Styles: #EdFringe Review 2018

I’m late, I’m late! I’ve been #IntoTheUnknown at the #EdFringe! It’s been a compressed #EdFringe for me this year, and I’ve only managed to see 9 productions – however, considering we were working around seeing my partner’s family I think we did well for three days (plus two half-days that don’t count because they involve travel)! I’d love to get up here and do a proper 2 weeks of it (although I think my bank balance would rather I didn’t), but anyway, in ascending order of joy, this is what we saw…

#9 SHIFT [***]

When last we saw our brave adventurers (see also #7), the ‘Barely Methodical Troupe’ brought us a dynamic, exciting circus act called ‘Kin’, in which four men courted a woman using their acrobatic talents. They created a world full of darkness and humour, where the unknowns, spoken through uncomfortable glances, gave a sense of foreboding and told an interesting story. This year, however, we were disappointed. Having introduced the charged theme of a ‘shifting world’, the company failed to deliver on what that actually meant beyond some jokes about blue elastic bands which became the main prop for more than half of the show. Spoken lines, presumably comedic by the laughter of the front row, were swallowed up by the size of the venue, and the stunts and tricks performed by the group paled in comparison both to their last year’s performance, and that of other physical theatre we watched this year. We passed some of our time watching the prettiest boy, who was fun to stare at but arguably not the point of the show, though there were a few moments of grand spectacle, notably with some of the synchronised floor work, and the giant hoop.

#8 Agent November Investigates: Major X [***½]

I love me a good murder mystery, and this bite-sized half-hour mini-me of a puzzle surely provided a few head-scratchers to work through. Some amusement at the start and finish with ‘Agent November’ himself making a ‘brief appearance’, and the ‘curator’ of the event was engaging and piqued interest. However, the short film at the start played on a tiny iPad felt slightly undercooked, and while the idea of disarming an EMP sounded great in principle, it proved difficult to crowd around even with only 4 of us. That said, we did it in 26:47 (I think), which made us second-fastest team at the Fringe to date and one of only six teams (out of forty) to complete it successfully.

#7 Questing Time [****]

My biggest problem with this event was the venue seating. It turns out that some nerds are rather large, and given that the ‘venue’ had more in common with a shipping container than a theatre, the seats were rows of benches which made it very difficult to see the panel despite sitting in the third row. That said, I was very entertained (though my inner DM was wondering just how many hit points some of the characters actually had). The concept is clever; being a D&D aficionado myself, I often think of the bottomless pits of laughter I often fall into while playing, created by a group of friends in frankly bizarre situations. Well done to Paul Foxcroft (see also: #4) for generating Fringe-relevant material that was also accessible to the non-D&Der in our party. Thoroughly enjoyable, and as I tweeted directly after, ‘like having geeky comedians in your living room’.

#6 Sediment [****]

A beautiful two-hander that, if you’re going to see one physical theatre production this Fringe, I would highly recommend this one. Based on Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, with some clever lighting (including some great moments early on by the female lead) and use of sound and musical instruments (including a typewriter). There were some great humorous moments with a microphone, and a number of incredible physical feats pulled off in a confined space. Look out for some great balancing on the tops of bottles, and some excellent pairwork. There was great chemistry between the two. My one criticism would be that, after 45 minutes we felt quite saturated; an hour felt slightly too long for us.

#5 Sparkle Deli [****½]

Sparkle is the right term for this sparkling pair of clever comedians, Liz Guterbock and Louise Bastock, who bring us their first Fringe show. Liz, a fellow Central alum, comments on the cultural differences between the UK and the US through being a little of both and her experience of being a ‘Tigger in a country of Eeyores’, while Louise brings a much darker, perverse sense of humour to the stage, focusing on her journey to being slim and culminating in a big finish that I just can’t spoil. The two are quite different in style which was surprising and made for good contrast. There’s definitely something here for everyone’s tastes, just as you would expect from a Sparkle Deli.

#4 Paul Foxcroft: Huge if True [****½]

Huge if True is Paul’s first solo Fringe appearance, but he’s obviously no newcomer. Welcoming in the audience, the sense of conviviality is retained throughout the show as we are treated to 55 minutes of comedy on the theme of ‘stuff we believe is true but isn’t’ (and variations within). While always upbeat and merry, the undercurrent of Paul’s humour gives it a genuineness as he shares his observations on everything from chemical hazard labels to fairy tales to international politics, while also successfully plugging his comedy panel show, “Questing Time” (see also #7).

#3 Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist [****½]

This is the closest thing to a ‘play’ that we saw at the Fringe this year. Having seen Tom Lenk (perhaps best known for his role as ‘Andrew’ in the dying gasps of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) at his stand up show many moons ago, I was interested in a repeat offence. In Tilda Swinton…, we are first greeted by Walt (Byron Lane), a whiny, suicidal man in his thirties whom boyfriend and parents can no longer stand. Enter Tilda. Swooping in wearing a hilarious ‘cheap’ version of one of Tilda’s famous looks (see also ‘the Lenk lewk for less’, the source of Tom Lenk’s instagram fame) and taking up the maximum space possible at any one time, she psychoanalyses everyone she meets in seconds. After spending some time trying to absorb Walt’s “essence” for her latest film on suicide, Siri (Jayne Entwistle) convinces Tilda to help the poor boy. Brilliantly witty and well-punctuated humour, Tilda Swinton… is a bold and hilarious portrayal of a slightly mad icon. An unexpected treat.

#2 Courtney Act: Under the Covers [*****]

Never before have I been to the Fringe and cried five times in 50 minutes. Courtney Act’s ‘Under the Covers’ is a tour de force of a number of cover songs (hence the title), interspersed with short diatribes on the sorts of things we do between the sheets. Like sleeping. She discusses being vegan, her recent ‘bromance’ with Andrew Brady (something I previously knew nothing about, but a short clip beforehand introduced the topic by way of exposition – a clever tactic which meant I wasn’t bored staring at my thumbs for five minutes) and of course the perennial topics of pride and love. I did not go expecting to be moved, but Courtney’s experiences in the House and her feelings towards men (I’m talking platonic ones here), like those rare ones that let you in to the ‘boy’s club’, had me welling up. Her countertenor is quite something – Courtney has a quite remarkable ability to produce a female sound in song. Combined with some excellent costume changes, this was a gem of a show.

#1 Briefs: Close Encounters [*****]

This Australian company have brought the success of ‘Briefs’ to the Fringe for a few years now. In this latest production, we are treated to some excellent performances by this incredibly talented menagerie of boys and their lead queen. We are taken on a tour of the galaxy and into the future, where we are promised that the troubles of today are so far away. The lighting, sound, humour, abs, and incredible acrobatics make us believe it might actually be true. A raunchy chemistry set (pun intended), dizzying aerial stunts, and the rabbit with telekinetic powers (at least with alarm clocks). One cannot help but feel uplifted, spirits high. Oh, and take care with the raffle: the prize would terrify me!

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