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Edinburgh Fringe 2023 comes to a close: Here are our favourite shows of the festival

Clockwise from top left: Frigid, Rob Auton, Anything We Wanted To Be, Party Ghost, The Last Show Before We Die
Clockwise from top left: Frigid, Rob Auton, Anything We Wanted To Be, Party Ghost, The Last Show Before We Die Copyright Hazel Coonagh/Julian Ward/Jane Hobbs/Hamish McCormick/Felix Mosse
Copyright Hazel Coonagh/Julian Ward/Jane Hobbs/Hamish McCormick/Felix Mosse
By Jonny Walfisz
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As the world's biggest theatre festival comes to a close for another year, we take a look back at the Fringe and our favourite shows of 2023.

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After another amazing year of drama, comedy, dance and everything else, the Edinburgh Fringe has come to a close. It was a bumper year in the world’s biggest theatrical celebration as artists from 72 countries descended on the Royal Mile to show off their unique shows.

Running from 4 August to 28 August, this year’s Fringe had 3,535 shows registered with a total of 52,000 performances scheduled. As part of the Fringe, 439 shows were completely free with 614 also using a “pay what you want” model.

London-based comedian Lorna Rose Treen won the coveted Dave’s Funniest Joke of the Fringe award this year with her gag: “I started dating a zookeeper, but it turned out he was a cheetah.” Rose Treen performed the joke as part of her debut Fringe show 'Skin Pigeon' at Pleasance Courtyard.

The nominees for the Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Awards have also been announced. In the running for Best Comedy Show are Ahir Shah, Ania Magliano, Emmanuel Sonubi, Ian Smith, Janine Harouni, Julia Masli, Kieran Hodgson, and Phil Ellis. The winner will be announced this Saturday.

As part of our Edinburgh Fringe coverage, we were on the scene to find some gems among the thousands of shows on offer. We saw loads, and have made the Euronews Culture's top picks of the year over here.

As a final round-up though, here are the top five shows we enjoyed at this year’s Fringe.

5. Frigid

HAZEL COONAGH 2021/HAZEL COONAGH 2021
Rosa Bowden in 'Frigid'HAZEL COONAGH 2021/HAZEL COONAGH 2021

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.

4. Party Ghost

Hamish McCormick
Party GhostHamish McCormick

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.

3. Anything We Wanted To Be

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

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.”

2. Rob Auton: The Rob Auton Show

David Monteith-Hodge Photographise
Rob AutonDavid Monteith-Hodge Photographise

Rob 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.

We interviewed Auton in depth on how he crafted his brilliant show here.

1. The Last Show Before We Die

Felix Mosse
Ell Potter (L) and Mary Higgins (R)Felix Mosse

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.

Potter and Higgins told us here how they turned their very real friendship break-up into one of the most unique pieces of theatre this year.

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