Pleasance Courtyard

Edfest Bouquets 2022

The frenzy of the Fringe is over. It’s been beyond wonderful to see our city so vibrant again, after two quiet years. We’ve seen a startling range of exciting shows, covering many genres. We’re exhausted – but it’s not quite over yet. It’s time to award our virtual bouquets to the best performances we saw. The standard seemed higher than ever this time: has the break given writers and performers more time to sharpen their acts, or were we just lucky with the productions we chose? Either way, there were lots of contenders in each category, but we’ve narrowed them down to our favourite five.

So, without further ado, we present our choice of the best shows we saw at Edfest 2022.


An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe (ZOO Playground)

An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe is the sort of play which exemplifies the Fringe at its best. Written by Benny Ainsworth and directed by Sally Paffett (Triptytch Theatre), this ingeniously constructed monologue features Michael Parker as the titular Stuart, delivering Ainsworth’s script with consummate skill.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings (Summerhall)

Based on a short story by Gabriel García Márquez and adapted for the stage by Dan Colley, Manus Halligan and Genevieve Hulme Beaman, this is the tale of Elisenda and Palayo, two impoverished people who live in a rickety shack on the edge of a small town. Their tale is related by Elisenda (Karen McCartney) in a deliciously sinister style. She’s aided by Palayo (Manus Halligan), who barely utters a word, but moves humbly around the stage, using a curious mixture of handicrafts and high-tech devices to illustrate the story – a series of simplistic figurines, illuminated by tiny cameras and lights, take us into their miniature world.

Sap (Roundabout @ Summerhall)

Rafaella Marcus has scripted a deliciously labyrinthine tale about sexual identity (specifically bi-invisibility), one that cleverly assimilates a Greek myth into its core. The maze-like structure is beautifully captured by Jessica Clark and Rebecca Banatvala’s hyper-physical performances, directed by Jessica Lazar and Jennifer Fletcher.

Hungry (Roundabout @ Summerhall)

Chris Bush’s sharply written two-hander examines the relationship between Lori (Eleanor Sutton), a chef from a relatively privileged background, and Bex (Melissa Lowe), a waitress from the local estate. Hungry is a class act, so assured that, even amidst the host of treasures on offer at this year’s Roundabout, it dazzles like a precious gem. 

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Assembly Roxy)

Let’s face it, we’ve all seen Macbeth in its various shapes and guises – but I think it’s fairly safe to say we’ve never seen it quite like this. Flabbergast Theatre’s eight-strong cast reel around the stage, plastered in mud and raving and flailing around like demented beings. This is a play about the madness brought on by the seductive power of hubris, so it feels entirely appropriate. It explodes, it capers, it struts its fretful stuff upon the stage and signifies plenty…


Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen (Roundabout @ Summerhall)

Both Samuel Barnett and Marcelo Dos Santos deserve huge praise for what is undoubtedly one of the best collaborations between writer and performer that I’ve ever witnessed. The narrator is working me like a master magician, mesmerising me, misdirecting me, even scattering a trail of clues which I somehow manage to overlook. The result? When the piece reaches its conclusion, I feel as though I’ve been punched in the solar plexus.

Kylie Brakeman: Linda Hollywood’s Guide to Hollywood (Gilded Balloon Patterhoose)

Making her Edinburgh Fringe debut, Kylie Brakeman delivers her cleverly scripted lines with consummate skill, and the whip-smart, snarky one-liners flow like honey laced with vinegar. It’s more than just a series of laughs. It also nails the cynicism and hypocrisy of the movie industry with deadly precision. I leave convinced that Brakeman (already a major name online, with over sixty million views) is destined to play much bigger venues than this one. 

Emily Wilson: Fixed (Pleasance Courtyard)

Emily Wilson’s Fixed is part musical, part stand-up and part catharsis. She appeared on The X Factor USA back in 2011, as one half of the earnestly named duo, Ausem. “Because my best friend’s called Austin, and my name’s Emily, so together we’re Ausem!” She was 15 and thought she was destined to become a star. But then she hit a snag. The judges decided they liked Austin, but not Emily… What emerges is a thoughtful commentary on fame, ambition and exploitation, and it’s riveting.

Christopher Bliss: Captain Wordseye (Pleasance Courtyard)

Christopher Bliss (Rob Carter) is a new name to me and I can only regret that it’s taken me this long to encounter him. He’s that rarest of things, a brilliant character comedian… and a literary genius to boot. I can’t wait for his words of advice on poetry, which I have long considered my Achilles heel…

The Anniversary (Pleasance Dome)

Jim (Daniel Tobias) and Barb (Clare Bartholomew) are eagerly preparing for their 50th wedding anniversary but they’re not always in control of things and some of the items in the finger buffet might better be avoided. This handsomely mounted helping of slapstick from Australian company, Salvador Dinosaur, features no real dialogue, just gibberish and the occasional mention of each other’s names – but the soundtrack is far from silent. It’s essentially a piece about the indignities of ageing, replete with references to forgetfulness, dodgy bowels and the ill-advised over-application of both prescription drugs and prunes. It ought to be tragic but it’s somehow horribly funny.


Fills Monkey: We Will Drum You (Pleasance Courtyard)

Sebastian Rambaud and Yann Coste are two brilliant percussionists, the kind of people you imagine could go through an entire day without ever breaking beat. They begin with conventional sets of drums, hammering out thrilling polyrhythms as the audience claps along. But they have an air of competitiveness about them and the stakes keep rising. It really helps that the two percussionists are also accomplished clowns. Working under the direction of Daniél Briere, they’ve devised a show that switches back and forth through a whole series of scenarios, never lingering too long in one place to ever feel repetitive. 

Manic Street Creature (Roundabout @ Summerhall)

Manic Street Creature, written and performed by Maimuna Memon, is an assured slice of gig theatre that focuses on the subject of mental health from a slightly different perspective – that of the carer. Memon tells the story through a sequence of songs being recorded in a studio session. She’s a confident, assured performer, with a thrilling vocal range, accompanying herself on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards and shruti box. When everything’s in full flow, the story takes flight and I feel myself propelled along by its urgent, rhythmic pulse.

The Ofsted Massacre (The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall)

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. 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.

Making a Murderer: The Musical (Underbelly Bristo Square)

Like millions of others across the UK, I was transfixed by the Netflix documentary, Making A Murderer – so when I spot a poster on the Royal Mile with the words ‘The Musical‘ tacked onto the end, I’m intrigued – and simultaneously doubtful. Isn’t that going to be… disrespectful? But, in the capable hands of writer Phil Mealey, MAMTM offers a compelling version of the familiar events, a fresh perspective on the story that never feels like a cheap shot. The songs are terrific throughout, ranging from spirited rockers to plaintive ballads. What’s more, the production supports (and is supported by) The Innocence Project.

The Tiger Lillies: One Penny Opera (Underbelly Bristo Square)

Describing an act as ‘unique’ is often considered a cop-out, and yet I can’t think of a more appropriate word to describe The Tiger Lillies, three remarkable musicians currently strutting their inimitable stuff at The Cow Barn on Bristo Square. Originally formed way back in 1989, they’ve been through a number of personnel changes over the years, though the macabre compositions of singer-songwriter Martyn Jacques have remained a constant. They describe themselves as “Brechtian Punk Cabaret”, and who am I to argue with them?

Susan Singfield & Philip Caveney



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

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

Lucy Porter: Wake-Up Call


Pleasance Courtyard (Forth), Edinburgh

Lucy Porter is as vivacious and likeable as ever – her bright-eyed enthusiasm is hard to resist. Perhaps she relies on this a little bit too much in this loosely-structured show, however, which seems to skirt around a point it never quite makes. 

The premise is ostensibly about a mid-life ‘crisis’, resolved by the wake-up call of the title. It’s relatable (most of the audience – including me – are in the same age bracket as Porter) but there isn’t really anything calamitous or, well, crisis-like here, just a vague sense of anxiety about getting old.

There are lots of laughs though. It’s a pleasant, meandering monologue, and Porter’s warmth and charm shine through. But I’m left wanting something more. That bed, for instance. It’s an enormous prop. It must be a pain in the arse to store and set up. But it’s a perfect example of Chekhov’s gun principle – if it’s not going to be used, what’s it doing there? (Okay, so it is used, in fact, but only for a nano-second, and not to any great effect.) 

An agreeable way to spend an hour, this one’s probably the perfect tonic if you’re in the mood for an undemanding treat. 

3 stars 

Susan Singfield 

Emily Wilson: Fixed


Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath), Edinburgh

Emily Wilson’s Fixed is part musical, part stand-up and part catharsis. Clearly a born performer, Wilson takes us on a tour of her youth, from beaming toddler to broken teen. It’s all been chronicled, of course: she’s 26 years old, a whole lifetime of phone recordings and insta-chats and YouTube videos. Oh, and primetime national TV too.

That’s the crux of the story: Wilson appeared on The X Factor USA in 2011, as one half of the earnestly named duo, Ausem. “Because my best friend’s called Austin, and my name’s Emily, so together we’re Ausem!” She thought her dreams had come true: she was 15 and destined to become a star. But then they hit a snag. The judges decided they liked Austin, but not Emily…

Wilson’s tale, co-written and directed by Sam Blumenfeld, is compelling. She’s a vivacious, funny, talented woman – and, while she’s disarmingly self-deprecating, she’s justifiably pissed off. The X Factor nearly destroyed her. How is a child supposed to process such public humiliation? How do the powerful adults in charge legitimise hurting her for viewing figures, for more dollars in their bulging bank accounts? Do the haters on social media sleep well at night, knowing they’ve made a young girl cry?

The past is detailed via a series of video clips and diary entries, interspersed with stand-up and original songs revealing Wilson’s current perspective. What emerges is a thoughtful commentary on fame, ambition and exploitation, and it’s riveting.

Oh, and she really can sing. Whatever Nicole Sherzinger says.

4.6 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



Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Skank is a surprise. I’m expecting a wry look at Millennial life, and – to some extent – that’s what I get. Clementine Bogg-Hargroves plays Kate, a young woman flitting from one temping job to the next, dreaming of being a writer but hardly ever actually writing anything. She won’t commit to a ‘proper’ job because the thought of it fills her with dread. She has nothing in common with her colleagues, but they seem to like her: she’s funny and sparky, and even has a crush on one of them. But Kate’s real life happens outside the office: in trendy coffee shops and pubs; in too much booze and one-night-stands; in knitting classes and doctor’s appointments.

Ah yes. Doctor’s appointments. Because this isn’t, it turns out, as light as it first seems. It’s a clever realisation of how people conceal their mental health problems. No one in the office can possibly have a clue about how anxious Kate is, all the time, of what her upbeat humour hides. As the play progresses, we see Kate unravel, all the while maintaining that same bubbly persona.

A smear test is the catalyst. An abnormality sends Kate spiralling, her tinnitus is out of control and she doesn’t know what to do. And why is it so bloody hard to recycle a baked beans tin around here?

Bogg-Hargroves truly inhabits the part, which makes sense, as it’s based on her own experience. She’s a charming, engaging performer, easily eliciting laughs from this afternoon’s audience. I cry too, because there is real heart here, and plenty of stuff that resonates. If at times it’s a little too close to home, a little difficult to bear, well, that’s the point, I think. That’s art, doing what art is meant to do.

There’s some lovely direction here (from Bogg-Hargroves and Zoey Barnes). The transformation of Kate’s desk into an examination table is simple and wonderfully offbeat, drawing a laugh all by itself. I like the little bit of puppetry too, and the pre-recorded offstage voices (sound tech by George Roberts) are a quirky and effective touch. (I do wonder, however, why the final voice is different from all the others; apart from this one, they’re all Bogg-Hargroves, who has an impressive range of accents and tones. Is this meant to signify something? If so, I don’t get it.)

Incidentally, the Pleasance Rear Courtyard is my favourite performance space so far this Fringe – the best example of a joyous outside/inside Covid-safe venue I’ve seen. And Skank is a delight too. Make time to see this. It’s a gem.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Bard in the Yard: The Scottish Play


Pleasance Courtyard, Rear Courtyard, Edinburgh

What is the Edinburgh Fringe without a little Shakespeare, I hear you ask? Good question.

At B & B we’re always on the lookout for fresh interpretations of the Bard’s classics and here’s an interesting offering, staged in the well-ventilated confines of the Pleasance’s rear courtyard. The Scottish Play is a lively monologue, in which William Shakespeare (Caroline Mathison) strides onstage and tells us all about his current predicament. He’s been sent to Scotland by James the First to write ‘a Scottish play’ and, if he doesn’t deliver the goods, he could well end up with his head on a spike.

What better incentive could a playwright have?

So far, Will only has one dodgy soliloquy in his notebook – something about a dagger that also includes the word ‘erection’ – so he enlists three members of the audience to help him with the piece. They must make notes of anything he says that seems useable and, hopefully, by the end, he’ll have something that might just work.

Mathison is a confident and energetic performer, who manages to zip between silly and emotive with ease, seizing on the similarities between the pandemic and the plague (which affected so much of Shakespeare’s life) and making much play of it. The bit where she drenches her hands in sanitiser while singing ‘Greensleeves’ is a particular delight and I also enjoy the spirited renderings of several of the better-known soliloquies This is a piece that celebrates Shakespeare’s work and isn’t afraid to take risks with the material

But, what initially promises to be an immersive experience doesn’t really deliver on that score. Those three enlistees don’t actually have very much to do and, when one of them announces that his name is Macbeth, it isn’t picked up on and developed. Overall, the piece never seems entirely sure about what it wants to be – part knockabout comedy, part anguished recollection (as Will recalls his brother Edmund who died of the plague), it veers from one approach to the other and never finds a consistent tone.

By the end, Mathison is cavorting merrily around the stage, accompanied by ‘We Will Rock You’ handclaps from the audience. It’s all very jolly and lots of fun, but, with a sharper script, it could easily be more than that. Great venue though – and what might just be the catchiest title on this year’s fringe.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney



Pleasance Courtyard, Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe thrives on good ideas and there’s a great one one at the heart of Eugene.

Set in the not-too-distant future, this show takes the form of a presentation by ‘Hugh'(Daniel Nicholas), the CEO of Hubris Industries. (Think of the grandiose, over-sincere product launches that Apple are so fond of and you’ll get the general idea.) Hugh is here to present his new invention, Eugene. The titular star of the show is the world’s first superhuman Artificial Intelligence and is represented by a glowing cube on a rostrum. Hugh assures us it’s capable of controlling the entire planet’s electricity supply, whilst simultaneously solving climate change. In his pocket, Hugh has the three er… floppy disks needed to make all that happen.

Hugh is blissfully unaware that Eugene has already introduced itself to the audience, using lines of text on a big screen – and also on our mobile phones, via an app called The Difference Engine. Thus it’s established from the outset that Eugene is a mischievous character with a mind of its own and a propensity for telling us more about its creator than he would like us to know.

Then out strides Hugh to present his TED talk. Hugh is a delightfully monstrous creation: smarmy, self-possessed and, not to put too fine a point on it, is so up himself he’s lost all sense of proportion. His every announcement is accompanied by an artless pose and an inane laugh, a kind of deathly chortle. As the presentation continues, more and more of Hugh’s darkest secrets come bubbling to the surface – and it’s evident that his plan to get Eugene up and running as quickly as possible is probably not going to end well.

On the day I view the show, there are a few glitches with the technology, which I think throw Nicholas off his stride a little – and the middle section consequently feels somewhat muddled. This is a shame, because the idea of combining integrated captioning with live action is something I haven’t seen before and there’s so much potential here, I’d like it to be developed even further – because the show is at its best when that pesky AI is inviting us to break all the rules.

Even with some gremlins in evidence, Eugene is an enjoyable way to spend an hour at the Fringe.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

One Duck Down


Pleasance Courtyard (Above), Edinburgh

Festival-goers with young children to entertain will find plenty to enjoy in FacePlant Theatre’s One Duck Down. This lively family show is a charming mix of comedy and music, with an ecological theme.

Billy (Owen Jenkins) is a seventeen year old paperboy, who has lost his heart to the – clearly rather horrible – Cecilia Sourbottom (Alice Bounce). She keeps setting him Herculean tasks, telling him that only when he has achieved every one of them will she return his affection. His latest mission? To relocate the seven-thousand rubber ducks accidentally dropped into the ocean in 1992 (an event famously featured in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet television series).

Intent on proving his devotion, Billy sets off in a little boat, with only his unfailing optimism and a couple of sandwiches to get him through. En route, he encounters a rock’n’ roll-obsessed polar bear (Maxwell Tyler), a batallion of plastic-worshipping crabs, and a fearless bearded lady (Lydia Hourihan), who soon proves to be a worthier contender for Billy’s affection than the odious Cecilia.

It’s all done with good-natured zeal and bags of ingenuity: a myopic whale is somehow conjured out of a couple of sheets of painted cardboard; a host of skittering crabs are created using nothing more than pairs of red mittens. The costumes are garbage – quite literally; they’re made from throwaway items rescued from the trash. On the ecology front, however, it might have been preferable to concentrate less on recyling and cleaning up detritus and more on preventing the creation of waste in the first place, but this does get the idea across to even the youngest members of the audience that we all need to take drastic action if the planet is to be saved.

As the story romps amiably along, we’re treated to a selection of catchy songs, which soon have the audience joining in on the choruses – and those who enjoy groan-inducing puns will have an absolute field day here. My particular favourite? That famous seafaring novel, Moby Duck.

There are just a few days left to enjoy this, so gather up the kids and get on down to The Pleasance Courtyard, where the quest begins.

4 stars

Philip Caveney