With more than 3000 shows to choose from, fans of theatre, comedy, music, dance and general weird shit (there is an actual show where you pay to look at a baby for an hour) are spoiled for choice at Edinburgh Fringe, which continues until August 29. NME headed to the Scottish capital for 48 hours and tried to cram in as much as humanly possible. Here, based on that small sample, are seven brilliant things you can do at this year’s Fringe.
Play Rebel Bingo
From its humble origins in South London, Rebel Bingo’s transition to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it appears late at night in the Spiegeltent Palais Du Variete in Assembly’s George Square complex, places a question over what, exactly, it is – comedy show, game, or performance. The answer is that it’s a bit of all three. Participants are presented with bingo cards and a marker and introduced to a version of the grandma-friendly game that’s described by MC/founder Freddie Fortune as the “most aggressive revolution in bingo history.” He warns: “Now you’re a part of it, you can never escape.” Rebel Bingo differs from normal bingo in some fairly major ways: the calls, which are rapped in Estuary English by the leopard print-clad Luki Luck, are absolutely filthy – especially when 69 pops out. Where most bingo halls offer cash prizes, at Rebel Bingo you’re more likely to win a pair of rollerskates, or – courtesy of sponsor Russian Standard – the biggest bottle of vodka you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Thumping music creates a sense of occasion (Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ crops up a lot), and the players – the entire audience – are soon sucked in, dabbing away at their cards like they’re possessed. At just an hour, it ends all too soon, but the fun needn’t stop there. Nearby, at Gilded Balloon Teviot, Russian Standard Vodka’s House of Davai presents PingTron, a bizarre version of the game in which you can strap on a daft helmet and play neon table tennis until the small hours. The benefit of those UV lights? It’s easier to see your ball bouncing off into the never.
Russian Standard’s House Of Davai presents Rebel Bingo is at Assembly, George Square
Spoil six seasons of TV in one hour
Edinburgh shows tend to be an hour long, and there’s a sport to reducing epic, well-loved stories to fit that timeframe, whether it’s the entire Star Wars saga or a work of Shakespeare. Following a sell-out run in 2015, one of the big draws this year is Thrones! The Musical Parody, which tells the story of Game Of Thrones, newly updated following season six. That means anyone who’s not totally up to speed with goings-on in Westeros (or “Weeesterooos”, as their version of Tyrion Lannister has it), risks ruining 60 hours of viewing for themselves in as many minutes. But it’s worth it – the show is an anarchic but affectionate tribute to the series, framed around a group of friends getting together for a season seven viewing party and enacting the story so far for the one individual not already obsessed with the show. In their version, Daenerys Targaryen lists ‘winner of The Great British Bake Off’ among her many titles, Jon Snow is a simpering poser and Hodor’s lack of vocab doesn’t stop him getting his own song. They’ll need to rewrite the whole thing next year, of course, but given the same Chicago-based theatre group improvise a musical every single day in their other show, Baby Wants Candy, you suspect that won’t be much of a problem.
Thrones! The Musical Parody is at Assembly, George Square
Get uncomfortably close to Trainspotting
With Trainspotting 2 filming in the city, the stage version of Trainspotting has returned to the Fringe – and it’s not for the faint hearted. Entrants are presented with a glow-stick and sent into a concrete bunker where ‘90s rave tunes are blaring out and the cast are bouncing around chewing their faces. If you’ve seen Trainspotting, you’ll know that, while it’s a brilliant film, its not a world you’d necessarily want to experience first hand. This theatrical version doesn’t give you a choice: the actors perform around, among and sometimes on members of the audience. There’s sex, drugs, nudity, fluids flying everywhere and some scenes – you can imagine which ones – are too close to comfort for some poor people. Played with almost sadistic enthusiasm by the cast, this is theatre at its most visceral.
Trainspotting is at Assembly, George Square
Catch the next generation of TV stars
There’s a mind-boggling choice of comedy shows on offer at The Fringe, ranging from big names to up-and-coming talent. Best to support the latter and see what you can find. NME caught sketch group Birthday Girls, whose new show, Sh!t Hot Party Legends, was an hour of utter, unabashed hilarity. The audience filters in to find the trio on “pre-lash” for a night out, dancing around the room, applying glitter to faces on the front rows and handing out shots of what looks like Archer’s. Music punctuates the group’s show, the three dancing in unison to blasts of party-starting tracks from David Guetta, The Weeknd, 50 Cent and more, a neat screen-wiping device between sketches. And the sketches themselves are jaw-achingly funny: often surreal, often a bit rude, always joyous, infectious and inclusive. Probably the only show in which you’ll encounter a feral Jamie Oliver, see a woman proposition a shoe and witness someone about to wee in a cup on stage, it wraps up to a brilliant, no-loose-ends conclusion too, a big night out in a microcosm (minus the vomit and regret). It is, frankly, criminal that Birthday Girls haven’t been given a TV series yet.
The Birthday Girls: Sh!t Hot Party Legends is at Pleasance Courtyard
See a play in a really weird place
With so many shows on offer during the month of August, there’s barely a space in Edinburgh that isn’t used as a venue. One of the strangest has to be the smashed-up car outside George Square Theatre, in which one-woman play Wrecked is performed to an audience of just six people. We join the protagonist (intensely played by Kristy Bruce) as she wakes up in the driving seat of an unfamiliar crashed car, and listen as she pieces together the events that led her there. What follows is a captivating and, at times, uncomfortable 45 minutes – both because of the unsettling subject matter and because it’s bloody hot in the car. You emerge, sweatily, with your head swimming – this is a play that stays with you long after you’ve left it.
Wrecked is at Assembly, George Square
Tap into millennial tension
Though you suspect it’s a tag he’s rapidly tiring of, stand-up Liam Williams has made a name for himself as the voice of millennial angst thanks to previous Edinburgh shows such as the acclaimed Capitalism and Bonfire Night, and his Radio 4 comedy Ladhood, a pitch-perfect snapshot of life as a teenage boy in noughties northern Britain. His contribution to this year’s Fringe is a play, Travesty, which examines modern heterosexual relationships by visiting a couple at four crucial points in their life together. If you’re in your 20s or early 30s, there’ll be something in here that hits a nerve, whether it’s the couple’s frustration with their respective careers (he’s a teacher who wants to be a filmmaker, she fell into a job in PR), the fine details of class in modern social groups, or the scene where they’re putting off booking a holiday again, paralysed by the choice of having the whole world to choose from. They end up going to Whitstable. Williams’ gimmick is to swap genders – the boyfriend is played by a female actor, Lydia Larson, and the girfriend is played by a male, Pierro Niel-Mee. Surprisingly, you soon forget and it becomes less of a ‘thing’, but oddly it serves to highlight how much better written the male part is. Totally worth seeing, but book some comedy in afterwards – you will need a pick-me-up.
Travesty is at Assembly, George Square
Have some cathartic Brexit laughs
You will, at this year’s Fringe, hear many, many jokes about the following: Boris Johnson, Boris Johnson being Foreign Secretary, and Brexit. Being as how Edinburgh is in Scotland and Scotland voted convincingly to remain in the EU, it’s safe territory for cathartic how-the-fuck-did-that-happen comedy from apologetic English comics. It has, however, presented a challenge to comedians: given that the Fringe starts in August and the vote was at the end of June, anyone hoping to tackle the shock referendum result had around a month to tear up their script and write an entirely new show. Those who did so include the ever-brilliant Bridget Christie, Al Murray, whose Pub Landlord character is pleased with the result even if the man behind him isn’t, and Radio 4 stalwart Marcus Brigstocke, who updated his Why The Long Face show with new material about the political stuff that might make you sad. Ultimately, he has handy solutions for finding the joy in life, such as listening to vinyl, eating cheese, and removing all your clothes below the waste.
Marcus Brigstocke: Why The Long Face is at Pleasance Courtyard