Edinburgh Fringe 2022

The Twenty-Sided Tavern


Pleasance Dome, Bristo Place, Edinburgh

The Twenty-Sided Tavern is billed as experiential entertainment, “destined to delight everyone, from hardcore fans of D&D to those just dipping a toe into the world of role-playing games”. It doesn’t quite live up to this promise. As a toe-dipper, I find it baffling and a little dull. But I’m an outlier here: the show is a sell-out, and the bulk of the audience clearly falls into the former category. Their laughter is raucous; they’re having a whale of a time.

The premise is simple: it’s a choose your own adventure with added dice. We’re in a tavern, and there are three players onstage (Carlina Parker, Mateo Ervin and Madelyn Murphy), as well as a game master (David Andrew Greener Laws) and the tavern keeper (Sarah Davis Reynolds). We’re asked to access their website via a QR code and, from thereon in, it’s interactive insofar as we are allocated a team, then asked to choose which of three characters each player adopts, and to vote between two options at various points along the way. A couple of people are brought onstage for panto-style audience-participation moments, where they’re told to role a dice or throw balls into a pot. And there are a couple of riddles to answer.

But the game-play is more complex, and – to the uninitiated – rather confusing. When they roll a dice, they call the number, but then add other numbers for no reason I can discern (we’re here with two family members who love a good table-top role-playing game, and they explain it to me later). I can see that it would be fun to actually play, if I were inhabiting a character, and was actively involved in shaping the storyline. However, I don’t really enjoy watching it, especially as the players don’t seem to explore their roles beyond a few surface characteristics.

It feels rushed too; indeed, it over-runs by ten minutes, which is a no-no at the Fringe, where audiences and venues have tightly-managed schedules. There’s too much to fit into seventy minutes. It doesn’t help that the tech isn’t working properly (the wifi isn’t strong enough), so a lot of the voting is done in the old ‘analogue’ way – which team can cheer the loudest?

It’s a good idea, and it’s clearly pleasing a lot of people, so I can’t dismiss this out of hand. But I’d file this under ‘for the fans’.

2.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Jake Cornell and Marcia Belsky: Man and Woman


Assembly George Square Studios (Studio 4), Edinburgh

Jake Cornell and Marcia Belsky play “Jake” and “Marcia”, two narcissistic actors determined to change the world. Jake’s certain he’s written a masterpiece, finally giving women the voice they’ve been denied for so long, and Marcia is thrilled she’s got the chance to showcase her skills. In an introductory speech, Jake mansplains what women need, while Marcia gamely smiles and tries to elbow her way in to the conversation. It’s very funny.

And then we get to the show-within-a-show, a histrionic tale of doomed love and misery – with lots of blood and shouting. The characters are called Man and Woman because, you know, they represent the whole of humanity. The hubris is delightfully drawn, and Jake in particular is a wonderful creation: we all know a Jake (although, thankfully, we don’t all have to work with him).

Cornell and Belsky are both effortlessly droll, and I find myself laughing a lot at the silliness and audacity of Jake’s ambition, and the way it’s always undermined by his lack of profundity. Marcia’s no feminist saviour either: she’s just paying lip-service to Jake’s professed ideals because she wants to be a star, and doesn’t realise until it’s too late just how doomed the project is.

For me, this piece works best when we’re with “Jake” and “Marcia”, so I’d like to see more of this and less of Jake’s creation, entertaining though it is.

This is an engaging and likeable show, poking fun at wannabe radicals as well as worn theatrical tropes.

3.8 stars

Susan SIngfield



Pleasance Courtyard (Forth), Edinburgh

Rowan (Cassie Bradley) is a geospatial engineer, working on the development of a driverless car. Nic (Hannah van der Westhuysen) is a freelance illustrator, who is struggling to forge a career in a notoriously difficult field. Autopilot chronicles the history of their relationship, from tentative beginnings to bittersweet conclusion. Playwright Ben Norris relates the two women’s history in a series of non-chronological episodes that cleverly entwine with each other.

This could so easily be baffling, but the story is expertly told, and it only takes a short while to connect with what’s happening. As the hidden truths about both characters are gradually revealed, so the story becomes ever more intriguing. Rowan and Nic, it becomes clear, are products of their respective upbringings, unable to shrug off the shackles that have claimed them since childhood – and each of them is concealing things from their partner for very different reasons.

I love the simplicity of the staging here, the two actors pacing restlessly around an empty stage with only light and sound to indicate the abrupt switches in time and place. Bradley and van der Westhuysen offer impressive performances, handling their roles with authority and somehow managing to convey the most intimate moments without ever physically touching. And I love the fact that ‘Alexa’ is somehow a third character in this story, ever present and presiding over the action as the tale unfolds.

Deceptively simple, but emotionally charged and ultimately compelling, Autopilot is well worth your attention.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Ultimate Pickle


Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

The Ultimate Pickle is our first show of Fringe ’22 (previews and showcases aside), and it’s a corker, albeit intended for an audience many decades our junior. Touring theatre company Paines Plough is dedicated to new writing and, as we’ve come to expect, this latest offering is a lively, imaginative and thought-provoking piece, played deftly and with precision.

This play, by Laura Lindow, is ostensibly for children, but there’s plenty here to keep us entertained. Princess Khumalo plays Dill Pickleton, an almost-eleven-year-old whose life is turned upside down when her granddad – or Gran-Ted – dies. Her mum (Sara Hazemi) goes to pieces and, before long, the duo are facing a financial crisis, necessitating a move from Gran-Ted’s beloved ‘lighthouse’ by the sea. For Dill, this also means a new school, and she struggles to keep a lid on her feelings. And then the wolf (Samuel Tracy) emerges from her story book, and Dill’s adventures really begin…

It’s a simple tale, and the metaphor isn’t exactly subtle, but that doesn’t matter because it’s beautifully told. Paines Plough’s “pop-up, plug-and-play” theatre, Roundabout, is well-equipped with state of the art LED lighting (Rory Beaton) and surround sound (Roly Batha), and so the tech does a lot of the heavy lifting: there’s no set and very few props, but we always know exactly where we are, and the atmosphere is vibrant.

The three actors play the parts with sincerity and commitment: these are endearing performances that don’t trivialise Dill’s feelings. It’s too easy for children’s shows to talk down to their audiences; this one, directed by Eva Sampson, respects them, and I think any similarly-troubled young person watching it would feel understood rather than patronised.

The Ultimate Pickle is funny and moving – and perfectly-pitched for the whole family to enjoy. This trio of actors are also performing in two other (not-for-children) plays, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of their work.

A lovely reminder of the joy of Fringe, and of how much we’ve missed it for the past few years. What a way to herald a new beginning! Bravo.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield