The good, the intriguing and the questionable – Daily Business Magazine


Visitors are back for the biggest art show on Earth (pic: Terry Murden)

Fringe organisers, quite rightly, like to talk up the eclectic range of talent on offer, while every year contemporary issues add their own unique flavour. This year the event takes place in the middle of a party leadership campaign, a cost of living crisis and six months into a devastating war in Ukraine and they all feature prominently in the spread of music, comedy and drama productions.

There is also a distinctly stronger focus on inclusivity – as comedian Sophie Duker joked at the Pleasance press preview, there is “a diverse range of people here… from all over north London”. There are also plenty of acts focused on politics, not least the aggressive Mark Thomas (“if you’re a Tory don’t come to my show”).

This year’s previews produced a sample of the good, the intriguing and the toe-curlingly questionable. They ranged from a woman bursting on stage, dancing to Britney Spears’ Toxic with her head buried in a huge pink balloon, and a pair of French drummers (Fills Monkey) whose We Will Drum You is an extraordinary medley of music from the likes of Metallica and Led Zeppelin in which they resort to using a variety of substitute sticks – including hair dryers and tennis rackets. It’s highly recommended.

Mark Thomas: no Tories, please (pic: Terry Murden)
Ryan Cullen: dark comedy (pic: Terry Murden)

Underbelly presents what could be one of the ‘talking performances’ – the circus-inspired Boom! at McEwan Hall, bringing together performers from Cirk La Putyka (Czech Republic) and Kyiv Municipal Academy of Variety and Circus Art (Ukraine) who collaborate on a show about family, freedom and borders.

Boom! is not just a spectacular display of acrobatics it conveys a message of resilience and optimism in the face of adversity and received a thunderous response from the media audience.

Ben Hart magician
Magician Ben Hart (pic: Terry Murden)

A 1970s flavor is evident in this year’s comedy performances, with shows reflecting the talents of the late great Charlie Williams and Les Dawson, while boundaries are always being pushed in the quest for something new.

However, there are still too many comedians who think it’s funny just to lace their routine with expletives and graphic references to genitalia. Sorry, but it’s just obscene and none of them (they know who they are) get no mention here.

Comedians worth spending your money on – those whose stories are intelligent and funny – include Simon Munnery, Ryan Cullen (who makes some bleak situations amusing) and David Kay. Jo Caulfield, who hosted The Stand’s media preview, is always good value.

Rhapsody
Rapsody expressing inner city frustrations through rap (pic: Terry Murden)

However, there are some distasteful attempts at comedy which, if they were bantering in a railway carriage, would have those responsible arrested. Where’s the talent to match the much-missed Victoria Wood and Tommy Cooper? It’s probably lurking somewhere in a program that remains the biggest arts show in the world and has to tolerate the chaff among the wheat.

Drama productions to add to the list include The Triala re-telling of the Kafka book by Young Pleasance, and Psychodramaa one-woman production (reviewed here) which fictionalises events around the making of Hitchcock’s film classic.

Despite disputes over promotion and marketing, accommodation costs and app availability, the streets are once again thronged with visitors and there is no lack of vibrancy about the place.

As such, the last word goes to Anthony Alderson, director of the Pleasance, who said: “If there is anywhere in the world that doesn’t have an energy crisis it is this city right now.”

Recommendations

Comedies: David Kay, Simon Munnery and Ryan Cullen (The Stand), Emmanuel Sonubi (Underbelly)

Drama: Psychodrama (Traverse Theatre), The Trial by Young Pleasance (Pleasance Courtyard)

Circus/acrobatics: Boom! (Underbelly)

Magic: Ben Hart (Pleasance Courtyard)

Musical drama: Rapsody – youngsters who use rap to express their frustrations in inner city Britain (Pleasance Courtyard)

Check out our Festival reviews here

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