Edinburgh Fringe 2023 roundup

This year marked the 76th annual Edinburgh Fringe. We attended a few of the shows on offer over four weeks in August.

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Mark Silcox: Women Only

Perhaps best known for his deadpan contributions to Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, 2013 BBC New Comedy Award finalist Mark Silcox’s solo Edinburgh show grappled with questions of gender via the surprisingly hilarious medium of PowerPoint presentation. From advice on juicing lemons and cutting babies’ hair (unrelated to the central themes, just useful to know) to potential career options for weak and strong men (Prime Ministers are weak and podcasters are strong, if you were wondering) and a guide to the art of apology, Women Only reveals Silcox as a master of his craft. After all, he IS a scientist.

Aaron Simmonds: Baby Steps

Aaron Simmonds has been doing stand-up comedy from his wheelchair for eight years, but this year, he did it… standing up. He is a natural storyteller, with material ranging from awkward family gatherings (you will never look at your grandmothers’ hands the same way) and socially fraught visits to printing shops to the upper echelons of competitive sports, and the true motivations for winning gold. Combining quick-witted comedy that has audiences laughing before he has even finished his sentences with commentary on the issues facing disabled people in the UK, Baby Steps has something to say, and says it hilariously.

Millwall Jew

Stand-up comedian Ivor Dembina has been a mainstay at the Fringe for years, with his best-known show, Old Jewish Jokes, drawing large audiences. This year, he performed it alongside new show Millwall Jew, which tracks his abandonment of “Jewish” football team Tottenham Hotspur for his local club, the much-maligned Millwall FC. The show begins with a survey of football fans in the audience, with them typically making up the majority, but even for those with no interest in the sport, Dembina’s skill in engaging with his audience, from quick retorts to a quiz to natural warmth, this show is delightful.

Simon Munnery’s Jerusalem

Taking William Blake’s “And did those feet in ancient time”, now better known as “Jerusalem” – “the B-side to the national anthem” – as a starting point, the latest show by seasoned comic Simon Munnery ranges from literary criticism (we were all taught never to begin a sentence with “and”) to a musical review of Britain’s supermarkets (correctly placing Sainbury’s in the number one spot). Using a flipchart and props, Jerusalem offers an absurd hour of engineering tips, music recommendations and analysis of the messaging surrounding Covid-19, peppered with art prints, one-liners and non sequitur jokes that had audiences laughing out loud.

Buffy Revamped

In 70 minutes, actor and writer Brendan Murphy tells the entire story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s seven seasons in character as blood-sucking love interest, Spike. From rewrites of contemporary music to sometimes uncanny impersonations of the programme’s other beloved characters, combined with nods to British culture to delight fans across the Atlantic from Sunnydale High, Murphy creates a mesmerising show, filled with energy and enthusiasm. Clearly a devoted fan himself, he has fellow devotees cheering while also providing sufficient exposition to allow the uninitiated to join the fun. Buffy Revamped showcases an artist at the top of his game.

Hal Cruttenden: It’s Best You Hear It From Me

When Hal Cruttenden’s agent suggested It’s Best You Hear It From Me as the title of his new show back in 2021, he resisted – after all, he didn’t have anything particularly revelatory to share with his audience. Then his wife left him. Thus began the development of a laugh-out-loud show about relationships and divorce, exploring the challenges of unexpected singledom in middle age, from the division of assets to the custody of pets and reactions of adult offspring. Honest without ever straying into bitterness, Cruttenden makes his audiences feel like personal confidants – and shares advice on outliving a farewell tour.

Casting the Runes

The ghost stories of M.R. James are best-known thanks to the BBC’s A Ghost Story For Christmas strand, but “Casting the Runes” – one of James’ most beloved tales – has yet to receive the BBC treatment, though it was adapted by ITV in 1979 and heavily inspired 1957 film Night of the Demon. But it is hard to imagine it done better than this production by Box Tale Soup. A two-hander injecting a female perspective into James’ male-dominated world, it uses beautiful (and sustainable) props and delightful references to other James stories to bring this tale of demonic discontent to life.

Robin Ince – MELONS: A Love Letter to Stand-Up Comedy

Big Issue columnist Robin Ince is most recognised for presenting BBC radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage with Professor Brian Cox, as well as writing Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club and editing Dead Funny: Horror Stories by Comedians. But, as his new slow MELONS reveals, his comedy career has been long and varied. Following a diagnosis of ADHD last year, Ince has embraced the workings of his mind and delivers insightful, gentle and hilarious anecdotes with a hilariously erratic style of storytelling, sharing the highlights of friendships with late artists and championing the simple pleasure of ranking songs over tea.

The Hunger

In rural West Yorkshire, Deborah and her daughter Megan hole up in their farm. An epidemic has ravaged the country, and possibly the world – for all they know, they are the only healthy people still alive. Intruders on their land must be shot in cold blood, much to Megan’s dismay. This is the backdrop of a horrifying new play from female-led Sheffield theatre company Black Bright. Exploring ever more urgent concerns, from zoonotic diseases to the ethics and safety of animal agriculture, this is a nail-biting, stomach-churning drama about motherhood and survival that masters the claustrophobia of the best horror.

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