Edfringe 2022



The Pleasance Courtyard (Beside), Edinburgh

Edfringe 2022 is gradually coming to a halt. Technically, there are still a few more days to go, but for us, sadly, this is where it ends. There are other places we need to be. As ever, after the buzz of watching and reviewing fifty-plus productions, we’re exhausted and looking forward to a rest.

But there’s still one last show to see.

Headcase is a memoir of sorts, written and performed by Kristin McIlquham (she’s quick to tell us that nobody ever knows how to pronounce her surname). On our way in, we’re provided with little red notebooks, because this is a show all about making lists. She’s been doing it for much of her life. ‘To do’ lists, mostly. You know the kind of thing. ‘Get a decent boyfriend, buy a flat in London.’ And now, fast approaching forty, she makes a new one. ‘Write a play about what happened to my dad. And get a brain scan.’

When she was six years old, Kristin’s father suffered a brain aneurysm. He was in a coma for some time and, when he finally emerged from sleep, he no longer recognised his own family and had to learn how to do things that should have been second nature to him. And he had to come to terms with what had happened to him. Now it’s Kristin’s turn to do the same. That title was his suggestion, by the way, based upon his favourite joke. He’s gone now, but Kristin’s passion to tell his story remains.

Headcase is an interesting piece, both funny and poignant. The stage is stacked with transparent packing boxes, filled with hundreds of notebooks, no doubt symbolising the emotional baggage Kristin has accumulated over the years. Every so often, she takes items from those boxes or from the leather tool belt around her waist, items that prompt certain memories. Musical cues tell us exactly where we are in the story. Along the way, Kristin fields awkward phone calls from her mother and is constantly interrupted by the voice of her therapist (Juliet Garricks) and, at key points, her father (Nicholas Karimi), a garrulous Glaswegian, with a habit of saying the wrong thing.

Nicely paced, the story switches from incident to incident, never losing momentum. I would like to see the notebooks we are given – and the things we’re asked to write in them – more convincingly integrated into the piece but, nonetheless, this is engaging stuff, designed by Zoë Hurwitz and directed by Laura Keefe. It’s a satisfying way to finish off what’s been an exciting and talent-packed Edinburgh Fringe.

And on that note, good night and goodbye, Edfringe 2022. We’re already looking forward to seeing you again in August 2023.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Flo & Joan: Sweet Release


Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Friday night at 8pm feels like the perfect time to see Flo & Joan. The crowd are up for a laugh: work is done for the week and the majority seem to be a few pints in, but no one’s obnoxiously pissed. This is an interlude in people’s nights, I guess: a fun hour to give the evening some shape, before the serious drinking starts. That’s how it feels, at any rate. And it’s none the worse for it.

Sisters Rosie and Nicola Dempsey are completely at ease: they’re natural performers, and their act is perfectly honed. Sweet Release is everything you’d expect it to be: clever lyrics, catchy tunes, assured musicianship, lovely voices and lots of funny chat. It’s light, but there’s an edge; it’s not all candyfloss. This show is rockier than the last one we saw (Before the Screaming Starts), with a punchy backing-track to occasionally augment the sound. There’s a full drum kit too, and this helps to make the show feel bigger, and well-suited to the packed out 250-seat venue (which is large, by Fringe standards).

I particularly like the disco dancing number: Rosie’s trademark deadpan expression clashes sublimely with the silly moves, and there’s an extended motif about parents’ ornaments, which seems to resonate with everyone. (Even as I snigger, I find myself wondering which of our trinkets my step-daughter shudders at – although I don’t think we’ve anything as spectacularly awful as the item Flo & Joan reveal.)

Of course, there are only two more chances to catch them here in Edinburgh, but the duo have a fairly extensive autumn tour scheduled, so why not treat yourself?

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Intruder (Intruz)


Summerhall (Anatomy Lecture Theatre), Edinburgh

I’m sitting in a lecture theatre and a man is writing rude words on a chalkboard, pausing occasionally to give me a stern look whenever I get a fit of the giggles. I’m not exactly sure why this is so funny, but it really is. And then the lecturer begins to tell his story and it’s not funny any more.

His name is Remi and he moves from his native Poland to Glasgow in order to pursue his dream of being an actor. But one night, walking home, he is accosted by two men who rob him and beat him up. The attack affects him profoundly, stirring within him a sense of paranoia, that steadily gets worse until it threatens to overwhelm him.

Written and performed by Remi Rachuba and directed by Marcus Montgomery Roche, Intruder is a difficult play to get a handle on. Rachuba is a fearless actor, who expends so much energy during the show you feel he could run the National Grid all by himself. Arranged on the floor in front of him are pairs of shoes which he uses to signify the different characters and situations he’s talking about. (Was it Lawrence Olivier who famously always began with the shoes?) Remi changes roles as easily as he changes his footwear.

I love the repeated tics that he employs to denote his deteriorating frame of mind: those uneasy glances over his shoulder, the shuddering paroxysms when his dark thoughts overwhelm him. I also love the simple gleefulness of the dance routine he indulges in on one of the rare occasions when he feels happy.

But there are some issues here. I’m not always entirely sure where and when a particular scene is set. There’s much talk of Glasgow, but then I hear him mention places I know are in Edinburgh. Of course, this might be intentional, but it throws me occasionally. And, while it’s only right that some of the lines are delivered in Polish, this also adds to a sense of disorientation.

Rachuba is an extraordinary stage presence and it will be interesting to see where he goes next. Meanwhile, there are just two more chances to catch this intriguing show.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

The Ofsted Massacre


The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall (Grand Theatre), Edinburgh

In its opening stretches, The Ofsted Massacre feels horribly familiar, taking me back to my old job in secondary education. Head teacher Ros (Florence Chevallier) calls an emergency staff meeting, and tries to sound upbeat as she delivers the dread news to the staff of her FE college: “We’ve had The Call.” Anyone who’s worked in a school knows exactly what that means. An Ofsted inspection: a high-stakes obstacle course on an un-level playing field. The dice have been cast in advance, and the bouquets and brickbats are already inscribed – but still you have to drive yourselves onwards, just to survive. Phil Porter’s script feels like it’s been torn from the inside of a stressed-out teacher’s head: a revenge fantasy, born of despair.

It’s also a very funny play, drawing on Shakespeare, while lampooning staffroom stereotypes and exposing every cliché. Bullish head teacher with an inferiority complex? Tick. Ruthless business manager in a designer suit? Tick. Bumbling classics teacher, littering his speech with Latin? Tick. Ditsy RS teacher who doesn’t know what’s going on? Tick. Badger in the dining hall? Ti… wait; hang on a moment; what? They’re clever caricatures: instantly recognisable types, but imbued with enough humanity to add up to a lot more than that.

At first, the focus is on internal disputes and divisions. Business manager Liz (Lila Skeet) has a plan to game the system: send the ‘naughty’ kids on a trip with the weakest member of staff, and bring in super-teacher, Yvette (Amelie Scott), to plug the gap. Meanwhile, the janitor, Frank (Jake Francis), is dispatched to place a bug in the inspectors’ office, while nervous NQT Dylan (Lara Pilcher) is given the job of listening in…

But when lead inspector Mark (Toby Anderson) tells Ros that, despite her best efforts, failure and Special Measures loom, the staff finally unite – to form an army. And mayhem is unleashed…

This production, by Kingston Grammar School’s sixth form drama students, is a triumph. The young cast embrace their roles, eliciting gales of laughter from the audience with their well-timed punchlines and impressive slapstick. One standout moment is the revelation that drama teacher Joe (Fin James)’s relationship with his ex, Liane (Isabella Walsh-Whitfield) – now an inspector – failed because Joe just couldn’t let go of the past, couldn’t stop thinking about ‘him’, talking about ‘him’, focusing on… Michael Gove. Anouk Busset, as RS teacher Felicity, is a study in physical comedy, her heightened state of confusion a wonder to behold. Amelie Scott is also very funny indeed, her Little Miss Perfect act honed to, well, perfection.

The Grand Theatre can be an awkward space to perform in. Although it’s a big, airy room with a large stage, there are no wings, and so the backdrop is used for entrances and exits, which often looks clunky. KGS’s directors (Stu Crohill et al) show that it can be done: I think this is the first time I’ve seen a play here without being aware of this problem. Set changes and transitions are also elegant – despite the staffroom scenes requiring six large chairs – an object lesson in zero-fuss, well-orchestrated stage management (Phoebe Bowen et al). Camille Borrows and Meg Christmas deserve a shout-out for the costumes: they’re spot-on, and I’m impressed by the attention to detail as they deteriorate, along with the college’s chances of success.

There’s only one more opportunity to catch this show at this year’s Fringe. Don’t miss out – you’re in for a treat. Especially if you’ve ever dreamed of getting your own back on Ofsted…

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Ben Miller’s Stand-Up Science


Laughing Horse @ The Three Sisters (The Wee Room), Edinburgh

You know when they say there’s not enough room to swing a cat? Here in The Three Sisters’ Wee Room, you’d be hard pressed to squeeze in a photo of a cat. The first joke of the gig appears to be the venue. It’s literally a cupboard. From September to July, it’s no doubt used for storing toilet rolls. I know it’s a trope of the Fringe: every available space will be pressed into service. But I’ve been to most venues, and this is a new low. There are twenty-three of us crammed inside an airless box. I find myself being a lot more churlish than usual. “You can’t keep selling tickets,” I say to the guy at the door, as venue staff bring along another small bench and attempt to direct two more punters inside. “The room fits twenty-five,” one of the bench-movers says, nicely. And proves her point by using the bench to prop open the door, and inviting the couple to sit facing the corridor.

I feel bad when I realise the guy at the door is actually Ben Miller (not that one), because I don’t want to make things difficult for him. It’s not his fault, after all. I’m sure he’d like a bigger room. Or, you know, an actual room.

Still, Miller (not that one) doesn’t seem fazed. Maybe he’s used to it by now. He introduces himself, and establishes the concept: we’re in a science lesson. And, despite his nervous supply-teacher vibe, he’s in perfect control. He asks a bit about people’s experiences of school, and reassures us that this lesson will be interesting, so long as we like to learn. And it is: in particular, the science behind his timid-looking stance. He has pectus excavatum, which means he has a concave chest, and that his heart and lungs are all squashed up inside (not to labour a point, but I know how they feel). The set is structured exactly like a lesson: there is some lecturing, a PowerPoint, a Q&A, and even a pop quiz, to check that we’ve been paying attention. It’s funny too. Miller (not that one) is adept at using his low-status persona to maintain a calm, gently humorous tone, even in the face of some very esoteric heckling, clearly intended to test his science credentials. This is stand-up-disguised-as-science, rather than Robin Ince-style science-disguised-as-stand-up, and I laugh a lot. I never knew I had a favourite element until now…

Miller (not that one) is also playing an evening slot at ZOO Playground, so – if you’re claustrophobic – maybe try to catch him there instead. If cheek-by-jowl doesn’t bother you, then head to The Three Sisters. Either way, this is definitely the most enjoyable science lesson I’ve ever attended.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London


Assembly, George Square, (Studio 5), Edinburgh

We’ve been devotees of Alison Skilbeck since 2017’s The Power Behind the Crone, so it’s a real pleasure to see her back at the Fringe after the uncertainty of the last couple of years. Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London is written and performed by Skilbeck, and directed by Lucy Skilbeck (no relation).

The title pretty much sums up what this monologue is about: the famous First Lady’s account of her dangerous journey to England’s capital in 1942. But the play opens twenty years after that, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with Eleanor fast approaching the end of her life and asking herself if the world is about to end in nuclear annihilation. Has all her hard work been for nothing?

Then we are whisked back down the years to her preparations for the trip, and we’re given insights into the various characters who surround her: the famous husband she loved and who secretly betrayed her; his controlling mother; the female journalist who became her best friend (and, as the gossips of the time suggested, her lover).

And then she’s off on her whirlwind tour, where she encounters an assortment of different characters, all of whom the actor inhabits with absolute authority, switching from one to the next as effortlessly as she puts on and takes off Eleanor’s famous feathered hat. Her brief impersonation of Churchill is an object lesson. Many actors would venture into the realms of caricature, but Skilbeck nails it perfectly. She’s an associate teacher at RADA, and it’s easy to see why.

I leave the show feeling I’ve had insights into Eleanor Roosevelt’s life that I wouldn’t have got from simply reading a biography about her. But it never feels like a history lesson and it’s gratifying to note that, even early on a Tuesday morning, Skilbeck is performing to a sold out audience.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Birds


The Space at Symposium Hall (Annexe), Edinburgh

I’m a fan of Daphne du Maurier’s short story,The Birds. I like the set-up, the idea of a family under siege, their home slowly transforming into a prison, and the frustration the central character, Nat, feels, when his neighbours dismiss his fears that something is amiss. Conor McPherson’s 2016 stage script dilutes this somewhat, replacing Nat’s family with two women, strangers to him and to each other. The disparate threesome, all seeking somewhere safe from the birds, hole up together in an abandoned house, where they struggle to get along. Much is made of the women’s rivalry, because – of course – they’re both attracted to Nat, and what else do women do but catfight over men? Gah. Still, at least there’s no caged loved birds, so we can be thankful for that…

St Michael’s Players (from Chiswick) certainly give this all they’ve got. Things start off promisingly, with Diane (Arabella Harcourt-Cooze), who’s been managing just fine on her own, tending to the injured Nat (Neil Dickins), who has just stumbled in. The tension between the two is tangible, especially when he rants about his ex-wife having him sectioned, all while swinging a hammer. Harcourt-Cooze is mesmerising here, watchful and tense – and, when the moment passes, there’s a palpable sense of relief in the room. But Diane and Nat get along well, until Julia (Georgina Parren) arrives, driving a wedge between them, the younger woman displacing the older. Julia wields her fecundity like a weapon, but she shouldn’t underestimate Diane…

The four actors (David Burles plays Tierney, a small but crucial part) perform well, and commit fully to their roles. However, I don’t think enough is made of the existential threat. Initially, the birds’ presence is clear: there are recorded sound effects, as well as some off-stage flapping, which combine to create an atmosphere of dread. However, as the play progresses, the outside danger becomes less pressing, and we’re soon embroiled in a domestic drama, with only occasional reminders that the apocalypse is happening just the other side of the door. I think the stakes need raising here: we need to feel afraid of what the birds might do, to believe that they are growing in number and becoming ever more dangerous. The noises need to be louder and more incessant, and we could do something visual too, even just a simple lighting effect. Without these elements, the play essentially doesn’t fly.

Which is a shame because there’s much here to admire – particularly those committed performances.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

There’s Nothing Quite Like Spaghetti Bolognese!


The Space on the Mile, Edinburgh

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: we are very definitely NOT this show’s target audience. It’s billed as suitable for 3+, which I’d say is about right – and the other adults here are accompanying wains. We’re not. We don’t have any. We wouldn’t usually come along to something designed for those so many years our junior, but we met Chloe Din (who stars as Penny) last week, while queuing for another show, and she talked us into it. What can we say? Her enthusiasm convinced us.

So here we are, and it’s a pleasure. Din and her co-star Dominic Myers have an easy rapport with their young audience, hitting just the right levels of pep and silliness. This play, adapted from a story by Ian Dunn (who also directs), is a cautionary tale, all about… pasta and sauce. Penny’s mum works for the NHS. She’s been doing lots of overtime, so she’s tired, and Penny’s dad is busy too, faced with the dual task of working from home and trying to find where his mischievous daughter has hidden his iPad. Unable to face another takeaway, Penny decides to help out – by cooking her mum’s favourite dinner, spaghetti bolognese. It’ll be a surprise she thinks.

And it is.

A very big surprise.

Because, after all her careful preparation, Penny’s dinner doesn’t just sit in the pan like dinners usually do, waiting to be served. Instead, it leaps out, and introduces itself as ‘Spag Bol.’ Penny is delighted with her new friend, and the pair embark on a series of adventures…

There’s Nothing Quite Like Spaghetti Bolognese! is an engaging and likeable piece of theatre. There is some audience interaction (we are split into three groups to provide the sound effects for the cooking scene, for example), but I think they would do well to include more of this. There are some repeated rhymes, which go down a storm with this young audience, and lots of lively songs, which also work well, despite a ‘ukelele malfunction’ when a string breaks about half way through, meaning that rather more of them are a cappella than I imagine is intended. No matter: Din and Myers forge on with gusto, and I doubt the children even notice.

Spag Bol’s costume deserves a mention of its own: it is a fantastic creation, imaginatively crafted from wool, and weirdly convincing.

The ending is a bit chaotic, and I’m not really sure why. It feels as if something has gone awry, because it finishes uncertainly with no clear signal that we’re done. The applause at first is tentative, and everyone looks confused. This is a shame, because it sends us out on the wrong note, wondering what happened rather than humming the final tune.

Still, if you’re in Edinburgh with small children and want to keep them entertained, this is sure to do the trick. If nothing else, it’ll serve as a warning not to play with their food…

3.7 stars

Susan Singfield

Tessa Coates: Get Your Tessa Coates, You’ve Pulled


Pleasance Courtyard (Beside), Edinburgh

Whether Tessa Coates really is as ditsy and posh as the persona she creates seems almost immaterial: I’m hooked. From the moment she stumbles onto the stage, all swishy hair and giggles, I’m completely disarmed. I like her. I’m not sure why. I don’t think we’d have much in common. But she’s so lively and engaging, it’s impossible not to warm to her.

Coates has, she tells us, recently been diagnosed with ADHD. “No,” she corrects herself. “Just ADD. Without the H.” Hmm. She might not be clinically hyperactive, but she’s certainly excitable. And very, very easily distracted. At least, the on-stage version is. If the real-life Tessa is the same, then I guess we have someone else to thank for organising this Fringe run, and getting her to the show on time.

I like the way Coates leans into and acknowledges her privilege, mocking her own pony-riding past, and likening herself to an Enid Blyton character. Even if it is Anne. “The shit one.”

The show itself is a fairly straightforward “here are some silly things I’ve done” affair, detailing the scrapes Coates has tumbled headlong into, mainly because she doesn’t think things through. She leads us through a series of minor calamities: from high school embarrassments to dressage problems; from awkward elevator moments in LA to the Brighton half-marathon. It’s all delivered in the same vibrant, upbeat, appealing way, as ludicrous-but-ace as the pink ride-on electric kids’ car that dominates the stage.

Coates bought it on impulse, not realising it’d be both too small and too big. “It’ll be fine,” she tells us.

And it is.

4 stars

Susan Singfield



Summerhall (Tech Cube 0), Edinburgh

Lubna Kerr emigrated from Pakistan to Glasgow when she was just a child. Now, many years later, she looks back on her life, growing up as an outsider, marginalised and stereotyped, and she rails – softly – against the constrictions she has endured.

The first constriction we hear about is in her own arteries. She’s in A&E with what the doctor is insisting is a stress-related heart problem. “But I’m not stressed,” Lubna demurs. She’s happy, isn’t she? What has she got to be stressed about?

Considering this question takes Kerr down a rabbit hole of remembrance, and she recounts for us the experiences that have shaped her, and led her here: to the hospital and to this stage – to two different kinds of theatre.

Kerr’s narrative is gentle and meandering, a wry and often self-deprecating account. There is humour and affection in her tale, and she has a very amiable presence; it’s easy to warm to her. Hers is a middle-class background: her mother laments the lack of household help and bemoans the size of their Govan flat; it’s not as fancy as she was used to, back in Pakistan. Their new neighbours assume Lubna’s dad is a shopkeeper or a bus driver, because that’s what the other brown people they know do. But her father is a scientist: he’s doing a PhD; he teaches at Strathclyde university. But being educated, being relatively well-off, these aren’t enough to protect the family from casual racism. Even at Brownies, where everyone seems to mean well, Lubna’s popularity comes courtesy of a badge the others can earn for meeting someone from the Commonwealth…

This is an immensely likeable show (and not just because we’re all given a Tunnock’s teacake), although it does feel a little too polite at times, and I would like to see the stakes raised. The running race, for example, feels thrown away: the build up is nicely done, but then it peters out, with no climax. I’m also not convinced that it’s necessary to try to hide the act of drinking water; Kerr walks behind a sofa several times during the show and, with her back to us, takes a sip from her bottle. I think it would look more natural and be less intrusive if she were to incorporate this into the show – and this would also give her the opportunity to interact with the set more effectively. There’s quite a lot of paraphernalia here that doesn’t really get used; if she had a vintage jug and water glass to go with the 1970s TV, etc., she could sit on the sofa and pour herself a drink as part of the action.

Tickbox offers a fascinating insight into life as an immigrant – and we leave, talking about the issues raised, and tucking into our teacakes.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield