Pleasance Dome

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 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

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. Still, they stubbornly insist that every last detail must be just right for their guests. As the clock counts steadily down to party time, the problems become harder to deal with…

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.

There’s a delightfully constructed set, a central corridor using forced perspective to make the place seem bigger than it actually is, and cleverly constructed props, designed to fall apart at inappropriate moments. A (mostly) hidden technician takes care of the show’s other ‘performers’ – a cat, a rat and a cuddly rabbit. Tobias and Bartholomew throw themselves into the clowning with gusto. We’ve seen and been impressed by both performers at the Fringe before, Tobias in The Orchid and the Crow in 2015, and Bartholomew in The Long Pigs in 2019.

What begins as silly slapstick metamorphoses steadily into something darker. The weather deteriorates and soon there’s a full-blown thunderstorm and rising flood waters to contend with. There’s a charming scene where Jim improvises a song about his long suffering wife – some Elvis styled mumbling with the occasional ‘Barb’ thrown in for good measure – and Barb’s headlong tumble onto a table laden with food actually makes me gasp. While you can spot some of the gags coming a mile off – put a rabbit and a liquidiser into the same space and the result is both inevitable (and inedible) – The Anniversary nevertheless has me laughing pretty much from start to finish.

If the conclusion is undeniably OTT, it still reinforces the fact that a couple who have been together for fifty years are always going to stick it out to the bitter end, even if some of that sticking involves kitchen knives. Those who relish clowning should give this a go. But be warned, if Jim offers you a taste of his pâté, perhaps you’d best say you’ve already eaten.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Happy Hour


Pleasance Dome (Queen Dome), Edinburgh

Aldo (Silvia Gallerano) and Kerfulle (Stefano Cenci) are two children, living in an unspecified future world. Initially, they present as ordinary kids, full of enthusiasm for whimsical things, both of them vying for the attention of their parents.  Kerfulle longs to be a footballer – or at least, for once, to be allowed to play for his team, instead of sitting on the benches, derided for his shortcomings. Aldo wants to be a dancer, to be adored for her abilities to move gracefully around a stage, but the ‘auditions’ she attends are unsual to say the very least…

As the story progresses, a darker subtext emerges. The world in which these two live is a twisted, nightmarish version of the one we’re familiar with – and every bit of adversity that the duo face has to be greeted with a cheerful gleefulness, a willingness to meet it head on and embrace it. After all, this is Happy Hour!

Christian Ceresoli’s play offers a challenging depiction of a dystopian society in entropy. The imagery evoked here recalls scenes from the holocaust, the rallies of fascism, the irresistible rise of the far right, all set to a bouncy disco beat. This is a challenging piece in every sense of the word, because the meaning of any given scene isn’t immediately apparent: it needs to be pondered, dissected and above all else, discussed. Both Gallerano and Cenci offer powerful performances, catching the nuances of these weird children with great skill, simultaneously eliciting both our affection and revulsion.

This won’t be for everyone; indeed, those looking to finish off their Fringe on a lighter note should not be fooled by that deceptive title. But it’s undoubtedly a fascinating slice of contemporary theatre.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Beetlemania: Kafka for Kids


Pleasance Dome (Queen), Edinburgh

Kafka? For kids? Really? It doesn’t sound like a goer, to be honest. But – it turns out – Kafka can indeed be repurposed for kids, and rendered funny and entertaining for adults too.

I’m vaguely familiar with Kafka’s work. I first encountered Die Verwandlung while studying for a degree in German literature, and then – during a second degree course, this time in theatre studies – met up with its English translation (Metamorphosis) via Berkoff’s infamous production. I’ve read The Trial, too, and The Castle, but not recently; in short, I know just about enough to be sure that Beetlemania: Kafka for Kids will have to pull something rather special out of the bag if it is to hit its mark. And does it? Oh yes, it really does.

The show is a delight from start to finish, the deceptive simplicity of the knockabout comedy concealing some clever structural stuff, and layered references to Kafka’s obsessions and stylistic tics. It’s all there: humanity-crushing bureaucracy, alienation, despair. There’s poverty too, and hope – and much absurdity. And, in Tom Parry (he of Pappy’s fame)’s script, it all comes together to make a genuinely funny and illustrative hour of fun – for all the family.

Parry stars in the show as well, as Karl, the hapless entertainer who’s inadvertently robbed a Royal Mail van, the contents of which serve as makeshift set and props. He’s joined by Will Adamsdale, who plays the troupe’s frustrated leader, Karter, and Heidi Niemi (Kat), who speaks Finnish throughout. The trio are interrupted, intermittently, by the marvellous Rose Robinson (last seen by Bouquets & Brickbats in Great British Mysteries: 1599? earlier this week), who plays a series of officious bureaucrats, each one more demanding than the last.

We’re introduced to miserable tales, where Poseidon is crushed by the weight of his paperwork, where a bridge loses faith in its ability to connect. We’re drawn in, made accomplices; we tell lies to officials to protect the performers. The kids in the audience are utterly enthralled. We don’t have any kids with us, but we are entranced too.

It’s a rainy day, so numbers are down; it’s a shame to see so many empty seats when the material is as good as this. Any families out there looking for something quirky, something different – I urge you to give this a go.

5 stars

Susan Singfield




Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Stardust is all about cocaine – its history, its usage, its properties. It’s about the way a tribal drug, used for thousands of years in religious ceremonies has been taken up by the Western world, exploited and commodified; how people are enslaved by it, murdered because of it and how casual users across the Western world, no matter how they might protest, now have blood on their hands. Make no mistake, this is a hard-hitting piece.

Our MC for this show is Miguel Hernando Torres Umba, a charismatic artist/performer making his debut at the Fringe. He uses many different techniques to get his story across. There are dreamy back projections, and ethereal music. For one section he adopts the persona of a game show host and gets the entire audience to interact with him. In another, he spoofs the famous scene from Scarface where Pacino takes all those bullets. Oh, and did I mention that he’s also an incredible dancer? One section where he depicts, through dance, the way that cocaine acts on the senses is a real highlight for me. He dances like he’s just inadvertently stepped on a 60,000 volt cable… leaping and scrambling around the stage until the inevitable comedown hits him and everything goes eerily into slow motion.

There are plenty of laughs scattered throughout this exciting multi-media show, but it clearly has a very serious message. Umba now lives in London, but was born in Colombia and is understandably sick of the way his nation is habitually depicted, how everybody in the West assumes that his countrymen are all drug dealers. He demonstrates very effectively how the people that grow coca are themselves victims of the organised crime that has grown up around the harvesting of the plant. There are the harrowing testimonies of people too scared not to grow it, people who have seen their relatives tortured and murdered in order to make them obey.

This is a powerful polemic delivered as a slice of entertainment, sharp enough and affecting enough to change hearts and minds. Go and see this and, whatever your views on cocaine, prepare to be enlightened.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney


Butt Kapinski



Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Butt Kapinski is a strange man. Called upon to investigate a series of murders, he embodies every  cliché of film noir: he stands beneath his portable streetlamp, pulls his trenchcoat around him, mimes an obligatory cigar – before regaling us with tales of life as an NY PI. The brainchild and alter-ego of American performer Deanna Fleysher, he is an oddly engaging creation, and the audience joins in willingly with this funny, interactive show.

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t dig as deeply as it could – several thought-provoking ideas are introduced and then left hanging – and the narrative, such as it is, could do with a more convincing pay-off. But it’s gutsy and it’s fun, and Fleysher works wonders with what the audience gives her. The character-exaggeration is pushed to extremes (those vocal contortions!) and has us laughing all the time. I can’t say more here without giving too much away, but this is a fascinating and unusual performance, well worth catching if you can. And don’t worry about being ‘picked on’ – the audience participation here is entirely voluntary, and Fleysher has perfected the skill of homing in on those who want to get involved.

4 stars

Susan Singfield


Garrett Millerick: The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of



Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Garrett Millerick is a welcome breath of foetid air. This is not a show about a nice chap who’s a bit rubbish at relationships, nor a rueful but essentially chipper trip down memory lane. No, this is a searing, blistering, visceral howl of a show, railing against a world where everything – except for Amazon Prime Now – is shit.

We’re a small audience, which helps propel the show’s narrative of failure (this really wouldn’t work in a bigger, fuller space), and the stories Millerick tells are a curious mix of the extraordinary and the mundane. This makes them utterly compelling. TGI Fridays and documentaries about ballroom don’t usually share space in a single anecdote, for example.

His anger is palpable – if manufactured, it’s expertly done. We laugh. A lot. He’s really very good. This is definitely one of the best stand-up acts we’ve seen this year.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Tom Neenan: The Andromeda Paradox



Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Professor Bernard Andromeda has devoted his life to researching strange phenomena – so when a mysterious prehistoric artefact is discovered in a disused London tube station, his curiosity is immediately aroused – especially when said artefact is inscribed with his name. He sets about trying to discover its origins and finds himself embroiled in a mystery that will challenge his scientific beliefs to the core, one that leads to the realisation that alien forces are at work. Soon much of the population of London has been turned into hordes of zombies all chanting his name and he is the only man who can avert disaster…

Tom Neenan has written a wonderfully affectionate parody of Nigel Kneale’s landmark sci-fi tale, The Quatermass Experiment, in which he plays all the characters – from a strange German professor who has taken his experiments with flowers a bit too far, to Andromeda’s adoring female assistant who is prepared to use her feminine charms to help him solve the mystery. Neenan is an expert story teller and he milks the comic potential of the 50s setting with great skill, aided and abetted by a script that is laugh-out-loud funny – the scene where one of Neenan’s hands transforms into an adorable alien creature… ‘no bigger than my hand,’ is a particular delight. There’s wonderful stagecraft here too. A whole range of locations are evoked simply by the positioning of a table and chair and Neenan’s sweet posh-boy persona is exploited to the hilt.

The performance is peppered with plenty of in-jokes but you don’t need to be familiar with the original material in order to enjoy this deliciously silly slice of nonsense, which is designed to appeal to people of all ages. Fabulous stuff, I urge you to catch it.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney