Everybody knows that each year’s Edinburgh Fringe is the best Fringe yet. More shows than ever, more venues than ever, more superlatives showered upon more talent than ever.
By that reckoning and by the number of shows I turned starry-eyed over at last year’s Fringe, this one’s going to be off the charts. Heads will explode. Five stars won’t be enough stars. People’s sides will actually split, it will be a great hazard and the New Best Fringe Ever. This you can be sure of.
Less certain is how to make the most of the sprawling beast that the Fringe has become. Unless you happen to live in Auld Reekie – in which case let us talk further on the subject of your spare room – you’ll only ever be able to make a tiny dent in all those Most Shows Ever.
To make sure that your tiny dent is, at least, a luminous one, here are our recommendations for fitting the maximum possible brilliance into a short visit.
Daphne: Daphne’s Second Show
There was a period in Daphne’s early days – they only formed back in 2014 – when my then-boyfriend and I saw them so often it was a bit like we were all dating, only without their knowledge or approval. Component parts Phil Wang, George Fouracres and Jason Forbes serve up sketch comedy as exuberant as it is weird – last year’s Fringe saw them taking on gruesome spins on Disney, meta-sketches about paradigm shifts and rousing, absurdist bursts of Rule Britannia and east-end singalongs.
Basically the trio come off as classically-trained actors suddenly set free in the gardens of surreal sketch comedy – the resulting shows, deservedly, sell out way ahead. You’ll need to book for this one.
Where and when: Aug 3-14, 16-28, Pleasance Courtyard, 5.45pm
Princes of Main: Cool
If Princes of Main are only as great as the sum of their parts, that would still be: pretty great. Two of this trio – Jamie Fraser and Alex MacKeith – made up sketch duo Lunchtime of Champions. Their brilliance last year made me cry, twice – London preview and then Fringe in full – at a Coen brothers piece word-for-word the same at both shows.
We didn’t catch their Princes of Main show last year, but with the fusion of Fraser, MacKeith and ex-Footlights President Ben Pope we presume a new approach, a new and deeper wisdom, new material – though ultimately, clearly, we’d be fine with them just repeating their old material ad infinitum, to the backing track of my tears.
Where and when: Aug 3-16, 18-29, Underbelly Med Quad, 9.35pm
Mae Martin: Work in Progress
Previous shows from Martin have covered all the big topics – orgasms, rainbows, her own insecurities, her parents’ relationship and her father’s genitals. Also discrimination, gender, sexuality and politics. Those too.
A random sampling of audience members suggests 100% of us leave Martin’s shows believing we’d become instant BFFs with her if we ran into each other at the pub after. And although this is a work in progress, Martin’s compèring stripes mean any freestyling will be done like a veteran.
Where and when: Aug 4-16, 18-28, Laughing Horse @ City Café, 9.15pm
David O’Doherty: Big Time
Author, ivory-tickler, king of Twitter – it’s a wonder O’Doherty had the time to blow minds with last year’s stand-up We Are All in the Gutter but Some of Us Are Looking at David O’Doherty, but thank god he did. Part-confessional, part-political – like his take on the Irish same-sex marriage referendum, seen through his own messy celebrations after the result was announced – often set to the tune of a small keyboard and unostentatiously brilliant. Hope for more of the same splash of cynicism outweighed by a lot of warmth from this year’s show.
Where and when: Aug 4-15, 17-28, Assembly Hall, 7.30pm
Kieran Hodgson: Maestro
Character comedian Hodgson was King of last year’s Free Fringe with coming-of-age, crumbling-of-idols narrative Lance. Since his new show’s billed as being about ‘falling in love and attempting something far beyond your abilities’ – same thing, surely? – expect on-point characters, epic story arcs and a surprising amount of tenderness. Oh, and as an added bonus, he’s very, very funny.
Where and when: Aug 6-28, Voodoo Rooms, 9.30pm
Lolly Adefope: Lolly 2
Lolly was one of the best debut shows at last year’s Fringe, and the short glimpses we’ve gleaned at previews promise more of the same charismatic, haphazard sketch comedy this year. Uneven at times, but at their best Adefope’s sketches are both generous-spirited and acute like a razor – like the portrayal of her audition for the role of ‘Black Hermione’ in The Cursed Child.
Where and when: Aug 3-28, Pleasance Courtyard, 6pm
Katherine Ryan: Work in Progress
Last year Ryan’s show was one of the few that sold out for the first weekend ahead of our arrival, Daphne being the other. So if you want to catch Ryan laconically riding the dividing line between cut-throat and comic, better book and book early.
Where and when: Aug 4-13, The Stand Comedy Club 5 & 6, 4.05pm
Stewart Lee: Content Provider
The self-proclaimed ‘irradiated cockroach’ of comedy was at his bullish, ebullient best at a recent work-in-progress of Content Provider at Soho Theatre. As you’d expect, Lee’s WIPs are things of more tightly honed precision than most comedians’ fully-fledged shows.
By the time it reaches Edinburgh this’ll be 70 minutes of taut stand-up aimed at shifting targets, more self-reflexive than a hall of mirrors. Go watch important issues of the day (like smartphones, Richard Herring and the obnoxious trendiness of under-40s) get relentlessly bounced through his ‘drunk polytechnic lecturer’ prism – a charge leveled by a Daily Mail critic and gleefully adopted by Lee to head up his Fringe promotional material.<
Where and when: Aug 5-14, 17-28, The Stand Comedy Club, 12.45pm
Daniel Kitson and Higgledy Piggledy Enterprises: Mouse: the Persistence of an Unlikely Thought
Damn, Daniel Kitson. He’s bringing an embarrassment of riches to Edinburgh this year, with two chances for you to fail to get tickets for his – always sell-out – shows. If you manage to get into Mouse, you can expect an hour dealing with ‘friendship and loneliness, doubt and hope’ – from a comedian talented enough to take on basically the biggest themes in the world, plus a mouse, and make it look effortless.
Where and when: Aug 2, 6-7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-28, Traverse, 10pm
Crème de la highlights de la crème though these are, they’re far from the only comedy to have on your Fringe radar. If time and energy and the need to eat permits more shows then Ahir Shah, David Elms, Emma Sidi and James Veitch are all likely to be knocking critics’ socks off.
For maximum return against minimum research, any shows brought there by the Invisible Dot are worth a punt – Amir Khoshsokhan’s Shhh looking like their stand-out stand-up this year – with six out of six shows they took to the Fringe last year being bangers.
And not technically part of the Fringe, Amy Schumer’s doing one date at the Edinburgh Playhouse on 30 August as part of her UK tour. We predict equal parts likability, vulnerability and filth.
And you could go to the Fringe and see only stand-up and sketch comedy, but why would you?
Physical theatre group Gandini Juggling are only at the Fringe for a week with Water on Mars – if your visit overlaps then go marvel at their juggling-bromance fusion. Promising to be equally taut but very much darker is Macbeth: Without Words by the Ludens Ensemble.
On the theatre front, Gavin Robertson Company’s Escape From the Planet of the Day that Time Forgot is a good bet for highly-choreographed slapstick with a slant of the B-movie to it. The new writing from Michael Laurence, Hamlet in Bed – is noir-Nouveau a thing? Think plays within plays within plots – looks set to be as grippingly bleak as the Shakespeare it’s built on.
Listed as comedy but – going by his previous work – likely to be genre-bending, is Daniel Kitson’s work in progress show. Tickets are gold dust, with none for sale the Fringe website, but if you chance your arm on a same-day ticket at the venue you might swing 90 minutes of comedy-theatre-performance art genius.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes place from 5th – 29th August 2016. For more information on all things Fringe, visit www.edfringe.com.