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



Roundabout @Summerhall, Edinburgh

‘Daphne’ (Jessica Clark) is a bisexual woman living in London. She’s working for a charity during the day and, in her free time, she’s making the most of the Capital’s vibrant nightlife. On her daily commute to work, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to a flat she passes. Through an open window, she can see a host of greenery growing within, as though inside it’s a huge forest. She finds this strangely alluring.

At a business meeting, she hooks up with a man, with whom she has a one-night stand. He doesn’t call her back, so she puts it down as one of those things. Then, some time later, at a gay club, she spots a ‘Wonder Woman’, who – she’s sure – is out of her league. She is amazed when the two of them promptly hit it off.

Pretty soon, they are an item, going everywhere together, wanting nobody else. But Daphne has a surprise waiting for her, one that is going to affect her life profoundly…

Sap is one of those plays where you daren’t reveal too much about the story. Suffice to say that 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 the hyper-physical performances, directed by Jessica Lazar and Jennifer Fletcher. Clarke is a brilliant narrator, inviting the audience into her world with supreme confidence: making them laugh, flirting outrageously with them, making them care about what’s going to happen to her. Rebecca Banatvala plays all the other roles: she’s the one-night-stand, she’s Wonder Woman, she’s over-inquisitive work colleague, Miriam. Again, I don’t want to reveal too much. While Banatvala’s performance is less flamboyant than Clarke’s, she manages to slip effortlessly between her characters, inhabiting them with the merest glance, the smallest gesture. Together, the two actors create a mesmerising partnership.

I’ve already observed that Roundabout are having one hell of a year and Sap is another glittering jewel in an already abundant treasure chest. Grab your tickets for this before they’re all snapped up.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen


Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

The offerings at Roundabout during Fringe are generally very good, but this year their shows are really knocking it out of the park. If this sounds like my cue to say something like, “unfortunately, not in this case,” please don’t be misled. Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen is (apart from its tortuous title) another solid-gold winner. At the packed show we attend, the crowd are clearly spell-bound by Samuel Barnett’s performance and that’s perfectly understandable. He inhabits his role completely, spitting out a constant stream of pithy one liners and wry observations with apparent ease. Marcelo Dos Santos’ script is utterly compelling and Matthew Xia’s exemplary direction ensures that the pace is never allowed to flag.

Barnett plays a thirty-six-year-old comedian (we never actually learn his name), gigging in various pubs and clubs around London. He’s gay and happy to explore his sexuality with the many random strangers he meets online, but things change dramatically for him when he encounters ‘The American,’ a handsome guy who, unlike most of his hookups, is clearly in no great hurry to get him into bed.

As the relationship develops, our nameless protagonist begins to wonder if this might actually be the real thing. You know, love and all that.

But then he learns that The American suffers from a very rare condition…

As I’ve already said, Barnett performs this so confidently that I find myself completely immersed in his story, which struts a masterful path from laugh-out-loud jokes to poignant, heart-tugging observations. I quite overlook the fact that 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.

Both Barnett and Dos Santos deserve huge praise for what is undoubtedly one of the best collaborations between writer and performer that I’ve ever witnessed – and, once again, Roundabout proves to be the perfect performance space for a show like this.

If Feeling Afraid… isn’t on your bucket list, it’s not too late to put it there. Just saying.

5 stars

Philip Caveney



Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

As we take our seats at Roundabout, the heavens are threatening a deluge and the sound of thunder rumbles and reverberates overhead. It provides a suitably dramatic backing track for Hungry by Chris Bush, making its world premiere at Summerhall. This 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. Their first meeting is fractious to say the least but, by the second, Lori is already trying hard to put the new worker at ease and endearingly failing to understand her sly sense of humour.

But it isn’t long before sparks begin to fly – and the two of them become lovers.

The ensuing relationship is told non-chronologically and veers between awkward early encounters to full-on adversarial squabbles, the two actors literally slamming metal food trollies at each other as the conflict builds. It’s perhaps only natural for Lori to want to offer her partner an upgrade in life, to try to encourage her to appreciate the difference between a mousse – sorry, a mousseline – and a ganache, even positing the idea of them running their own ‘soul food’ restaurant, together, but she doesn’t fully understand the implications of what she’s doing, nor the way her interventions make Bex feel.

When Bex’s mother dies Lori tries to muscle in on the catering arrangements and matters inevitably come to a head.

This is a cleverly observed exploration of both class and race, brilliantly written and superbly acted by Sutton and Lowe, who make their characters entirely believable. Director Katie Posner keeps everything stripped back and simple – there’s no need for the distractions of actors miming the acts of ‘eating’ or ‘drinking,’ they are free to circle each other, interacting, exchanging pithy remarks and occasionally kicking off. It’s only in the play’s final scenes that any actual food appears and, when it does, this sudden move into hyper-realism – and the fact that we can actually smell it cooking – amplifies its seductive nature.

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 standing ovation from the crowd is heartfelt and utterly well-deserved. If you’ve a taste for challenging drama, this is a show you mustn’t miss.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Half-Empty Glasses


Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Toye (Samuel Tracy) is sixteen years old and good at just about everything he turns his attention to. A piano exam for a prestigious private school is fast approaching, and his best friends, Ash (Sara Hazemi) and Remi (Princess Khumalo), have learned to accept that he has to devote long hours of his spare time to piano practice. But not everything in Toye’s life is perfect. His father is gradually declining, thanks to Parkinson’s disease, and Toye is grimly aware of a gulf opening up between them.

And then, after reading a whole pile of books about black history, Toye suddenly decides he wants to change the world – to become a black activist.

He enlists Ash and Remi to help him and holds an impromptu meeting at his school at lunchtime, talking about black cultural icons, but quickly realises that it’s not enough. He has to reach more people, make real changes! His increasing obsession alienates first Remi, who – as head girl – feels compromised by his planned events, and then Ash, who is of Middle Eastern descent and is aware her own issues are being side-lined. Toye struggles on alone but is in danger of putting his musical ambitions at risk…

Half-Empty Glasses by Dipo Baruwa-Etti is a fascinating and beautifully nuanced play that gradually exerts a powerful grip over the audience’s emotions, making its complex themes easy to navigate. The depiction of Toye’s father – either Hazemi or Khumala speaking quietly into a microphone – is a simple stroke of genius, effortlessly demonstrating the distance between father and son. And I love Toye’s reactions to the music he’s making, the way it orders his world, helps him to navigate his way through life. When things start to go wrong, the discords this generates are genuinely jarring.

Sensitively directed by Kaleya Baxe and with superb musical input by Roly Botha, this is an absolute delight from start to finish. Hats should also be raised to the young cast who, as well as starring in Half-Empty Glasses are also appearing daily in two other superb plays at Paines Plough, working their collective socks off. We’ve yet to see a disappointing production at Roundabout and this year their offerings are flying particularly high.

Don’t miss your chance to see what they have to offer.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

Every Brilliant Thing

2015EVERYBR_AEI 174789b2-063c-44a0-84ce-cb6002df6c93-2060x1236


Roundabout@Summerhall, Edinburgh

Co-written by Duncan McMillan and Jonny Donahoe, Every Brilliant Thing is a lively, witty, interactive performance – about depression.

Jonny Donahoe, who performs the one-man show, is an engaging actor; he has an innate charm that ensures the audience complies happily with his requests.

This is a poignant and funny play, taking us through the protagonist’s experiences of living with a suicidal mother, when he’s seven and his dad tells him, “Mum’s done something stupid,” to the dark realities of adult life and his attempts to make this palatable by writing a list of everything that’s good. Members of the audience are called upon to provide props, read aloud items from the list, as well as to play supporting roles (his dad, his counsellor, his university sweetheart). I don’t know if all audiences would respond with such alacrity as one at the Edinburgh Fringe (not a shy or reluctant participant among us!) but it’s an effective method of drawing us in; of making us want everything to turn out well.

This really is a delightful production: superbly acted in a knockout space. Go see it if you can.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield