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 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

Crossing the Void


The Space on the Mile, Edinburgh

Koi Collective’s debut theatre show is a tight comic thriller, written by Sally MacAlister and directed by Grace Baker. Hannah (Eilidh Barn) is dead, and her friends and sister, Josie (Zoe Isobel Kinniburgh), have gathered to talk, to remember – and to conduct a séance. As you do. Abby (Georgia-Lee Roberts), now living in London, has managed to procure the keys for their old student flat in Edinburgh, and Finn (Amelia Fleur Yayici) has ordered a ouija board kit from Amazon. What could possibly go wrong?

Over the course of the evening, as the girls drink mimosas, snack on Monster Munch and attempt to communicate with Hannah, tensions emerge and intensify. What secret is Charlie (Evie Mortimer) hiding? Why has Lorna (Zara Louise Kennedy) always felt excluded from the group? And whose is the mysterious phone that keeps on ringing but can’t be found?

This is an impressive production, played with absolute commitment and precision by all five actors; there isn’t a weak link. The characters are wonderfully distinct, their interactions compelling and believable – and Yayici, as the boisterous, insensitive Finn, is darkly funny too.

I like the use of video clips to reveal the past: filmed footage of the group at parties or shivering on the beach, reading tarot cards and being daft. This helps to cement the sense of a shared history, letting us see how Hannah’s death has fractured their lives, as well as offering some clues as to what might have happened to trigger her demise.

Crossing the Void is a dynamic piece of theatre, and the team spirit behind the production feels almost palpable. There’s clearly a sense of shared ownership between the writer, director and actors – and this successful collaboration has paid dividends.

Kinniburgh is being replaced from today by Robyn Reilly (because of other commitments). Reilly is joining something very good indeed.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield



theSpaceUK Triplex, Edinburgh

It’s easy to see why Samuel Bailey’s Shook won the 2019 Papatango New Writing Prize, and why it garnered so much attention on its debut. It’s a beautifully written piece, full of warmth and humour: a brutal exposé of a society that condemns some people to the scrapheap almost from birth, and – at the same time – a heartbreakingly intimate tale.

Twisted Corner’s production does the material proud. Cain (Kieran Begley), Ryan (Ryan Stoddart) and Jonjo (William Dron) are young offenders. They’re also young fathers – or they’re about to be. Grace (Rebecca Morgan, who also directs) is their new teacher, running weekly parenting classes, hoping to help them break the cycle, to give their children a better start than any of them ever had – and to give them something to look forward to.

It’s an uphill battle. Of course it is. The odds are stacked against these boys. They have to negotiate so much just to get by: it’s a pitiless life, with obstacles at every turn. There’s a pecking order, and other people’s anger to endure – and that’s just inside. Outside, they know, is a world that doesn’t want them, that never wanted them; what is there to go home to, if they ever do get out?

The direction here is spot on: Morgan creates an atmosphere of absolute authenticity. The performances are nuanced and complex, each character fully realised. It’s emotionally draining – I’m laughing, then crying, then laughing again. Begley, in particular, has me on edge, Cain’s jangly, unpredictable energy making me fearful as well as sad. And all the time, I’m just hoping against hope that the boys will find the happy endings I know will elude them.

This is a stunning piece all round: the writing, direction and performances combine to create something really powerful and yet humbling. What we have here, in the end, is a fascinating examination of masculinity and fatherhood, and a tentative step towards redemption.

I have no criticism. None. This is note-perfect.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Catching Up


theSpaceUK, Symposium Hall, Edinburgh

Theatre Paradok’s 2021 Fringe offering is a new play about friendship. Lemon (Lizzie Martin) and her best friend, Sean (Leonardo Shaw), want to write a screenplay. For reasons best known to themselves, they decide that the best way to achieve this is to travel to Norfolk and lock themselves away for a long weekend… Despite their painfully posh accents and the fact that they talk a lot about how privileged they are (they’re middle-class, privately-educated North Londoners, whose coming-of-age stories are all centred in Regent’s Park), they don’t have much money; their train tickets have wiped them out. Still, it’ll be worth it if they can co-write their masterpiece.

But it’s not that simple. Of course it’s not (it wouldn’t be much of a play if it were). Friends since school, Lemon and Sean’s relationship is adversarial to say the least. Sean is bombastic and demanding; Lemon is obviously used to him getting his own way. But there’s a hint of a memory niggling in her mind, and it’s making her uncomfortable. What is it? When Sean insists that vodka and weed are the best catalysts for creativity, Lemon over-indulges, and the past comes rushing back, threatening everything.

The past is very much present in this production, as younger incarnations of Lemon and Sean (played by Freya Wilson and Tom Hindle respectively) are onstage throughout, as is Lemon’s girlfriend, Lily (Florence Carr-Jones). I like this conceit, although a bigger stage would allow the cast to do more with it; it all feels a little cramped and cluttered in the small space available here. Director Isabella Forshaw really embraces the non-naturalistic approach, which works well with the material, underscoring the volatile and unpredictable nature of memory and emotion. I particularly like a rag-doll movement sequence (choreographed by Isla Jamieson-McKenzie), which illustrates the details that Lemon has repressed.

It’s not perfect: in places, the storytelling feels a little opaque and the mirroring sequence could do with a little more precision. Adult Sean needs more to do; although Shaw (who is also the playwright) delivers a strong performance, we don’t really learn enough about his grown-up self.

All in all, however, this is an interesting and thought-provoking piece.

3.7 stars

Susan Singfield

On Your Bike


the Space@Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh

The members of Cambridge University’s Musical Theatre Society have a lot to live up to: their predecessors were responsible for the smash hit SiX. I’d feel a bit mean for introducing the comparison, if it weren’t for the fact that they’re touting the link as a means of promotion, so I reckon it’s fair game.

And honestly, they don’t come out too badly. Okay, so On Your Bike (words by Joe Venable; music by Ben James) doesn’t have the universal appeal of a rewritten bit of history, nor the inbuilt narrative arc. But it’s a lovely, lively – and meaningful – musical nonetheless, and I am thoroughly engaged.

It’s a timely tale. Aidan (Dominic Carrington) longs to be an artist; Gemma (Ella Nevill) just wants to pay her rent. To make ends meet, they work as ‘Eatseroo’ riders. They wait outside Felicity (Claire Lee Shenfield)’s chicken shop, desperate for work, conscious all the time of the precariousness of their situation: their zero hours contracts, their poor pay, their lack of employment rights. And when Gemma is knocked off her bike, she has nowhere to turn…

Aidan’s girlfriend, Daisy (Emilia Grace), is no help. She works for Eatseroo in a different capacity: she’s a ‘proper’ worker, with an office and a salary. She’s bought into the company’s ethos, and wants Aidan to sell out his dreams.

Although the musical addresses serious issues (unionisation, exploitation, animal rights), it does so with a lightness of touch, so that it never feels hectoring. There is humour here, and tenderness, and a gentle love story – which feels all the more romantic for never being fully resolved.

The four performers all have fabulous voices, as you’d expect, and they complement each other well. The songs are upbeat and zesty, embodying the youthful spirit of the protagonists. There is archetypal musical theatre here, but James has also incorporated rock, jazz and hip hop, to vivacious effect.

Maybe Daisy’s redemption feels a little pat, and perhaps Gemma’s post-crash desperation could be highlighted a little more. But these are only quibbles: this is, without doubt, a quality piece of work.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield