Making Sense of the Edinburgh Fringe Guide 2013

Choosing what to see at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a stressful process for a lot of people, particularly my Dad. Throughout August he emails me saying things like: “We want to go and see four- or five-star theatre show at 3.30pm on Sunday 12th August at the Pleasance Dome, or within a five-minute radius, and it can’t be like that dreadful boxing one that won all the prizes you sent us to last year. Do you have any suggestions?”

By this point, I’m usually seeing lots of shows for The Scotsman and, as a result, have lots of recommendations. However, I can’t remember when or where any of them took place because venues, times and titles are a jumbled mass of numbers and letters rolling around my head like lottery balls. So I just email him a single word: the name of my favourite. It has really stuck in my mind and I’m pretty sure will win all the prizes. Why wouldn’t it? It’s by the company who did that wonderful boxing play.

It’s around this time of year that lots of lists come out called things like ‘Top 20 things to see at the Edinburgh Fringe if you can’t be bothered to read the programme’. They predominantly suggest you go and see shows by companies or individuals who have done good stuff in the past, similar to the way banks only lend to people who can already prove they have lots of cash. These shows are ‘a safe bet’. However, safe can mean predictable and, in some cases, disappointing. For instance, you’re unlikely to appreciate a harrowing expose of sex trafficking, no matter how well done, if what you really want to see is a musical starring ex-soap stars.

Reading the Fringe Guide for yourself avoids this. It means you will be more likely to find and see what you want; less likely to have to buy your ticket now (or last week). However, it’s a time consuming process. I know, because I do it every year. It’s boring! Don’t even try and read more than ten pages without a break. But, in the end, it is worth it. Out of the hundred or so shows I see each year most of the ones I choose are good, and the ones I like best are often on few people’s lists except my own.

In 2008, I was one of the first and only critics to see Little Bulb’s debut show Crocosmia, performed in a hotel room. There were two other audience members. Their last show, Orpheus, sold out Battersea Arts Centre. A picture of their current one, Squally Showers, tops the Guardian’s ‘to see’ list. In 2007, I saw one of the first performances of the recently formed 1927’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. It went on to win multiple awards and tour the world. The company didn’t have critics at their follow-up show in 2011. They didn’t need them.

Seeing a great show before anyone else is brilliant. You can take your time and choose where to sit, you won’t have someone else’s head blocking your view because there is no someone else, and the cast will probably chat to you at the end because they’ll be so grateful you came. “Why did you come?” they’ll ask, impressed that you’ve managed to find a venue listed 5km off the edge of the festival map. “Oh, I just read about you in the Edinburgh Fringe Guide,” you’ll breezily reply. None of this is going to happen when they’re selling out the National Theatre and appearing on BBC Breakfast.

While you will never again have the chance to see Little Bulb or 1927 in a quiet, unassuming atmosphere uncluttered by expectation in the way I originally did, reading the Fringe Guide will increase the likelihood of you having a similar experience with another currently unknown company.

But be warned, the Fringe Guide is a bewildering place: hidden gems are submerged in a cauldron of false advertising and unsubstantiated claims. In order to find the really good stuff, you’ll need to weed out the really bad stuff. To help, I’ve created a dictionary of the kind of terms you’ll come across here – words and phrases describing shows, and what they really mean:

Edinburgh Fringe Guide Dictionary


You will probably end up on stage.


There isn’t a stage


Talk about your life with a strange man.


A strange man will try to snog you

A classic dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century

A pointless new setting for a familiar old tale

A rollercoaster ride of emotions

Lots of people crying for no obvious reason

Tackling issues

Talking about issues

Heart wrenching












America student company

Cheerful, rich teenagers on holiday


Play written in 2003

London Riots

Play written in 2011

Ban the Bomb

Play written in 1963


Don’t go if you like Brecht


Weird and confusing

New writing

Play by someone no older than 25




Saying other people’s words for them

Giving people a voice who don’t have one

Writing other people’s words for them

Science meets theatre

Someone like Brian Cox

Theatre meets art

Someone like Tracy Emin

Suitable for under 4s

Don’t go on your own if you’re 43

Suitable for over 14s

Don’t go on your own if you’re under 4

Adults only


Starts at 1am

Probably good

Free food!



A projector

Five stars (audience member)

The critics gave it two

Five stars (unnamed source)

Everyone hates it

Five stars (well-known critic)

You will be left feeling mildly disappointed but predominantly smug

Won a prize in 2002

And hasn’t won one since

The critics loved it

We care what other people think

The critics hated it

Fuck other people

Adapted from a radio play

Was better as a radio play

Is on the telly

And should have stayed there



A play about tuition fees

Created by people who don’t want to pay them

A lot of hard work has gone into it

It’s not very good but please be sympathetic

Robert Burns

You will only see this play at the Edinburgh Festival

There will be a Q&A afterwards

No one will ask questions except the director

You will laugh until you cry

You may cry but not in a good way

You will cry until you laugh

Could be interesting

Good luck!

If you still can’t face the idea of reading the Fringe Guide and were really hoping this blog would be another list of recommendations for shows from someone who has yet to see any of them, please continue reading.

Shows I fancy seeing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I’ve also made a list of things I think sound good. They are mostly theatre shows because this is predominantly what I review. I chose them after reading the Fringe Guide and researching them online.

The list is based upon my own personal preferences and prejudices because you have to start somewhere.

Pretty much all of the shows are new because I don’t review things that have been on at previous festivals.

If I’ve missed something off it’s either because I want to see other stuff more or because sometimes I miss things. You can decide which.

The list is divided into three parts:

Part 1: Shows from companies who have done well in the past

You won’t have the excitement (and choice of chairs) that comes with seeing a completely unknown show that is brilliant, but you will probably still see something good. And you’re unlikely to be trapped in a basement watching someone screaming at their reflection for an hour. Just remember, no one is going to be impressed when you say: “You’ll never guess what I’ve just discovered? The Traverse!”

Part 2: Shows from companies I’ve reviewed before and liked 

Basically, if you think that we’d totally hang out together, like all the time, if ever we met because we have such similar tastes, you will probably like these shows. However, theatre companies, like bands, can suffer from second, third, fourth or fifth album syndrome. Being good in 2007 doesn’t necessarily mean being good in 2013 – but it can help.

Part 3: Shows that sound good in the Fringe Guide and I know little else about

I don’t know much about the shows here apart from the few words their creators have written about them in the Fringe Guide and anything I could find online, but they look good. Some look really good. That’s why they’re here. You just need to decide whether you can trust my judgement or, perhaps most importantly, trust your own judgement and take a risk.


Part 1: Shows from companies who have done well in the past


An Actor’s Lament

New one from Steven Berkoff. Satire on the acting industry.


New one from Badac theatre company (who did The Factory), about murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Ballad of the Burning Star

New one from Theatre Ad Infinitum (who did Transluner Paradise)

Biding Time

Various reworkings of Pippa Bailey show as part of a theatre experiment. Summerhall. The remix version was on at Glasgow Arches


New one from Hunt and Darton, back in their café. Sounds a good idea.

The Bloody Great Border Project

Collaborative interactive piece where a section of a ‘ballad’ is written each night. Northern Stage.

Brand New Ancients

Poet and rapper Kate Tempest with live quartet. Was on at BAC. Traverse.


Did well as Adelaide festival. Good people behind. Not clear what the story is exactly.


New one from Caligula’s Alibi, the company who did the Sidcup Family Portrait, which sounded great and got good reviews.

Cape Wrath

New one from Third Angel performed in a minibus. Northern Stage.

Captain Amazing

Won the Bruntwood Prize. Live Theatre/ Northern Stage.


New one from David Harrower.

Circa: Wunderkammer

Interesting Australian contemporary circus company.

The Collision of Things

Physical theatre, been on before in 2011 at The Lowry. Won BE Touring Prize. Live Theatre.

Credible Likable Superstar Rolemodel

New one from Bryony Kimmings and her nine-year-old niece. About the sexualisation of childhood by commercial businesses.


New one by Airbourne Theatre. Had good reviews for other stuff. Sounds conceptual.

Dark Vanilla Jungle

New one by Philip Ridley who wrote Tender Napalm which got good reviews.

Donal O’Kelly’s Brace – Fionnuala and Skeffy

New shows from writer/ performer who won a Fringe First in 2008.

The Events

New musical one from David Greig

Fight Night

New one from the controversial Ontroerend Goed (The Audience)


About a terrorist hunter and wife/ mother. Traverse

Have I No Mouth

Real life mot Arts Centre. A picture of theirlationship after a family tragedy. Traverse

Hope Light and Nowhere

New one from Andrew Sheridan who won the Bruntwood Prize. Sounds intense.

How to Occupy an Oil Rig

Sounds good. Daniel Bye (who did The Price of Everything).

If Room Enough

Multimedia retelling of the Tempest by company who done well in the past. Northern Stage.

I’m With The Band

New one from Tim Price and Traverse.

The Islanders

A real-life ex-couple, who used to go out with each other in the 1990s, dissect their relationship through a musical they have written. Sounds great. Ideas tap prize.

Island State

About two women stranded on an island. Won best writing prize at Durham Drama Festival.

It’s Dark Outside

From the people who did the Adventures of Alvin Sputnik. Sounds great.

Kiss Me Honey, Honey!

Sounds like an amiable drama about friendship and relationships.


Real-life story of a failed businessman who conned people into thinking he was Stanley Kubrick. Winner Les Enfants Terribles Award.

The Last Picasso

Fusion of live concert tour and multimedia theatre show by John Watts.

London Road, Sea Point

About friendship between two women in South Africa. Been popular.

Long Live the Little Knife

New one from David Leddy.


New one from writer Miriam Battye. Well received when on in Bristol.

Missing [one by Engineer]

Verbatim piece based upon interviews with friends and families of people who have gone missing in the UK. Won an award from Daily Mail.

Missing [one by Gecko]

Had good review when on in London. By company that did The Overcoat.

A Night to Dismember

One man character comedy. Did well at Auckland Fringe. Sounds surreal.


New one from Yael Farber (Mies Julie).

On The Beach By John Osborne

New one from the writer of John Peel’s Shed.

On the One Hand

New one from The Paper Birds, who did In a Thousand Pieces. About women at different stages in their lives.

Pants On Fire’s Pinocchio

New one from company that did Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

The Secret Agent

Multimedia adaptation of Joseph Conrad novel. Traverse.

She Was Probably Not A Robot

New one-man comedy/ music show from Stuart Bowden.


Stylised relationship drama. Well received when it’s been on before. Summerhall.

Stuart: A Life Backwards

New one from Jack Thorne.


Irish writer/ director’s play about drugs and the substance of life. Previewed at Summerhall and won a prize at the NSDF.

Take Care

Verbatim piece about care of the elderly by company from WarwickUniversity. Won a university prize.

Tell Me a Secret

Another new (verbatim) one by Leeds student company Aireborne Theatre. About depths people go to when able to express selves anonymously. Interesting idea.

Theatre Uncut

Theatre Uncut: Dalgety & Fragile by David Greig

New collections of short topical plays

These Halcyon Days

About an older couple who meet in a care home. Has won prizes. Assembly.


Devised, multimedia dance piece about the trapped Chilean miners from the company who did Riot last year, which got lots of good reviews.

Trash Cuisine

New one from Belarus Free Theatre about capital punishment.


New one by South African theatre company Wordsmith’s Theatre Factory, who did The Sewing Machine last year, which people liked. Assembly

The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe

New one from the company who did Female Gothic, which got good reviews.

The Wedge

New play from Theatre Absolute, who have done good stuff in the past, by Naomi Said. People liked the previews. Urban thriller.

Where The White Stops

New one from E15 graduate company. Won an award from IdeasTap. Sounds imaginative.

White’s Lies

It’s Corey Feldman!

Working on a Special Day  

Period drama set on the day Hitler visited Mussolini’s Italy. Time Out New York liked.


Brian Lobel: Mourning Glory Trilogy

A trilogy of performance works (two of which have been on before?) based around the death of Brian Lobel’s boyfriend.

Tim Crouch and Andy Smith: what happens to hope at the end of the evening

New one.

Bryony Kimmings: Catherine Bennett, Behind the Music

An audio work to go with the show Credible, Likeable, Superstar Role Model

Fuel: While You Wait

Podcasts about waiting.


Dusty Limits: Psycho – Free

Sounds great.

Lady Rizo

Sounds great.



New one from Macrobert, whose past shows were well received. Summerhall.


The Horne Section Live in a Cow

Always good.


The Man in the Moone

About ‘our desire to venture into the unknown.’ Good reviews from last year.

Tap Into Health – Movin’ With Melvin

Tap workout with Movin Melvin Brown. Sounds fun.


The Blues Brothers – Live

Always enjoyed whenever I’ve seen. Great, popular, energetic show.

Soweto Melodic Voices

Sound terrific.


Avenue Q

Always fancied seeing this and haven’t so far.

[title of show]

New one from Patch of Blue, who did 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. This one’s about what happens when ‘musical theatre and real life collide.’


Ban This Filth!

Alan Bissett plays radical feminist Andrea Dworkin in an ‘examination of porn culture.’ Sounds honest and funny.

Part 2: Shows from companies I’ve reviewed before and liked


Bath Time

New one from Ruaraidh Murray, who I liked last year (he did Big Sean, Mikey and Me). Great Scottish actor/ writer.


New one by physical theatre company Jammy Voo based on Hitchcock’s The Birds. I loved their first one, their second was more experimental. This looks good.

The Bridge That Tom Built

New one from the Flanagan Collective (formerly part of Belt Up), who did Beulah last year which I liked.

The Bunker Trilogy: Agamemnon

The Bunker Trilogy: Macbeth

The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana

New ones from former members of Belt Up. Morgana is by the writer of Belt Up’s Tartuffe, which was one of their best pieces.


New one from popular student company DugOut Theatre who did Inheritance Blues last year, which I enjoyed.


New one from Tortoise in a Nutshell who did The Last Miner, which was great. Summerhall.

The GB Project

New one from Kate Craddock who did Hand Me Down, which I enjoyed. Good idea. Northern Stage.

The Ghost Hunter

New ghost/ horror one from Stewart Pringle. Was on at the Red Lion. Liked As Ye Sow last year.


New one from the company who did The Girl With The Iron Claws.

Jekyll & Hyde

New one from Jonathan Holloway and Red Shift. Enjoyed their other one, The Fall of Man.

The Love Project

New verbatim collection of love stories from Look Left, Look Right (You Once Said Yes).

Making News

From the writers and team who did Coalition last year, which I liked. This one is about the BBC.

Moving Family

New one from Paul Charlton who did Crush, which I liked. About prejudice in modern Britain.

The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey

I reviewed a scratch version of this one two years ago and it was good. Also see the other Odyssey show, at Summerhall, Dustpan Odyssey.

Pendulums Bargain Emporium

New one from Maison Foo who did Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin, which I enjoyed.

Pirates and Mermaids

New one from Poorboy who did Blood and Roses, which I enjoyed.


New one from David Rosenberg (Shunt) and Gareth Neal (Hannah Ringham’s Free Show, which I liked) that takes place in the dark.

Squally Showers

Little Bulb’s new one. The first time they’ve done a dance show.

There Has Possibly Been an Incident

Chris Thorpe new one. Everything he does is great. Enjoyed The Oh F*ck Moment last year (he’s also doing another one with Hannah Jane Walker at Forest Fringe)

We, Object

New one from a mad theatre company. Probably a bit weird, but I like them.


Ross Sutherland: Standby for Tape Backup

New one from the guy who did Comedian Dies in the Middle of a Joke, which was brilliant.

Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe: I Wish I Was Lonely

New one from the company who did The Oh F*ck Moment last year which I liked. In this one, the audience has to leave their phones turned on.

Paper Birds: On the Other Hand

New interactive installation from Paper Birds. I enjoyed their last one.


Ali McGregor’s Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night

Great singer: likeable, funny, glam and truthful.

La Cliché

I always have a brilliant time.


Ali McGregor’s Jazzamatazz

I always enjoy her shows. This is her first children’s one, I think.


Bo Burnham: What

New one. I can’t seem to find in the Fringe Guide…

Part 3: Shows that sound good in the Fringe Guide and I know little else about


Ali J

Theatre company from India who sound like they might be good.

All Roads Lead to Rome

Art/ performance about family history. Sounds interesting

Bad Boy Eddie

Finnish company about a child growing up. Might be good.


New ‘immersive’ one from young people’s company Junction 25. About the education system. Nice idea.


This looks brilliant! A physical theatre/ dance fusion. ‘The Office meets Die Hard.’ Great trailer.

Breaking News

About ‘our relationship with the news,’ using puppetry. Looks imaginative. Evocative music. Summerhall.


Was on in Glasgow. Sounds good. Collection of different shows/ performance art in the Hunt and Darton café.

Chalk Farm

By Kieran Hurley. Had a short run in Glasgow but sounds good. About London riots

Choose Your Own Documentary by Nathan Penlington

Based on a found diary and the ‘choose your own adventure’ books. Sounds good,

Clown for Hire

About an unwanted clown in Johannesburg. Interesting juxtaposition. Can’t find any more info.

The Confessions of Gordon Brown

Sounds like a well-researched biographical one-man show by Kevin Toolid with an inherently dramatic/ Shakespearean tragedy kind of story.

A Conversation With My Father

True story about a protester and his policeman Dad. Sounds a nice family framing for a political tale. Northern Stage.

Dark Matter

Site-specific piece performed in a garden. Been on before in 2012. Sounds an atmospheric experience. Summerhall.

Dinner is Swerved

Interactive dining experience. Sounds interesting.

Dustpan Odyssey

Puppet version from Philippe Genty. There is also the Paper Cinema version at Summerhall that I saw a scratch performance of and enjoyed.

Economy of Thought

About bankers. Not sure if written by an MP? Assembly Rooms.

Fantastical Adventures in the Mundane

About a writer. No other info. Could be good if it does something new.

15 Minutes

A satire about fame by Laura Neal.

For Their Own Good

About killing animals. Summerhall.

Funeral Replacement Service

A ghost bus tour. I enjoyed the last show on a bus round Edinburgh I went on.

Gardening: For the Unfulfilled and Alienated  

Takes place in a real-life shed. Not sure what the story is but writer, Brad Birch, sounds good.

Gym Party

About a battle to win. Sounds a good company. Summerhall.


Been on before (2011). Sounds like a good little play about people hiding things.


Lecture performance about the search for the Higgs particle. Summerhall

Holes by Tom Basden

New one from BBC comedy writer. Performed in a secret location. Sounds fun.

Howie the Rookie

Someone from Twitter said I should go. Mark O’Rowe.

How to Avoid Making an Entrance of Yourself

Performance art piece about a performer’s fear of the audience

I Could’ve Been Better

About a 30-year-old man trying to defeat his 11-year-old nemesis in a swimming competition. Sounds brilliant.

I Guess If The Stage Exploded

About ‘creating a show never to be forgotten’. Looks brilliant and bonkers. Summerhall.

Impromptu Shakespeare

A new Shakespeare-style play is improvised each day.

Inspector Norse

Swedish noir crime thriller spoof. They are getting volunteers to knit objects for their set (including a Sarah Lund jumper).


About serial killers and how members of the public, their ‘fans’, write to them. Sounds insightful.

League of St George

About a gay skinhead in 1970s London. Good concept.


Writer Ross Ericsson. About three sisters leading different lives.

Major Tom

About how a woman’s journey to become a beauty queen and her dog’s to become a dog show champion. The dog is also on stage throughout.


Dance piece about gender and being a woman. Sounds interesting.


One man science/ theatre show. Summerhall

Next Door

Physical theatre about how well we know our neighbours, or not. Looks amiable and fun.

Our Fathers

About fatherhood. Has been developed for two years. Sounds interesting. Summerhall

Out to Lunch

‘A satire about eating and charity.’ Summerhall.

The Principle of Uncertainty

Fusion of quantum mechanics and theatre. Summerhall.

Sid and Valerie

An old-school vaudevillian resentfully assisted by his daughter. Sounds great. Summerhall.

Sock Puppet

Comedy/ horror about a haunted sock.

Sonica Presents Sven Werner’s Tales of Magical Realism

Interactive installation piece where you wear a headset and ride a bike through one of Sven’s ‘worlds.

’33 (a kabarett)

A one-man recreation of a show performed in Nazi Germany the night before the club was destroyed. Hill Street.

Twenty-Six Marathons in Twenty-Six Days

A woman is running a 26.2 miles every day up and down the royal mile.

When We Embraced

About ‘embracing things you’ve not embraced before.’ So, in that spirit, I’d like to go and see it. Northern Stage

Wot? No Fish!

Sound like a fun company. Not sure what it’s about. Summerhall.


Collection of short plays where the gender of the character isn’t specified. Good writers.


Abigail Conway (Subject to_change)

Go on a motorcycle ride through Edinburgh with Abigail in one-on-one performance.

Action Hero: Hoke’s Bluff

About ‘what it means to be a winner.’

Andy Field: Motor Vehicle Sundown

Car journey for two:  a ‘simulated amusement ride.’

Ella Good and Nicki Kent: Wild Thing I Love You

About a journey to find Bigfoot.

Sam Halmarack & The Miserabilites

Interactive pop concert

Unfinished Business: Only Wolves and Lions

A meal and a ‘performance provocation.’

Dan Gorman & Ryan Van Winkle: ViewMaster

Personal slideshow for one.


Cab-arette Cab

A ‘musical tour in the back of a cab.’


Crying Out Loud presents Daydream

Crying Out Loud presents L’Apres-midi d’un Foehn – Version 1

Two shows from interesting sounding company. Something different to what you might expect for kids.

YurtaKids! A Story of a Man and His Shadow

YurtaKids! Presents Cinderella

YurtaKids! The Red Bike

Yurtakids! 24583 Little Creepy Wonders

YurtaKids! Unleashed_Scatenati

Italian children’s theatre company. Looks good.


Barry on Arthur’s Seat

A show performed at top of Arthur’s Seat.

Knightmare Live

Interactive performance version of the 1980s cult kids’ TV show, which has recently started being shown again on Challenge.



Looks an interesting piece about being a couple

Spiltmilk Say Dance

Different styles of dance to incongruous music. Interesting idea.


Forest Boy

About a boy who turned up in Berlin claiming to have grown up in a forest. Sounds unusual, by an interesting company.

33MM: A Musical Exhibition

Fusion of images with a musical. Interesting idea and songs sound good.


We Are All Orange Ghosts

Debut show by Canterbury Laureate Dan Simpson. Sounds like might be fun and insightful.

And finally…

Here are some shows from my friends that sound/ are great, but I won’t be reviewing them as that would be weird:

Guilt & Shame: Addicted to Everything (Comedy)

Stephen Carlin: Gambling Man (Comedy)

Happy Never After (Theatre)


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One thought on “Making Sense of the Edinburgh Fringe Guide 2013

  1. Mamar August 3, 2013 at 7:31 am Reply

    As one of those who’s fazed out by any large selection of choice,the last two meals in posh restaurants proved a poor choice!) this cuts it down to a smaller version at least.Enjoy all those shows whichever you’re going to (the lot in your case Sally)

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