You may know the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as having a reputation for attracting hordes of pretentious southern arts students who completely invade the city for a month (probably annoying the local Scots more than Brexit does) to see a wealth of overpriced shows and comedy that will most likely contain some anti-Trump themes and a whole lot of nudity. It’s me. I’m the pretentious southern arts student. Whilst a lot of the above is true, unless you’re wildly unlucky – or a very bad judge of poster slogans – you’ll also find some of the best and boldest up-and-coming performers in the UK right now.
In fact, even though you may come across some very strange pieces, and shows you may never want to see again, the best way to do Fringe is to see the newer, lesser-known faces rather than the established names – a lesson we learnt from seeing the disappointing and over-priced Basil Brush: Unleashed. Here’s a rundown of my favourite acts from a whirlwind trip to the Fringe, and if you’re lucky, you may be able to see them as well.
A lot of people may think it’s impossible to make Shakespeare’s timeless plays any better than they already are, but I’m here to tell you that those people are simply wrong. The answer? Just get one of the cast absolutely shit-faced. That’s the general basis of Shit-Faced Shakespeare, a comedy troupe who perform condensed versions of the Bard’s most iconic works with one of the actors a few bottles deep. In keeping with the Scottish theme, we bore witness to their side-splitting rendition of Macbeth, with Banquo actress Louise Lee necking a bottle of prosecco and a few beers before the performance started, leading to some hilarious and unpredictable antics. Mounting Macbeth, interpretive dance, and replacing legendary Shakespearean lines with “you fucking killed me” all had the audience in stitches, and made for one of the best late night Fringe shows I’ve seen. The company regularly tour across the UK, so keep an eye out for their latest drunken endeavour, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Comedian, actress, ex-showgirl? You may have glimpsed Abbie Murphy in Ricky Gervais’ David Brent: Life on the Road, or recent summer hit Detective Pikachu, but her professional journey really began with some unconventional jobs with some hilarious anecdotes. Eat, Sleep, Shit, Shag doesn’t really delve into its titular activities (though does reference all four), but it actually all the better for it, and perhaps only uses the Fleabag-esque title to draw audiences in. Murphy details the horrors and peculiarity of life as a trained dancer turned cruise ship showgirl turned Bollywood performer turned comedienne with impressive pace and energy, whilst retaining a very relaxed, deadpan demeanour throughout – and knows how to work with an audience. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch her sketch comedy with Richard Hunt, Beg, Borrow & Bitch, at the Phoenix Arts Club in Soho on 9th October.
More unconventional stand-up comes in the form of Kelsey De Almeida, taking on an Edinburgh ‘trial shift’ this year in preparation for his full hour debut at next year’s Fringe Festival. To delve too deeply into the material would be to ruin De Almeida’s intentional omission of said material in publicity, expecting audiences to be disinterested once learning the primary theme. All we’ll say is that the fairly common stand-up topics of dating, religion, sex, alcohol, and friends are dealt with in a very unique and unorthodox way, providing some solid (and consistent) laughs throughout the set – an extended version of which can be caught at the Fringe in 2020. All you need to know now is that Kelsey De Almeida is certainly one to watch.
If you want to catch more up-and-coming talent, it’s always worth seeing what the Cambridge University students are up to. Whilst you’re always guaranteed a good few laughs with the Footlights’ sketch comedies, 2019 belongs to the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society (CUMTS – yes, you read that correctly). From the same crop of creatives who brought us Six: The Musical (a contemporary pop comedy focusing on the wives of Henry VIII, recently taken to the West End) comes Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area, a silly but warm comedy set in a supermarket, featuring expertly crafted musical numbers and a cast with no weak links. Romance, revenge, and absurdity rule in this sublime production, with some quick but brilliant cultural references that can be adapted week to week to keep it timely – special mentions must go to Annabelle Haworth’s neurotic, always-employee-of-the-month (except July), self-obsessed Bridget, and Ella Burns’ hilariously unpredictable, but formidable, Karen. You can catch Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge from the 16th October.
Unfortunately we caught the clowning act Madame Senorita (Spanish comedian/actress Paula Valluerca) on the day she had decided to cancel her show due to low numbers throughout her run this year, though she still put on a surreal improv set for us, full of classic rock musical numbers, slapstick physical comedy, and a few genuinely sad monologues about her compulsive need for love and approval. As fans from previous years, we supposedly gave her (and her inner clown) the courage to keep performing despite the negative emotional and financial impact Fringe can have on its performers – at least I think we did. The fascinating thing about Madame Senorita’s shows is that you can never be quite sure where she ends and her clown begins – this down-on-her-luck ‘improv’ could well have been her actual show – that’s the brilliance of her as a performer. If it was genuinely improvised, then it was one hell of an impromptu act; if it was a rehearsed show, it was subversive and unpredictable enough to make me believe her. Regardless, she deserves more love than she gets, and I hope to see her back next year.
I wish there were more shows I could recommend, but only four days at the Fringe gives you quite a limited window of opportunity! Luckily, what I did see certainly made up for the short time I was there – hopefully all you readers might just get a chance to check out some of the truly great stand-ups, clowns, and shows listed above. At least, this pretentious southern arts student enjoyed them!
Words by James Nash