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Dancing ghouls, dystopian butchers and cancer comedies: The top shows of Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Party Ghost
Party Ghost Copyright Hamish McCormick
Copyright Hamish McCormick
By Jonny Walfisz
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Euronews Culture reporters Jonny Walfisz and Hannah Brown were on the scene to pick out the best shows at the world's biggest cultural festival.

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The Edinburgh Fringe is back. The biggest arts festival in the world has taken over the Scottish capital for the entirety of August. With 3,535 shows registered this year to play across the city, it can be a bit of a headache to work out what you want to see. 

Fret not! We've got up close and personal with the Fringe to find some gems for your viewing pleasure. The joy of the Fringe is the opportunity to discover something incredible to recommend to all your mates. We've trawled through famous comedians, circus acts, solo theatre pieces and the Free Fringe to deliver our top tips for anyone interested in seeing something a little bit different. 

Comedy

Chloe Petts: If You Can’t Say Anything Nice

One of the comedians with the biggest buzz around her this year is Chloe Petts. Fresh off a tour supporting Ed Gamble, Petts’ comedic star is in ascendance. Her new solo show, after the much-loved ‘Transience’, navigating the challenges of her anger, is hilarious and charming in equal measures. Petts is adept with the crowd, split demographically into her two kinds of fans: the “gentle queers” and the “football lads”. Both encompass the two opposing poles of her personality as a 6ft tall lesbian woman who loves nothing more than screaming at a telly when Crystal Palace are winning. She weaves tales of football hooliganism with observations of a gendered society. Jonny Walfisz

Chloe Petts: If You Can’t Say Anything Nice is on at the Pleasance Courtyard - Pleasance Above.

Julian Ward
Rob AutonJulian Ward

Rob Auton: The Rob Auton Show

Auton is something of a Fringe staple. He brought his first solo show (The Yellow Show) to the festival 10 years ago and has followed up with an array of other similarly specific shows (Hair, Sky, Sleep, and Faces). Last year, he focused his illuminating gaze on the audience with The Crowd Show. To celebrate a decade of Fringe shows, it's only right that the time has come to focus his razor sharp poetic wit on himself. The Rob Auton Show is his most personal work yet and it might also be his funniest. The spoken word poet blends his fundamentally optimistic view of life with erudite quotidian observation, hilarious childhood anecdotes, and penetratingly earnest revelations. You'll laugh until you cry at a glorious retelling of his circumcision coupled with a less than usual visit from the tooth fairy. You'll be just crying by the time of his final poetic monologue. The winner of Dave's Funniest Joke of the Fringe 2013 hits a whole new height. Catch it before it sells out. JW

Rob Auton: The Rob Auton Show is on at the Assembly Roxy - Upstairs.

Emotionally Unreasonable
Maria DeCotisEmotionally Unreasonable

Emotionally Unreasonable

American comedian Maria DeCotis brings her no-nonsense New York attitude to a funny hour of jokes about the patriarchy. With a side hustle as a wedding officiant, she’s witnessed up close and personal the trials and tribulations women go through just to permanently tie their freedom and assets to… some guy named Tyler. DeCotis is a classically trained actor and it shows. While her jokes on topics ranging from abstinence to ultimate frisbee are pitch perfect, her expressive face jumps through emotional hoops to land every joke. DeCotis continuously refers to musical comedy as “kinda hack” before breaking out into hilarious songs that follow the golden rule of musical comedy: never repeat the same punchline twice. DeCotis is also performing in Before the Drugs Kick In, a darker theatre piece about a 62-year-old waking up as a 28-year-old comedian. JW

Emotionally Unreasonable is on at the Laughing Horse @ Home Bar - Basement.

Best of the Fest

If you’re short on time and want to get a taster of as many acts at the Fringe as possible, this is your best bet. With guest hosts and five other guest slots, each show is completely different. The evening I visited was compèred by Jarred Christmas and Beatbox Hobbit. Even if the other five acts (Chris Kent, Micky Overman, Tadiwa Mahlunge, Michelle Brasier and Pierre Novellie) hadn’t been rib-ticklingly funny, Hobbit’s beatboxing skills were so unbelievable I could have watched him all evening. You can find upcoming line-ups hereHannah Brown 

Best of the Fest is on at the Assembly Hall - Main Hall, the Assembly George Square Gardens - Palais du Variete, and Assembly George Square Studios - Studio Three.

Alex Gibbon
Fat, Femme and CrippledAlex Gibbon

Fat, Femme and Crippled

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Alex Gibbon has carved out perhaps the most niche comedy act of this year’s festival. Not content to let a neurological condition get in the way of a good time, the non-verbal comedian provides a tight set of laughs via a text-to-speech programme. Sat on his mobility scooter (nicknamed Miss Carriage), he glugs away at a bottle of wine as he regales the humour and hiccups that come with being a queer disabled man. His jokes are often outrageous, opening with the explanation that, no “Stephen Hawking didn’t get a perm” and it only gets filthier from there. As he rails against the cultural appropriation of TikTokkers using the same speech software as him, Gibbon brings mountains of personality to the set through great one-liners and his wonderfully expressive physicality. JW

Fat, Femme and Crippled is on at the Laughing Horse @ Bar 50 - Garden Room.

Daniel Muggleton: How the Whitey Have Fallen

Edinburgh Fringe can be pretty pricey but fear not, there’s also PBH’s Free Fringe to get your teeth into. The shows are actually ‘pay what you feel’ but even though they haven’t assigned a monetary value to the show, that doesn’t mean the quality is any lower. This was perfectly demonstrated by Daniel Muggleton. His show had tears and mascara running down my face as I laughed uncontrollably. Daniel challenges us to think about what makes us uncomfortable — it seems modern audiences are happy to laugh at wanking jokes, but when it comes to talking about money, society has taught us that’s a no-no. In his signature red tracksuit, Daniel casually works the room discussing politics, money and racism without getting too deep. HB

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Daniel Muggleton is on at Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire.

Absolute Chaos

Living up to its title, Absolute Chaos is a great way to wrap up a night of revelry, or perhaps to just get it started. In its basement location at 11:30pm, compère Stuart Kennedy does his absolute best to corral a disobedient crowd into watching a selection of comedy acts. The premise is simple. Hecklers are encouraged, but any attitude from the audience will be met by equal fury. On the night I went to see it, audience members are forced on stage to prove they can do a better job, one act performs a song then proceeds to chuck copies of his CDs out in the crowd through the next, and Kennedy breaks down in laughter when someone calls him “crackhead Santa.” Go in with a thick skin. JW

Absolute Chaos is on at the Laughing Horse @ 32 Below - Little Cellar.

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Theatre

Jane Hobs
Adam Lenson in 'Anything We Wanted To Be'Jane Hobs

Anything We Wanted To Be

Amid old CRT televisions, neon lights and looped beats, Adam Lenson presents a memoir of his entire life and all the other lives he could have lived. Using the multiverse as a narrative tool, he tells the non-linear story of his diagnosis with cancer. Lenson is obsessed with how the decisions we make reflect and refract into alternative timelines, each defined by the one anxiety, would he have cancer if he’d have done something differently. His ability to keep the audience oriented in his entire-lifetime-at-once plot speaks to his brilliant storytelling ability, while his wit and charm keep everything moving nicely. Alongside songs, it’s a masterfully put-together piece of multimedia theatre. In the end, “it’s not you that made choices, it’s the choices that made you.” One of my absolute favourites this year. JW

Anything We Wanted To Be is on at the Summerhall - Cairns Lecture Theatre.

Felix Mosse
Ell Potter and Mary Higgins in 'Last Show Before We Die'Felix Mosse

The Last Show Before We Die

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Ell Potter and Mary Higgins hug, argue, apologise, sing, dance, and writhe their way through one of the most jaw-dropping shows of this year’s Fringe. The duo have worked together on two plays (‘Hotter’ and ‘Fitter’) that brought verbatim accounts of how gender impacted life from women and men, respectively. This time, they’ve got a new question on their minds. Why are we so bad at ending things? As they weave interview segments from palliative carers to Mary’s late grandfather, they also tell the story of their own personal ending. Higgins and Potter have made a name for themselves with their penetratingly autobiographical theatre. This piece is their most vulnerable yet as they navigate the dissolution of their own artistic collaboration. They bicker like an old married couple in between clever set pieces and even smarter deconstructions of the form. If that sounds too high-concept for you, the whole thing is anchored by both Potter and Higgins’ tight comic writing. Endings never felt so euphoric. JW

The Last Show Before We Die is on at the ROUNDABOUT @ Summerhall.

Nobody’s Talking About Jamie

Jamie Finn will sing and spin his way to your heart as he tells the tragic tale of his co-dependent life. Finn’s semi-autobiographical story takes us through his break-up with Cordelia and the friendship with his spin class teacher Lily that blossomed in her absence. This tale of love, friendship and loss is kept fresh by Finn’s talent for storytelling, pinpoint wit, and knack for a good tune. The portrait he paints of his one-time friend Lily is so vivid, you wish you could meet her in real life. JW

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Nobody's Talking About Jamie is on at the Underbelly, Cowgate - Iron Belly.

HAZEL COONAGH 2021/HAZEL COONAGH 2021
FrigidHAZEL COONAGH 2021/HAZEL COONAGH 2021

Frigid

Rosa Bowden delivers a blisteringly witty show on the humiliations of youth in Dublin. Set in 2007, Bowden plays Niamh O’Reilly, a 14-year-old girl who’s a bit too precocious and a bit too much of a misfit to have kissed anyone yet (or “meeted” in the local twang). Afraid of the “Frigid” moniker, Niamh must find a suitable partner at the upcoming dance. With the help of DJ Ciarán Gallagher on period-authentic decks, Bowden plays a whole host of school characters and parents to recreate an exaggerated but hyper-believable portrait of a North Dublin Mean Girls. As the adult Bowden inhabits the personas of children trying to pose as adults, she’ll make you laugh with embarrassment, then cry from nostalgia, then laugh all over again. JW

Frigid is on at the Underbelly, Cowgate - Iron Belly.

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Expial Atrocius
BUTCHEREDExpial Atrocius

BUTCHERED

For a (meaty) taste of something different, the horror-comedy BUTCHERED is one of the more unique theatre pieces of this year’s Fringe. The hour-long dialogue features grim mime-grinding galore. With the help of some particularly visceral sound and lighting design, the viscera are brought to life with gut-clenching vividity. Set in a dystopian nightmare of butch-or-get-butchered, the show feels like something out of Samuel Beckett or Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse. Performed by Expial Atrocious, both actors Nic Lawton and Ez Holland bring committed character comedy to their gruesome double act. Their characters are part vaudeville, part nightmare and sell the horror-comedy genre well. It was a hit at last year’s Fringe and London’s VAULTS Festival. Needs to be seen to be believed. JW

BUTCHERED is on at the Underbelly, Cowgate - Iron Belly.

The Death & Life of All of Us

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Victor Esses presents the story of a relative he barely got to know on the other side of the world. The Jewish-Lebanese performer grew up in Brazil but found out at 19 he had a great-aunt in Rome. The piece brings together his video documentation of a woman whose deep transformation — from a Jewish-Lebanese girl to a Christian-Italian woman — with intriguing choreography, personal revelation and live music. It’s a highly personal show about identity, loss and family. JW

The Death & Life of All of Us is on at the Summerhall - Demonstration Room.

Cathy Lam
Kasen Tsui in A Funeral for my Friend who is Still AliveCathy Lam

A Funeral for My Friend Who Is Still Alive

Although the Fringe is best known for its showcase of British theatre and comedy, it’s also an incredible hub for international talent. ‘A Funeral for My Friend Who Is Still Alive’ is Kasen Tsui’s first solo show in the UK. Her personal tale of the disintegration of press freedoms and friendships as China tightens its grip on Hong Kong. Directed by Cathy Lam, Tsui’s performance is comical but under the surface throbs the deep pain as she recalls the process of bidding a forever farewell to the friends who choose to leave Hong Kong. JW

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A Funeral for My Friend Who Is Still Alive is on at theSpace @ Niddry St - Studio.

Dance, Musicals and Everything Else

Hamish McCormick
Party GhostHamish McCormick

Party Ghost

Easily one of the most exciting of the circus acts on this year. Double Take present their macabre take on the whole gamut of circus talents. It all starts with a veiled Raphaël Herault raising himself up to the trapeze bar by a noose to perform a set of acrobatic contortions before running off stage shrieking “The will, the will, where is the will to live?” Herault and Summer Hubbard take turns bashing in each other's heads with alarming believability. There’s a hint of ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Bottom’ about all the damage they inflict upon each other. These sections are matched with hilarious haunting episodes with the group all decked out in ghostly white sheets. Expect gruesome laughs, impressively athletic choreography, and a music video premise Adele wishes she’d thought of. JW

Party Ghost is on at the Assembly Checkpoint - Assembly Checkpoint.

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CHRISTIANDEHERICOURT/CHRISTIANDEHERICOURT
Fall and FlowCHRISTIANDEHERICOURT/CHRISTIANDEHERICOURT

Fall and Flow

Exploring traditional Chinese theatre, Kung-Fu action films and modern clown narrative, the Hong Kong Theatre de la Feuille group present a refreshingly bold piece of physical theatre. The piece takes place over a five part story of jianghu, the quasi-mythical world of wuxia in Ancient China where martial arts reigns supreme. The five performers are dressed in all black with charcoal clown face markings. They perform alongside a live musician, bringing together traditional Chinese instruments with modern stylings. It’s a bracingly original piece of dance. The troupe aren’t afraid of slapstick humour as they transport you back to the palaces and temples of jianghu. A handy cheat-sheet is given out at the start to explain the backstories of the complex cast of characters. JW

Fall and Flow is on at the Underbelly, Cowgate - Big Belly.

PAUL BLAKEMORE/PAUL BLAKEMORE
Horizon Showcase: BirthmarkedPAUL BLAKEMORE/PAUL BLAKEMORE

Horizon Showcase: Birthmarked

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Joined onstage by a talented group of musicians, Brook Tate tells his own heart-breaking yet hopeful story of life as a young, gay Jehovah’s Witness after he’s cast out by his community. Through the medium of song, spoken word and some conversations with a whale, Brook’s undeniable talent shines through in a performance that will have you both tearing up and dancing in your seat. HB

Horizon Showcase: Birthmarked is on at the Assembly Room Ballroom.

Losing the Plot

For a bit of early-morning fun, you’d be hard pressed to find a better pick-me-up than this 80s jukebox musical. Combining all of your favourite karaoke hits, tied neatly together with an enjoyable plot about a writing team struggling to come up with a musical while under dictatorial conditions, this is a great way to shake off any lingering hangover from the night before. JW

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Losing the Plot is on at theSpace @ Niddry St - Lower Theatre.

Aida H Dee
Drag Queen Story HourAida H Dee

Drag Queen Story Hour

It’s a peculiar feature of today’s political climate that my recommendation for this year’s best children’s theatre is arguably the most controversial of the list. ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ has been plagued by protests from bigots in multiple cities, including a paltry eight people turning up at this year’s Fringe. It’s an unfortunate blight for one of the most joyous ways you can spend an hour of your time. Perfect for families with young children, Aida H Dee is a captivating entertainer. Her larger-than-life drag persona is a natural foil for the hyper energy of the average three year old. There’s a touch of Rik Mayall to her outrageous showmanship as she takes the kids along for her story ‘Three Goats United’. Alongside natural charisma, there are also enough knowing winks to the audience to keep the parents entertained as well. In the performance I attended, the kids were so excited by the whole thing, it rivalled ‘Absolute Chaos’ above for most raucous audience. JW

Drag Queen Story Hour is on at the Assembly Roxy - Downstairs.

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YUCK Circus

YUCK Circus is an all-female Australian acrobatic, comedy show. Each woman has her own unique, impressive (and occasionally horrifying) talent. The whole show is masterfully put together, blending incredible shows of strength, with hilarious anecdotes of life as a modern woman. Prepare to laugh, dance and woop in your seat in this vivacious 50 min performance. HB

YUCK Circus is on at Assembly George Square Gardens - Palais du Variete.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival lasts until 28 August.

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