Laura Macdougall celebrates the great amount of queer content at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2014, from comedy to drama and spoken word.
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Following comedians on Twitter is great fun, particularly in the run-up to Edinburgh Fringe when they all, understandably, start freaking out. Sarah Millican dispensed her advice this week, which was: “Work hard, get sleep, don’t drink too much, see your proper friends, ignore reviews, do your best.” Easier said than done. Others have been tweeting about panic, shortbread, pancakes (yes, food is often a theme), chickens, cats, showers, the weather… It remains to be seen what comprises their Twitter feeds during and after the Fringe.
The Fringe has now been running for over sixty years and continues to be the world’s largest arts festival. Edinburgh in August is also one of the places to see the largest number of comedians in the shortest space of time – if you can face it, that is. But who wouldn’t want to see some of the funniest people in the country perform in venues ranging from basements to pubs to dark, damp caves? This year I’m particularly excited that there are so many brilliant female comedians performing at the festival, and that so many of them are queer women. The brilliant Jen Brister is bringing her new show, Wishful Thinking to the Fringe this year, and if you’ve never seen her before I urge you to do so. She’s one of the best mimics around, particularly when it comes to impersonating her Spanish mother. I hope this year will be the one when she breaks into the mainstream.
Susan Calman is also performing a new show this year, Lady Like, and, as one of Scotland’s best comedians, a trip to Edinburgh without seeing her would be a shame. You might already be familiar with Zoe Lyons from her regular appearances on The Wright Stuff and Mock the Week, and she’s back in Edinburgh with her new show Mustard Cutter. Mae Martin is a young Canadian comic I will admit to never having seen before, but I have it on good authority that she’s worth keeping an eye on, and she’s bringing a work-in-progress show, Mae Martin’s Workshop, to this year’s Fringe. Radio 4 regular and Funny Women finalist Rosie Wilby is also back this year with her new show, Nineties Woman, an interesting blend of comedy, theatre and storytelling in which she traces her journey through 90s feminism while a student at York University.
Of course, there are some funny straight women, too, and my two top recommendations are Bridget Christie, who had her breakthrough last year when she won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for her show about feminism, and Sara Pascoe, who is performing her new show, Sara Pascoe vs History, at the Fringe before embarking on her first ever national tour.
I always look for new writing when wading through the Theatre section of the frankly enormous Fringe programme. Although the percentage of shows is fractionally down this year (while comedy is up), there are still some incredibly exciting prospects, including a number of shows with queer performers or with an explicitly queer outlook. In the latter category is Outings, a new play by Thomas Hescott that was inspired by Tom Daley’s coming out video on YouTube. Based on real-life coming out stories, the play also boasts comedian Zoe Lyons in the cast and will have rotating guest stars for each performance. Sister is a new play by sisters Amy and Rosana Cade, both of whom are ardent feminists interested in female sexuality. Amy works in the sex industry while Rosana is a lesbian. Sister sees the two women reveal everything in an attempt to understand their own and each other’s sexual identies.
Lippy is a new Irish play that will have its UK premiere at the Fringe. Based on the true story of four women who entered into a suicide pact and starved themselves to death over a period of forty days, it won a host of awards in Ireland. Chatroom is a new play about six teenagers who communicate only via the internet. Exploring teenagers’ lives online, peer pressure and suicide, this play promises to be an intense sixty minutes. Finally, award-winning playwright Owen McCafferty is back with Unfaithful, a new play which explores relationships, desire, regret and betrayal and asks how far couples will go to break free from the tedium of their daily lives; a question we can probably all admit to having considered in the past.
If you were following our series earlier this year on queer spoken word and read our interviews with some of the best performance poets on the circuit today, then you will be pleased to hear that Sophia Blackwell is returning to the Fringe with her new show, Becoming Wonderwoman, in which she asks what it means to have it all, and why some people seem prepared to settle for less.
Spoken word has only had its own category in the Fringe programme since 2012, and still makes up barely four per cent of the approximately 3,200 shows on offer, but it is great to see a rise of eighty per cent on last year and there are some truly exciting shows taking place this year. They’re all very different, presenting their own blend of poetry, comedy, storytelling and theatre, but then that’s very much the beauty of the art form.
One to look out for is John Berkavitch’s latest work, Shame, described as a blend of spoken word and hip-hop theatre that features break-dancers. It will surely be a bold – and different – exploration of choices, chances and, of course, shame. Also returning to the Fringe is poet Tim Clare and comedian Alexis Dubus, who will both be performing poetry or poetic tales on a variety of subjects and themes. A young writer and performer I’ve been keeping an eye on for a few years now is Sabrina Mahfouz, who has written a new one-woman show called Chef that is about one woman’s descent from haute cuisine head chef to convicted inmate running a prison kitchen. Mahfouz isn’t performing the role herself, but instead it will be taken by the talented young actress Jade Anouka.
Finally, Dame Diana Rigg is taking a solo show to the Fringe this year. Title No Turn Unstoned, it is based on her book of the same name, in which she examined some of the worst theatrical reviews in history, and how actors survive them. One of Britain’s best-loved actresses, who’s recently won over a whole new generation of fans by appearing in Game of Thrones, I’m sure Rigg’s monologue will be something quite special.
So, if you’re heading up to the Fringe this year, do try and catch some of the above. Don’t, however, try and see as many shows as David Chapple, who is reportedly trying to see 287 during the month! Choose wisely, give generously if you’re going to the Free Fringe, and spare a moment for the artists’ sanity, if not your own.