Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017: A round-up of The Student reviewers’ festival favourites

This year, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe reached an impressive milestone as it celebrated its 70th anniversary. For seven decades now, the society behind the Fringe Festival has sought to push the boundaries of entertainment, offering a plethora of comedy, theatre, spoken-word, improv and physical theatre (and that’s only to name a few mediums). Here at The Student, we wanted to help make this year’s festival an incredible and unforgettable event by covering as many shows as possible. So, over the course of the festival’s 24-day run, our small team of 11 writers reviewed over 80 shows (almost doubling last year’s record).

Of course, there were a few bumps along the way. We may have almost sparked a media frenzy with a small misprint in our interview with Alex Salmond, as he spoke to James Hanton about his show Alex Salmond… Unleashed. We may have found ourselves reviewing one-too-many shows each day (writing five reviews in 24 hours is not easy). Yet, despite many sleepless nights – either working, editing or simply reveling in the Fringe’s lively atmosphere – the incredible teamwork displayed by our writers allowed for an amazing experience for us all, and hopefully for the productions we reviewed as well. To celebrate the Fringe and its success one more time (until next year, of course), a number of our writers have selected their ‘Fringe Favourite’ of 2017.


Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons

by Katy Minko 

It’s so hard to pick a favourite show from the festival, but at a push I’d have to go for Walrus’ Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons. Set in a 1984-esque dystopia, a young couple build a world without words, on a set without any aids other than their own talent.

The pair were sometimes cheeky, sometimes just odd, but always earnest and entirely relatable. We follow their relationship along a turbulent timeline, as the entire population is limited to 140 words per day. Tensions build as Oliver becomes increasingly dedicated to his government protests, while lawyer Bernadette finds herself battling with conflicting loyalties to her rebel boyfriend and the legal system she owes her career to. Performed on the circular Roundabout stage at Summerhall, Beth Holmes and Euan Kitson played couple Bernadette and Oliver beautifully.

Lemons offered intelligent conceptualisation, sensitive writing and flawless acting, and proved itself a true Fringe highlight with much to be expected from the Walrus company in the future.

Bird Radio: The Boy and the Audience
by Matt Ford

Mesmerising and mystical. Enchanting and awe inspiring. Those are but a few words that do little really to divulge the sheer wonder of this performer and the pleasure it was to be in his presence. Mikey Kirkpatrick, better known as Bird Radio, quite simply owned the stage with his seamless looping of guitar and flute. It was a work of art and resplendent music at its finest.

Elegantly intertwined with a mysticism that would not be out of place as a headline act, it deserved more than its run in the dark and stuffy surroundings of Black Market as part of the PBH Free Fringe. Even more perplexing was that this storyteller musician, who created something so memorable, performed in front of just a half a dozen people. Kirkpatrick deserved more.

With a presence that plenty would envy and a craft that had a gentleman behind me in tears, Bird Radio is surely a name to watch.


Nassim

by Sam Lewis 

Nassim combines the professionality and gloss of more traditional theatre with the Fringe’s silly and experimental streak, thus creating something utterly original. The concept is simple: a new actor every day takes on a script they have never seen before. While this may raise a question or two from potential punters, all becomes clear when we realise that this is no normal script.

With the express intention of toying with the unwitting actor (and audience), Soleimanpour’s play was a laugh-a-minute until it slowly turned autobiographical and, with that shift, bittersweet. We learnt about the Iranian playwright’s confused relationship with his home country – essentially, he is homesick for a place that forbids him to follow his passion of theatre – and he eventually, inevitably appeared on stage to the audience’s delight.

Combine the play’s unique creativity with its creator’s expert craftsmanship, humour, and the ease with which he manipulated a very willing audience’s emotions, and Nassim comes out on top as my pick of this year’s Fringe.


Knightmare Live

by Nico Marrone 

The Edinburgh Fringe allows for a lot of scope for some truly innovative, and frankly ridiculous, shows to emerge. No show was as enjoyable and hilarious as Knightmare Live – an adaptation of the cult children’s game show from the late 1980s.

Audience volunteers must don the ‘helmet of justice’ – which blinds the wearer to the world around them (because reasons) – and were guided through various challenges by different groups of comedians. Gone is the green screen, replaced instead by projections and deliberately cheap props and costumes. Naturally, this all led to sheer hilarity as comedians tried – and usually failed – to keep their competitors alive for more than a few rounds, often leaving the audience in stitches. The actors too were clearly having a blast, especially Richard Soames and Paul Flannery who played Lord Fear and Treguard, who excellently embraced the campy fun of the original series and handled the audience’s improv suggestions expertly.

Knightmare Live was some of the most fun one can have at the Edinburgh Fringe, and has become something of a staple. As such, one should absolutely take the time to see it when the Fringe rolls around next year.


Evocation

by James Hanton

A tour de force of puppetry, poetry and intense drama, Evocation never stopped being mesmerising, shocking and above all else a deeply impressive piece of theatre. It followed the story of a young woman who falls pregnant in late-Victorian Brighton and how her life falls out of control from there on in.

The way that the poetry of Albert Giraud is translated and then turned into the play’s script is tactful and demonstrates a unique skill for translation. Actress Audrey L’Ebrellec was magnificent, delivering a performance full of power and raw emotion. Coupled with a clever set and masterfully designed puppets, Evocation transcended its small stage space and modest duration to leave the audience spellbound. There was shock, there was awe, and clearly there was an incredible display of creative talent. Evocation was a must-see.


Walls 

by Caitlin Powell

The Flame Collective’s masterpiece, Walls, was an unforgettable part of Fringe that certainly needs mentioning when looking back at the month. Although not the most polished of shows when it came to characterisation, the key aspect of the play – story telling – was exceptional.

The use of physical theatre was deeply emotive, yet choreographed with a light touch: such as the physical choreography depicting protagonists’ attempts to escape from East Berlin/Refugee Camps in Calais. The movement was well executed and heartfelt without being too over the top. Ali Adenwala’s depiction of a young boy in the Calais refugee camps was a stand out performance as he moved effortlessly between comic and serious subject matter.

This was an important and extraordinary piece of theatre that projected a current message in an innovative fashion, filled with wonderful talent and beautifully written.


Hear Me Raw

by Katharine Cook

Hear Me Raw was a brilliant one-woman show that explored the darker side to the growing wellness trend. Daniella Isaacs both wrote and starred in the show, managing to inject a ‘healthy’ amount of humour into her performance – despite its serious theme. The show’s use of tech, combined with Isaacs’ fantastic acting, captured the audience’s attention quickly and kept it throughout the hour. In Hear Me Raw, Isaacs took her audience behind the Instagram filter, allowing them to understand the truly destructive nature of her new wellness obsession.

 


Confabulation

by Dianna Bautista

In Confabulation creator Eammon Fleming took an autobiographical approach to explaining the idea of creating false memories. From the realisation of having never attended a Motorhead concert in his youth, to a skip rope incident, and then to a dinner invitation with disastrous results, storytelling is at the heart of the show, and Fleming’s acting and personality shone as he vividly recreated these stories from his ‘past’.

In addition to being thoroughly entertaining, Confabulation was also a successful form of science communication as Fleming used his tales to illustrate what memories are, how and why we make them, and how our memories have influence over our self-perception. By the end of Confabulation, Flemings’ tales came together to remind the audience of the power we have over how we remember things and how we let them define our self perceptions.


Storyteller

by Blythe Lewis

How often do you listen to stories? Actor and historian Brice Stratford in Storyteller brought to audiences a pastime most left behind in childhood. This poetic telling of Scottish folk tales was spellbinding, though relying on nothing but Stratford’s voice as he sat, unassuming, on a bare stage. From a princess whose body is stolen by a magical friend to a fierce goddess ruling atop a mountain, the haunting stories completely engaged the imagination. Unlike with books, film, or theatre, where the audience is told more rigidly what to think or picture, with storytelling every listener is allowed to imagine differently, and comes away with a completely individual interpretation. This unassuming performance was powerful and transportive.

100 Different Words for Love 
by Emily Hall

Summerhall’s 100 Different Words for Love has still stuck with me weeks after the end of Fringe. James Rowland’s stunning storytelling beautifully evoked the simplicity, the hope, the nuance, the anxiety and the growth associated with love in all its glory. With just a few props, a keyboard and his dynamic voice, he brings his heartrending story from the moment they met to the moving conclusion to life. He made me laugh, he made me cry and the vivid moments he recalled come to mind daily even today. Summerhall put on an incredible lineup of avant garde, groundbreaking theatre but this touching piece on the world’s most overdone topic takes the cake.


Meet Me At Dawn
by Beth Blakemore

Part of the impressively high-standard productions at the Traverse Theatre, and one of my first shows reviewed, Meet Me At Dawn was a remarkable play about how far some people will go to escape feelings of grief and loss. With outstanding performances by Neve McIntosh and Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Zinnie Harris’ play was a perfect piece of theatre that surely tugged at everyone’s heartstrings. I was taken aback by the strikingly simple yet heavily symbolic staging, and just how mesmerising McIntosh was as she effortlessly performed Harris’ script. Left teary-eyed, it is a show that stayed with me throughout the rest of the Fringe.

 

Main photo credit: © The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

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