Review: The Fringe Festival

So one of the advantages to going to Edinburgh in August is that the city becomes host to the Fringe Festival. And I do mean the entire city — half the parks are transformed into theaters, every surface is covered with flyers, and it seems like every little bar becomes a venue.

I managed to catch quite a lot while I was there (most of the shows are short), so I’ll give some brief selected reviews below.

ADA/AVA, Manual Cinema

This was essentially a silent movie performed live via shadow puppetry. It was AMAZING. The story was well done (it looked at grief and moving on after a death), and the production was just beautiful. Over and above the ‘movie’ itself, which is wonderful in and of itself, it’s so fascinating to watch to see how they carry out the effects.

Austentatious, Austentatious/Underbelly Productions

An improvised Jane Austen novel, prompted by audience suggestion. The day I went the show was “Daft and Delirious” and involved a ribbon shop, fever and delirium, a highly incompetent doctor who considered the Hippocratic Oath more of a guideline, some causal anachronism, and a lot of poles. Hysterically funny.

After the Flood, Sundial Theatre Company

This was an original, post-apocalyptic/SF play put on by students (teenagers?). It was in a tiny little venue, so the performers were right on top of the audience, but the performances were good enough that it didn’t take me long to immerse in the story. The play itself was well written, with some nice touches of worldbuilding, though sometimes the actors spoke so fast that I couldn’t quite understand what they were saying. I did have one significant criticism, which is that the story feels unfinished — though it has a conclusion, it really feels more like an “Act I” than a complete play. There was lots of promising set up that was never really followed through on.

The Glenda J Collective

I wouldn’t have booked this on my own; I went because friends were going. I was so pleasantly surprised. This was an improv show, including songs and sketches. The actors were fantastic and frequently had the audience in stitches with their ridiculous scenarios.

Into the Woods Jr., The Beacon Boy Players

I went to this because it was raining and I wanted to be inside. Into the Woods is a depressing play, so the Jr. version cuts out the entire second act and about half the first to reduce the show to under an hour. That mostly strips the thematic through-line, but so be it. The boys (yes, they were all boys) were cute, and a couple of them, particularly the boys playing the baker, the baker’s wife, and Jack, were quite talented.

Showstopper!, The Showstoppers/Something for the Weekend

An improvised musical prompted by audience suggestion. The day I went the show was set in Paul Hollywood’s pantry and was entitled “Soggy Bottom”. The actors are amazingly talented, the show was extremely funny, and most impressively to me,  relatively coherent and not too terribly paced! Considering they were making it up on the spot, it was an excellent show.

Ushers, Durham University Light Opera Group

Unfortunately I didn’t love this one. The students were certainly enthusiastic, the singing was good, the acting decent if a bit over the top at times, and the dancing surprisingly good. (Seriously. Even the ADC has crap dancing most of the time). But none of that could overcome the show itself, which has way too many uninteresting and unmemorable ballads, with lazy rhymes and mediocre tunes.

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