Underbelly Bristo Square

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 Tiger Lillies: One Penny Opera


Underbelly Bristo Square (Cow Barn), Edinburgh

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?

The current lineup shambles onto the stage looking like characters from your worst nightmare, plastered in grotesque makeup and wearing eccentric outfits. They launch headlong into their opening song, a Germanic foot-tapper that recalls the music of pre-war Berlin, jaunty and uncompromising, while Jacques’ lyrics spin an introduction to a tale of darkness and dismay, a world of crime and vicious retribution, featuring Mack the Knife and Polly Platt. Indeed, the entire hour is devoted to the continuing adventures of these miscreants and their various accomplices, so this is as much a storytelling session as it is a concert.

These days, Jacques handles accordion and keyboards, anchored by the drumming of Budi Butenop and embellished by Adrian Stout’s mercurial musical flourishes. Watching Stout conjure ethereal sounds from the theremin, the electric bass and, at several points, from a battered old saw is like watching a gifted magician at work. If you thought a saw was only good for cutting down trees, think again! Occasionally, Jacques switches to keyboards and offers us beautiful ballads that juxtapose poignant melodies with tales of murder and bestiality. His voice, a weird, soaring soprano, is quite extraordinary too.

I could say that this won’t be for everyone, but judging by the large, spellbound crowd that’s in tonight, The Tiger Lillies’ dark cabaret clearly has an ardent following – and if you need any more convincing, the band won an Olivier Award back in the day for their cult musical Shock Headed Peter.

Those looking for a unique – yes, that word again! – blend of music and theatre should head down to the Cow Barn without delay for a truly unforgettable experience.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Jenny Bede: The First Pregnant Woman in the World


Underbelly Bristo Square (Clover), Edinburgh

We first encountered Jenny Bede way back in 2013 at the Fringe, when she appeared alongside Jessie Cave in Ain’t Too Proud to Beg. We enjoyed that show a lot, but haven’t managed to see her since. Until now. And, while a lot has changed (she’s the first woman in the whole world to have ever been pregnant, you know), she’s still the same sweet-faced, potty-mouthed, musical comic we remember.

The theme here is – unsurprisingly, given the title – motherhood, but – as should also be evident – Bede is very, very self-aware. She’s brutally honest about the toll pregnancy and parenting take (the struggle to work while breast-feeding; the hormonal rage of the second trimester; the absolute carnage of giving birth), but also conscious of the self-absorption and entitlement ‘a white woman with a buggy’ sometimes displays.

Bede is an engaging performer. Her style is chatty and intimate, and she doesn’t seem to have a filter – some of her tales are very personal (and all the better for it). The show’s high points are the musical numbers, all original pieces, with bitingly witty lyrics. The standout is the song about things that make her angry, that soon descends into a rant, interrupted periodically by cheers and applause from the audience as she highlights issues that have affected us all (not least the fact that Boris Johnson was enjoying a party at the exact same time she was giving birth without her partner present, because WE WEREN’T ALLOWED TO MIX!).

There’s a weird heckle early on that unsettles her briefly, but Bede is an experienced comedian, and she soon settles back into her stride. This is a funny and appealing show, with some serious points playing peek-a-boo behind the jokes.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

The Actress


Underbelly Bristo Square (Dairy), Edinburgh

It’s 1660, Charles II has claimed the throne and, after eighteen long years of bans and closures, the theatres of London are finally open again – but something is different. This time, women are allowed on stage. Written and directed by Andrew Pearson-Wright, Long Lane Theatre Company’s The Actress focuses on the first of these new performers, highlighting the issues they faced and their determination to succeed.

Theatre was still tightly governed, and only two royal patents were issued: one to Sir Thomas Killigrew (Andrew Loudon), the other to his competitor, Sir William Davenant. This story, however, focuses on two women who present themselves to Killigrew, Anne Marshall (Charlotte Price) and Margaret Hughes (Eva Pearson-Wright), both vying for the accolade of being the first woman on the English stage.

They couldn’t be more different. While Anne is only eighteen years old, an intellectual, bookish kind of girl, Margaret is thirty and a woman of the world, a courtesan, who has travelled to Paris and Amsterdam, and is mistress to a prince. Pearson-Wright’s well-crafted script presents a complex, nuanced relationship: the two are competitors but also reluctant allies, aware that their gender both separates and binds them. Anne helps Margaret towards a deeper understanding of Shakespeare, while Margaret pushes Anne to be more assertive. They’re both fighting a losing battle to be taken seriously – “Men have to want to fuck her!” says the wonderfully boorish theatre patron, Charles Sedley (Matthew Hebden) – but at least they’re not being ignored, unlike Anne’s illiterate friend (Hattie Chapman), who’s working backstage all hours, waiting in the wings…

There’s a lot to admire here. The writing is strong: the play is pacy and the storyline is clear and engaging. The characterisation is also assured, and Price in particular stands out, imbuing Marshall with a disquieting intensity. The small stage is well-utilised and never feels cluttered, even when there are five actors almost filling it; the movement is dynamic and everything flows well.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the dressing room scenes, however. It’s a fascinating (and disturbing) period detail: apparently, men could pay to sit backstage and watch the actresses undress. These are important moments, and certainly need to be included in the play, but I don’t know why the women need to actually be topless; it feels as exploitative as the sleaze it’s supposed to be skewering. This level of realism doesn’t sit well in a production where moustaches on hand-held sticks are employed to differentiate between male roles.

That aside, The Actress is an interesting and compelling play, shedding light on an important piece of theatre history.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Wil Greenway: The Ocean After All


Underbelly Bristo Square (Dexter), Edinburgh

There are certain artists you see at the Fringe, who seem to define it so totally that the thought of not seeing them the following year is somehow unthinkable. Wil Greenway is just such an artist. Not only is he arguably the nicest chap you’d ever hope to meet (and a man with a constantly changing beard), he’s also kind of unique. Not exactly a comedian, not quite a storyteller, he inhabits a world somewhere in between these two disciplines.

The Ocean After All is another of his delightful shaggy-dog tales, a simple story about a man who drives off a jetty, lands in a boat and drifts across the ocean until he finally finds himself marooned on a tiny island with nothing but seagulls and bananas for company – except, of course, it’s not about that at all. His stories feel like richly embroidered tapestries, where what’s described in those lyrical, sumptuous lines of his aren’t necessarily what meets the eye. Somehow, he always manages to pull together the various strands of his narrative and tie them up in a gloriously satisfying bow.

This year, he’s without his familiar onstage musician Will Galloway, who always seems to be such an integral part of his act. Kathryn Langshaw is still there with some atmospheric recorded music, but I have to admit, I miss the duo’s live contribution. Nevertheless, this is a delightful and engaging performance, and the two friends we bring along with us to see Wil for the first time are suitably enchanted. I feel almost jealous of them, remembering back to 2016 and The Way the City Ate the Stars, my own introduction to the charms of this Australian dreamweaver.

I write nice things about Greenway every year in the certain knowledge that he’ll remain oblivious to them. He told me, the first time we spoke, that he never reads his reviews. But, if you’re reading this, do yourself a favour. Grab a ticket for one of Wil Greenway’s last few shows before he heads back to Oz.

You won’t regret it.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney 

Jon Long: Planet-Killing Machine



Underbelly Bristo Square (Clover), Edinburgh

We’re not sure what to expect from this: we’ve never seen Jon Long before. We’re heading into his comedy show because we like the poster, and because the environmental theme appeals to us. We’re glad we take the punt, because this young comedian is really very good.

I say ‘young’ because that’s how he seems. He tells us he’s thirty, but he exudes the charm of a diffident teenager; he has a gentle, appealing approach. It’s a pleasure to spend an hour in his company, being entertained by his songs and gags.

The show is loosely eco-focused – based on what he’s experienced working in a recycling centre, and his guilt at being the titular planet-eating machine – but there are lots of diversions and asides. It’s punctuated by witty, catchy songs, and we’re invited to join in. There are jibes at millennials, which might sound hack but work well here; there’s a self-deprecating tone to the mockery, which warms us to his ideas.

Long doesn’t look ravaged enough for his alcoholism material to be true, but I guess that angelic face masks what he’s been through. I’m just glad he’s in recovery, because this is one performer with a lot to say and a rather lovely way of saying it. Even when he’s singing about dildos.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield


Detour: A Show About Changing Your Mind


Underbelly Bristo Square (Buttercup), Edinburgh

Detour is Diana Dinerman’s account of how her life has taken unexpected turns: from dancer to historian to stand-up comedian. In this solo show, she charts the twists and turns of the path she’s trodden, using modern dance as an illustrative technique.

Dance – and its allegorical associations – is the strength of this show. The standout moment for me is when Dinerman performs the key features of three leading practitioners, a precise and economical demonstration that even non-dancers like me can understand. These ideas – of taking up space, contracting, separating out the limbs – are then interwoven into her story, physical metaphors for emotional discoveries. It’s a neat concept.

The opening third is very funny, with some wry witticisms and keen observations. From thereon in, there are fewer jokes, as Dinerman details a period of emotional distress and subsequent self-discovery. She speaks well, and the tale flows easily, but this section is a bit too self-help-manual for me. I admit, I’m not generally good with publicly-voiced introspection (I’m a “roll-your-eyes-and-call-it-naval-gazing” cynical kind of gal), so I’m really not the ideal audience member for this show. Certainly, as we left, the people behind us were most appreciative, enthusing about how insightful and thought-provoking they’d found it.

So, if you enjoy soul-searching with a dash of comedy, this could just be the show for you.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Wil Greenway: Either Side of Everything


Underbelly Bristo Square, Edinburgh

Wil Greenway’s whimsical storytelling has been a Fringe highlight for us for the past few years, and his latest offering, Either Side of Everything, is just as beautifully crafted and delivered as his previous shows. Accompanied once again by folk musicians Kathryn Langshaw and Will Galloway, this is a gentle lullaby of a performance – but somehow it still manages to pack a punch.

The writing is lyrical and inventive; the delivery is charming. He’s such an appealing performer, all sparkling eyes and inclusivity, wrapping us up in his tales of love and loss. He lays his methods bare, shows us the mechanics: this is a metaphor; there will be four stories; you won’t understand how they connect until the end. We’re part of it – for an hour at least – our lives and his, this telling, this time. We’re all on the metaphorical boat together, not knowing where this fits in the narrative arcs of our own lives. But here, now, there is Greenway’s melodic prose, a gently strumming guitar, repeated refrains, and a surprising wealth of lol-moments.

There’s sadness in these accounts: dead dogs and grieving women, unspoken love and tender touch. But there’s humour too, and would-you-rathers, the silly stuff that keeps us all going. There’s real skill in the weaving of this show, and – somehow, as always – it leaves me with a profound sense of warmth and wellbeing. There is beauty in this world, even in the misery.

(I do miss his man-bun though. I don’t know why – but it’s true, I do.)

5 stars

Susan Singfield