivers us a shed-load of uproarious Brister-fuelled frustration, resignation and desperation, all in her much-loved characterisation and trademark bombastic style. I was particularly pleased when Jen’s Spanish mum got a wee mention – she’s my favourite invisible character of the lot.
Mingled in with all the worries, Jen is conflicted; given that it is statistically more likely she is raising STRAIGHT, WHITE MEN, “the worst kind of people” she says in good humour, though a couple of fellas in the audience get the brunt of it (and give as good as they get). She’s also dealing with the envy of her kids potentially having all the benefits that go with their privilege, admitting in her glorious bluntness that “if they weren’t my kids, I would fucking hate them”.
Just like last year, in amongst all the animated tales is a plea to be kind to each other, to get it right, to do your best, to protect and fight for fragile human rights, to not be Toby Young under any circumstances whatsoever, to think twice about that buffet in Dubai, and to never ever forget the soft play wet wipes. I don’t think I’ll watch repeats of Bake Off in the same way ever again, and neither will you after this unmissable hour.
7.45PM | 16+
MONKEY BARREL COMEDY, 9-12 BLAIR STREET, EDINBURGH, EH1 1QR
Rhys Nicholson has the unique style (that quiff, those suits, the metallic gold manicure) and sharp as a tack charm of someone who is both confident, but has enough genuinely self-depreciating thoughts about themselves that they don’t give the impression of being egotistically off-putting either.
Nice People Nice Things Nice Situations is an assured hour of stand up from someone who is rightly steadily building up an impressive international fan-base.
Rhys is gay and there is definitely some relatable queer material meant for his LGBTQI+ audience. That said, it was a diverse audience in terms of age, gender and sexuality.
We were all united in joy by Nicholson’s quick paced self-effacing style. He’s regularly the butt of his own jokes and he doesn’t hold back in pointing out the distain, but also humour, in direct experiences of homophobia. In fact, one such tale is the focal point of the show and is the origin of the shows name.
His dapper suit doesn’t appear to limit the physicality of his humour either. He doesn’t take himself so seriously that he isn’t afraid to put himself in ridiculous positions to illustrate crowd pleasing anecdotes.
Whilst there is clearly well-prepared material on topics such as relationships and aging, I felt I was in the hands of someone who if they needed to improvise off the cuff, would have been able to pull off a confident hour from nowhere.
Their five-minute summary of their observations and limitations of the venue had everyone in stitches.
If you don’t know who Rhys Nicholson is, you will very soon. I’d recommend grabbing a ticket to Nice People Nice Things Nice Situations as soon as you can.
8.40PM | 16+
UNDERBELLY, BRISTO SQUARE,TEVIOT PLACE, EDINBURGH, EH8 9AG
Teddy Lamb returns to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with their new solo work Since U Been Gone. The show is a love letter to friends lost. Through the use of humorous interjections of early 00’s pop culture Lamb connects their personal story of past lust, love, loss and self-discovery, before bringing us up to the present day.
In moments where sudden loss and death by suicide were the focus the tension was palpable. Jokes about MSN messenger and Britney were a welcome break during which the audience collectively regained their breath.
The soundtrack to the performance was provided by a sequinned musician present on stage throughout, adding moments of levity, relief and depth. They provided a tempo that gently complimented the narrative.
The stage became an outward manifestation of the chaos of painful emotions being spoken. Lamb would change clothing as they moved through different chapters of their story which suggested the progression of their gender identity. With pieces of scrunched up paper and clothes flying around the stage, it all added to the sense of urgency for their story to be shared.
It was refreshing to see a non-binary artist perform a show about more than their gender identity, but at the same time it felt they held back in a way that meant the audience was only half invited into their world. This could have been two different shows merged together, one about meaningful friendships and one about identity.
Since U Been Gone is raw and Lamb is unapologetic in sharing their reality with the audience. This may be particularly appealing to LGBT+ people who attended school in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Please be aware, for those who have lost friends to suicide, you might find parts of the performance distressing.
AUGUST 18, 20, 22, 24
3.45PM | 14+
ASSEMBLY ROXY, 2 ROXBURGH PLACE, EDINBURGH, EH8 9SU
Heidi Regan has this unassuming presence. I imagine her as the friendly mild-mannered personality in an office environment who is often overlooked in a larger group of people. That is until a works night out, months after meeting, you finally get an opportunity to hear some of her stories and realise she is f**king hilarious. I left thinking ‘how did I not know who she was?’.
Heidi has more of a storytelling style, rather than aggressive one-liners - although there was a line early on about an Ikea deathbed that made me laugh out loud. The central theme of her material for her most recent Fringe hour is linked to time travel. I defy you to find another show this Fringe which has more casual mentions of an amulet or the sun god Ra.
Her audience interaction is gentle, but she skilfully extracts information which is used to bolster existing jokes within the hour. She is clearly accomplished in taking familiar philosophical time travel related discussion points (such as the classic, 'Do you kill baby Hitler?') and expanding them into oddly relatable and unexpected amusing narratives that are so funny she basically delivers them straight. Her ‘show admin’, where she tells us what to expect, is both informative and comic.
Whilst fans of whimsey will enjoy imagining the world she creates for us, fans of more popular culture references will also enjoy nods to Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and The Sopranos.
The explorations of fantastical time travel are offset with self-deprecating disclosures of things that actually took her more time than she would have liked, such as coming out, or meeting her first girlfriend. There are also some wonderful illustrations of worm holes that might resonate with anyone else who may have ever experienced anxiety.
Heidi Kills Time is absurd, funny and definitely deserves an hour of your time, whether you are here in the present day or visiting from the future.
4.45PM | 16+
PLEASANCE COURTYARD, 60 PLEASANCE, EDINBURGH, EH8 9TJ
I’m not entirely sure how to review what I’ve just experienced. I’m pretty sure I liked it. I definitely laughed. It was certainly really weird. And I wouldn’t have gone to see it with my parents.
I can say for sure though that Demi Lardner has no shortage of funnies they’re willing to throw at us, sometimes at what feels like around 100mph. This is absurdist comedy at its finest, but undeniably it won’t be for everyone. The show I was at seemed to have a young alternative and queer audience who were lapping up the shows obscure offerings. And there certainly was a lot on offer.
Demi can do witty one-liners (a punchline about air con being gentrified wind was a particular highlight for me), there’s dancing, costume changes, films, projections of photos and drawings all equally as weird as the previous gag. They also deliver longer character monologues, not that the additional time necessarily makes anything clearer. The whole thing deliberately has a very DIY feel to it which is both endearing and destabilising as you can never get too comfy.
Despite their frenzied energy, they also have a warmth and appreciation for the audience, apologising to someone on the front row after they became the butt of a prop-based gag.
If there wasn’t so much tech and props involved, I’d almost feel like they were making things up in the moment, but the show clearly has a script, although not necessarily a narrative.
In summary: go see this show if you’re ok with delightfully weird fast paced surreal sketch comedy. If that’s not your bag, maybe give this one a miss.
9.15PM | 16+
GILDED BALLOON TEVIOT, TEVIOT ROW HOUSE, EDINBURGH, EH8 9AJ
Venn offers a split hour with up and coming stand up comics Chloe Green and Ella Woods. Their bubbly friendship is clear to see and their smiles infectious as they delight in telling us how they randomly met one Fringe and realised they have a mutual friend with the surname Venn.
We hear about the similarities and differences in their characters and it is easy to get on board with supporting them, even when some jokes might not hit your funny bone.
Despite their growing comedy credentials they both still have their day jobs. This offers them plenty of material, including for Chloe how one dates as a radical, socialist, feminist member of the labour party. Chloe might be known to many queer comedy fans as one of the founders of The LOL Word, the regular London based comedy night of LGBTQ+ women and non-binary performers.
Ella tells us she is currently writing a show to do with nudity and shares her unclothed musings with us, including her guffaw-inducing official diagnosis of a ‘medically weak arse’.
For those looking for queer specific jokes, Chloe has some nice observational material on mums from Dorset vs. queer culture, in addition to asking the big feminist questions like if Mambo Number 5 passes the Bechdel test or not.
They’ve both got buckets worth of energy, evident at welcoming the audience by dancing us into the room. That energy is definitely needed at 11pm on a weeknight - a late start for the show during its short Fringe run.
Unfortunately there are no more performances of Venn left. You can however check out The LOL Word.
7.15PM | 14+
GILDED BALLOON AT OLD TOLBOOTH MARKET, 179A GLADSTONE COURT, EDINBURGH, EH8 8BN
Green parkas ✔️
Adidas Gazelles ✔️
John Lennon Glasses ✔️
Mentions of ‘ar kid’ & ‘mad fer it’ ✔️
Drag based reclaimed lad culture ✔️
That shopping list of very specific Gallagher brother based 90s references can only mean one thing. Oasissy, the world’s queerest Oasis tribute act, have taken over the Gilded Balloon’s Patter Hoose Bar on Chambers Street to celebrate the opening and closing weekends of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with some of the best queer cabaret you’ll see at this year’s Fringe. And it's FREE!
Edinburgh’s very own Oasissy have used their reputation to not only attract queer cabaret acts that are part of the Fringe, but also acts that are part of Scotland’s thriving drag and queer counterculture scene.
Oasissy play hosts and curators of the evening’s cabaret, warming us up for the four very different, but well-seasoned, acts whilst punctuating the evening with skits riffing on toxic masculinity and a homoerotic edge that gives ‘Roll with it’ a new meaning.
The show is presented in three parts and as it’s in the bar area you can choose to camp out there for the whole night or drift in and out between other shows you might have already planned. Given the challenge of this ever-changing space, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work.
Oasissy have managed to create a queer cabaret for the masses, even with an unpredictable weekend Fringe crowd on a rowdy late night. Everyone is welcome if you are here for a good time. A pearl necklace adorned ‘Fluffer’ is around to mingle in the crowd and check everyone is having a Super(sonic) time.
Space Ghetto’s DJ Matt Gloss is bringing to the occasion both ex-nerd gold lame chic and tunes so individually crafted they’re impossible to shazam.
On the night we were there our acts included much-loved Drag King Len Blanco, coming to us all the way from South Wales via London (https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/len-blanco-firing-blancs). They’re identifying as a modern man and between the heavy hitting ballads, taking a dick pic mid-song and voicing my new favourite chat-up line where we’re asked to ‘touch my crystal’, I was won over. Their solo fringe show is also definitely worth your time.
Mystika Glamoor is next up, who feels like part Divine in Hairspray, part Mystic Meg and part incense smelling velour. She had ‘volunteer’ Angus up from the audience during this show and by the end of which he had been renamed as Tallulah Von Fuckbucket. I do hope that doesn’t cause too many problems when they need to update their details at the bank.
Queeresa Gay, the finest Theresa May queer cabaret star this side of Westminster, doesn’t have a show at the Fringe so the only way you’ll see them is by getting yourself along to the Patter Hoose. It’s proper political cabaret, with cleverly edited and damning lipsync’d soundbites. I don’t want to give you any spoilers but by the end of their set I thought ‘well I didn’t see that coming’ and I had a wet knee.
Georgia Tasda, Edinburgh’s answer to Leigh Bowery, delivered a set as exceptional as their outfit, with some pun drag names amongst the funnies getting the crowd roaring with laughter.
Next up was Alfie Ordinary, complete in sequins sailor suit, who had the magical knack of being able to get a room full of strangers to collectively belt our 1am hearts out to Bohemian Rhapsody before they became our crowd pleasing pop DJ for the rest of the night.
This is feel-good cabaret for queers and allies, so get yourself down there for one of the two remaining nights...even if you were a Blur fan!
AUGUST 22ND AND 23RD
11PM | 18+
GILDED BALLOON PATTER HOOSE, 3 CHAMBERS STREET, EDINBURGH, EH1 1HT
As I skipped past Greyfriars Bobby’s bronzed nose I couldn't miss the black bobbed, leather and laced figure hoisting a ‘Prefer Not To Say’ sign. It turns out we've just been introduced to our first storyteller of Riot Road Theatre’s latest work, Prefer Not To Say – an exploration of inequality experienced across the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA+) community.
The performance showcases a series of monologues with the intent of bringing the audience closer to diverse experiences, whilst inviting debate and deeper reflection.
Riot Road Theatre consists of passionate duo Holly Parnell and Joshua Chapman. Both set out to elicit the candid and authentic voices of people across the LGBTQIA+ community - the voices rarely heard in mainstream media, at home and in our workplaces.
I find myself wandering into a dark room with red lights framing white walls. It’s compact but comfortable in ‘The Vault’. There’s a curiosity and confusion as to what might happen over the next 60 minutes, having seen the charismatic bobbed character earlier and noticing a collage of faces and photos upon entering.
Preparing myself for a poignant hour, my ears are suddenly filled with Cher’s ‘Women’s World’. Am I in for an hour of RuPaul-esque lip-syncing? The song ends, and the audience are left a little uneasy as the actors hold our gaze, staring and staring before the lights eventually come up and everyone collapses on the floor; relieved they don’t need to keep up the fierce pretence anymore. It’s instantly clear this performance will be quirky and unpredictable.
What follows is a collection of funny, poignant and insightful stories. We discover a same-sex couple balancing faith and religion with the hypocrisy and reaction from their church. We are introduced to characters that debate identity, gender and sexuality – ‘do you know Tinder now has a non-binary option?’. We hear testimonies from trans women woven with feminism, lesbian erasure and the current conflict faced from some CIS women groups. There’s a wonderfully empowering section about living with HIV. ‘Don’t fight it, that only fuels it…become friends with it…make peace with it.’ A remarkable story from a man recharged to see and do things differently, reminding the audience – ‘everything in life is fluid.’
I dropped a tear listening to the story of a bisexual girl who came out to her family, only to be loaded with crippling shame as a result of her mother’s reaction. Actor Carmella Brown gripped the audience under a solo spotlight and described the assumptions made by society on what it means to be bisexual. ‘It was the worst mistake of my life’, reminding us that not all coming out stories end in rainbows and smiles.
Prefer Not To Say left me more enlightened, a lot more reflective and positively moved. On exiting, the producers were on hand to showcase photos and provide context about the people interviewed to create this verbatim monologue piece.
If you‘re looking for a beautifully crafted snapshot that represents the real euphoria, strength and liberation across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, it’s a wonderfully worthwhile way to spend 60 minutes of your time.
AUGUST 13-17, 19-25
1.20PM | 14+
PARADISE IN THE VAULT, 11 MERCHANT STREET, EDINBURGH, EH1 2QD
Burgerz is Travis Alabanza’s debut Edinburgh Festival Fringe show. The show has previously been performed to sold-out audiences around the UK and Germany and will continue to tour the UK and Ireland until 1st December 2019.
“Burger or hot dog?” From beginning to end, Travis Alabanza demands their audience’s attention as they narrate their traumatic personal story while performing a piece of collaborative interactive art addressing themes of race, gender and class.
Alabanza should be celebrated, not only for their capacity to engage such a wide demographic of audience members, but in their ability to provoke and challenge the patriarchy in a way theatre has never seen before.
As an audience member walked to the stage to participate in a cooking lesson like no other, they were applauded by the sold-out audience. With Alabanza ad-libbing “White man applauded for walking”. It is in these quick-witted unscripted moments that further endear you to them and what they are generously inviting you to experience.
The stage is impeccable in its design and setup. This felt particularly pertinent when cleanliness was used to address colonisation and slavery while a burger was collaboratively made from scratch. Alabanza points out to their volunteer “we clean up our own mess in this house” before embarking on a monologue about strength, survival and their ancestral history of gender.
There is something inextinguishably powerful about Alabanza’s capacity to incite audible sobs from the audience as the reality of privilege jabs you sharply in the gut. In a time of such danger and uncertainty for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people, Burgerz is more than a show, it is a piece of creative activism everyone should participate in.
AUGUST 13-18, 20-25
TIMES VARY | 14+
TRAVERSE THEATRE, 10 CAMBRIDGE STREET, EDINBURGH, EH1 2ED
Alfie Ordinary is anything but. They have created a beautiful, fun and pertinent drag show that effortlessly brings the audience on board. This is well before Alfie crystallises our commitment to the next hour of our Fringe by serenading us with a warm, slowed down rendition of Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now. But the feeling in the room is quite the opposite, it is one of togetherness.
It feels like a never-ending walk up the stairs to the Attic of the Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre where I’m watching Alfie’s first ever Edinburgh Festival Fringe performance at their first ever Fringe. Had they not shared this with the audience I would never have known as this show whizzed by in a sea of sequence and smiles where I felt like I was watching a comfortable Fringe pro do what they love.
There’s epic hair, lashes and contouring, but from a self-proclaimed drag prince rather than drag queen.
Alfie uses their triple threat of being gifted with cartwheels, on the keys and an angelic singing voice to take the audience on a journey of imagining somewhat of an alternate reality where young people are encouraged and celebrated to grow up fabulous.
The show allows us to imagine what if the heteronormative institution of school was turned on its head, and differences in gender and sexuality roles were celebrated instead of mocked.
Emotive topics like shame were introduced and held in Alfie’s safe hands with ease. Despite exploring tough themes, this show is still a comedy and there is an ingenious piece on gender role nonconformity where the offside rule is rather expertly explained to us through a shoe shopping analogy.
There’s enough narrative and action to keep the audience’s attention, even in a warm room. Alfie’s vocal talents means they don’t need to lipsync, but if you feel a drag show is missing something without it, Alfie has some puppets of your favourite Divas who are there to deliver the goods.
6PM | 12+
GILDED BALLOON ROSE THEATRE, 204 ROSE STREET, EDINBURGH, EH2 4AZ
Son of Dyke immediately caught my attention when perusing the Fringe guide. The name of the show alone was enough to lure me into discovering more and getting my bum on the seat.
Written and performed by Jordan Waller, star of ITV show Victoria, and directed by Anna Fox, Son of Dyke is a one-man autobiographical show.
As I walked into the bunker like venue the sublime music of Kate Bush was playing. We were off to a strong start.
Jordan introduces us to his same-sex parents, or lesbimums, and he candidly shares his experiences of growing up in an environment where he was encouraged to be himself. How many school kids do you know who had their very own endykelopedia? - his childhood collection of drawings of lesbians from all walks of life.
From him being told he was gay at 11 years old, to the separation of his mums...the bullying he experienced at school, to the awkward first encounter with his half-brother...the death of a parent, his search for his sperm-donor father and the realisation that you can’t replace one person with another...to him becoming a sperm-donor himself to honour his dead mother...the show covers a lot in its expeditious 60 minutes.
Jordan is splendid and he really engaged the audience with his terrific acting, self-possession and charisma. He has a wonderful ability to switch from hard hitting scenes to some very entertaining and explicit laugh out loud moments in a zippy. His sperm-bank scene is a particular stand-out.
The staging is minimalist and all eyes are on Jordan for the duration of his dazzling performance. The show really didn’t need anything else.
Kate Bush is present throughout the show (not in actual person of course). Her music, including This Woman's Work, plays at key moments and there are a number of references to her lyrics during the performance. This works perfectly. One of the many humorous moments was when Jordan read out a snippet of a letter from his late mother Dawn, “I don’t know much about Emily Bronte but I hope she’s stayed true to Kate’s vision.” - a reference to Wuthering Heights.
Son of Dyke covers numerous relatable, and a few rather unconventional, themes and topics that many LGBT+ people, and beyond, will relate to. It’s a must see show and I’d encourage everyone to go and see this little gem.
8PM | 14+
66 COWGATE, EDINBURGH, EH1 1JX
Australian-based Casus Circus return to the Fringe with a tender spectacle of human connection, through dance, acrobatics and physical theatre.
Upon entering the venue I was excited by the sparkling dust highlighting a centre stage spotlight as I and the almost-full audience settled into our seats.
It was our first Fringe show of 2019 (and my son’s first ever) so the bar was low but hopes were high. Luckily, my ‘babe-in-arms’ was settled too as he stared wide-eyed and bedazzled by the traditional Vaudeville decor and lighting of the Palais du Variete. Thankfully he was soothed throughout by the pulsing soundtrack that boomed throughout the mirrored and wooden-clad tent.
I had deliberately read nothing ahead of director Natano Fa’anana’s intimate journey into the broadly themed DNA, which had already conjured for me thoughts of identity, uniqueness and biological destiny.
An impressive ensemble of seven who share a compelling dynamic, brought us both group and individual segments that dealt with a variety of concepts. Chairs, ropes and masks punctuated the earnest performances along with some light-relief comic moments that were my highlights.
The solo aerial routine featuring a performer in ruby red bloomers and stilettos brought some welcome bawdiness to a more thought-provoking mix of dance, acrobatics and slickly rehearsed stunts. There were also some endearing playful facial interactions between the performers that helped break tension and saved it from feeling too rehearsed.
Any obvious queerness of the show alluded me at first. As an audience member queerness is often something you feel as much as you see and I definitely began to feel it as themes of sexuality, diversity and exclusion began to take hold. There was a particularly spellbinding moment between Casus co-founders Jesse Scott and Lachlan McAuley as their deep and sensual connection was depicted through shadow imagery. Something so small and fleeting such as a kiss between two men still feels and looks deeply special, which says a lot about queer representation and the lack thereof at the Fringe.
More generally, I felt the performers were anchored (often during risky routines) by their affection for and bond with each other. It felt like the trust and chemistry between the performers defined the atmosphere and brought poignance to their physical feats.
It was how the performers harnessed this power of human connection that left me feeling enamoured by their overall performance. I felt that DNA as a title felt a little disconnected from the impact it had on me, but the make-up of the show was hugely enjoyable all the same.
AUGUST 7-11, 13-18, 20-25
3.15PM | 8+
ASSEMBLY GEORGE SQUARE GARDENS, GEORGE SQUARE, EDINBURGH, EH8 9LH
As we walk into the atmospheric neo-gothic Bedlam Theatre, the young cast of half a dozen actors are already on stage, poised and dramatically lit, whilst a Gwen Stefani track belts out over the speakers.
A barrage of well-meaning but misunderstood common microaggression filled phrases from the shows different characters are offered without context, ‘of course I’m a feminist, my mother’s a woman’. There are laughs of recognition from the audience, although we’re not watching a comedy.
She Can’t Half Talk is devised to explore the conformities of gender and sexuality through a varied range of monologues. During this review we were treated to the thoughts of a foetus, a Cam Girl and a santa themed Drag Queen. It is provocative and a little different.
The show is taking on some big themes, and in a clever way. For example, our foetus addresses the audience with their observations on how her mother’s body changes with fear when she was engaging with men. There were nods to body image with the foetus feeling confused about why their mum attends ‘mumercise’ three times a week. It even makes references to a pro-life stance in terms of it telling us that they would have been ok with their mum’s choice not to continue the pregnancy. This monologue was definitely thought provoking in terms of what we might have already learned about the social constructs of gender before we’re even born.
Second up is our Cam Girl, and initially I worried that the dildo prop was going to mean cheap laughs. However, once we get a more wholistic sense of her character we’re provided with the shows comic relief. We also find ourselves alongside a more gentle and self-conscious side of her as she explores coming out versus staying in, both as a sex worker and in terms of her sexual orientation.
Finally, our Drag Queen takes us on a journey through their past and coming out to themselves, and colluding and defying expectations along the way.
Whilst the topics are emotive, the show takes place in the post-lunch slump of the early afternoon and I found myself checking my watch half way through and struggling to sustain interest in an hour of single person monologues.
There is a lot that the piece is trying to achieve that are relevant to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people. And whilst it was provocative, it is perhaps a big ask for such a young theatre company to properly do justice to. I’m just not sure the 15 minutes per monologue was enough time to represent and redress the themes properly.
2PM | 16+
BEDLAM THEATRE, 11B BRISTO PLACE, EDINBURGH, EH1 1EZ
Our friendly faced, dungaree adorned hosts greet the audience with a distribution of ‘I ❤️Britney because...’ post-its for our completion. These will initially become part of the set, before eventually being performed. And you really do need to love Britney Spears for this show, and more specifically...love the people who love her.
It’s a show for Britney fans, about Britney fans, performed by Britney fans. And it works. It's a feel-good hour that despite its late time slot, is able to maintain its energy through a combination of cleverly curated Britney related verbatim musings, iconic video montages, live music, impromptu crowd sing-alongs, planned collective crowd karaoke and some gentle audience participation (usual rules of avoiding the front row apply if that’s not for you).
If for some unknown reason you’ve never heard of Britney Spears, perhaps due to a cave being your primary place of habitation or your recent recovery from a 20 year coma, the show helpfully opens with a whistle-stop Wikipedia style background presentation on Britters. This is followed up by a pop quiz where even this big Britney fan learnt new facts about her dominant share of the celebrity perfume market. Spoiler alert: It’s higher than you think.
Before the show starts my friend says to me; ‘If they just play Britney music all night I’ll be happy’. She was happy. They pretty much do that by using crowd pleasing numbers to weave together the verbatim talking head style performances of what Britney has meant to a host of different people. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of these parts at first but once you relax into the rhythm of them, they’re quite enjoyable with a pleasing conclusion.
In between all the clapping and sing-alongs I thought the show dealt with Britney’s public mental health struggles well, with a sombre compassion in their acknowledgement of it. They did a good job of highlighting the often painful to watch archive footage of how the media pressurised her, pushing her on questions to do with her virginity or responsibility in influencing young fans.
If you find sitting down for an hour a little restrictive when you want to be partying to ...Baby One More Time, be assured that the show ends with an opportunity to dance and sing it out loud on stage with our hosts.
And if you’re asking, I put ‘I ❤️ Britney’s red catsuit’.
AUGUST 6-11, 13-26
11.30PM | 14+
GILDED BALLOON TEVIOT, TEVIOT ROW HOUSE, EDINBURGH, EH8 9AJ
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