Fringe Fever

There is something undeniably exciting about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This year was my sixth time going but it was just as fun as the first. For the first time, I plunged into the darker worlds of cabaret and burlesque, of late night comedy and drinking shows. One day, I was strapped into an ‘aeroplane cabin’ in a shipping container (Flight), on another I watched as a gigantic Frankenstein statue was suspended over my head (A Rocky Horror Picture Show at Frankenstein’s Inn) and as a man created the illusion of a moving motorbike with two glow sticks (Police Cops in Space).  I saw a street performer balance a spinning basketball on his nose as he played a guitar, and attended a show where the theatre was turned into a nightclub and the audience danced on stage with the performers (Even Hotter). In total, I managed to pack twenty-eight shows into eight days. Despite seeing so many, there were definitely a few which stood out from the rest. They were as follows:

1. Electrolyte

Electrolyte had only been previewed twice before coming to Edinburgh and had already won the 2018 LET Award and been published by Samuel French. By the time I went to see it, it had already earned a series of five-star reviews and had almost sold out for its entire run. My expectations were subsequently high as the audience packed into an intimate room. The performers were already onstage and casually chatted to one another behind various musical instruments. From the look of the room, it felt like I was about to see a concert rather than a play. The gig-like feel heightened when the play started, as it consistently blended original live music with rhyming poetry. The main character, Jessie, was a tour-de-force. At points she spoke so casually that you could barely perceive that she was speaking in rhyme, at others she would spit out her words in a frenzy to create a cacophony of sound. This was matched with the music, which equally varied in intensity. It was both gritty and heartbreaking, as it sensitively tackled depression, schizophrenia and suicide. It left not a dry eye in the audience.

2. Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club

I had walked past the circus tent every day and was determined to see a show in there before I left. Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club had had stellar reviews, so I finally bit the bullet and bought a ticket for it. I had no idea what to expect from its sinister title but it soon became clear that it was a gender-bending, satirical and darkly comedic version of a normal circus act. It centered around Bernie, a woman who wore a raven-like outfit and high black stilettoes. Throughout the performance, she was joined by a variety of different classic circus performers, but at moments she or they took to the stage alone. She had the audience gasping at her outrageousness, laughing at the absurdity of the show and crying as it suddenly took a darker turn. The hilarity of a hoop artist stripping entirely naked for no reason was juxtaposed with Bernie tenderly singing to a trapeze artist who hung on ribbons from the ceiling. In one word, it was electrifying.

3. Six

Six is currently on tour, and will be going to London, Southampton, Salford and Glasgow

As per the other shows on my list, I had already heard a fair amount of buzz about Six before I went to see it. I was intrigued by its description; “from Tudor Queens to pop princesses, the six wives of Henry VIII finally take to the mic to tell their empowering tale”. However, I had assumed it was aimed at children and therefore wasn’t all too excited to see it. From the moment the six leading ladies pranced on stage, I realised I was wrong in my estimation. Their boundless energy was infectious, and when the lights came up at the end, I looked around and saw that the entire audience was smiling. It was a completely original concept for a musical, and much like Electrolyte, at points it seemed difficult to tell whether I was at a concert or a play. Not only were its lyrics imaginative in their reinvention of a story that many of us are familiar with, but it’s costume and staging were also fantastic. It was by far the most uplifting play I had seen during my time at the festival, and when it ended I wished I could whizz back the time to experience it all over again.

Surviving solely off food from vans, and living on approximately four hours of sleep, after eight days at the Edinburgh Fringe, I was exhausted but never wanted it to end. But the venues were packing up and my bank account was reeling, so I boarded a train, escaped theatre-land and headed back to normal reality.

Lydia Sax


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