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Published by: Kirstie Niland on 13th Sep 2016 | View all blogs by Kirstie Niland

The decision to visit Edinburgh for the last weekend of the Fringe with my son Cameron was a last minute one. So we put together a programme based upon advance recommendations from a Fringe veteran, coupled with impromptu choices when we got there. The result was three days of first class entertainment.

We returned home to a whirlwind of back to school and work commitments, and in between we pooled our views (Cameron's in blue) to write this joint account, beginning with Cameron’s first impressions.

At 14 years old, Edinburgh Fringe was my first big festival. Having always wanted to go to one I was excited and curious. It was only the day before our journey to the capital of Scotland that I realised the Edinburgh Fringe was not traditional towards other big festivals in that it was not revolving around one central ground, the venues were dotted around Edinburgh, but this did not then compromise the festival atmosphere.

I particularly enjoyed walking through this beautiful, historic city to explore various venues. Our first stop was Summerhall for two thought-provoking tales in the form of a one-woman and one-man show.

All the Things I Lied About – Katie Bonna

Here, Fringe First award-winner Katie poses the question in a TED-style talk: Would the world be a better place if we were all honest? This begins with a light-hearted journey from birth through to adulthood, looking at the ways in which we learn how to build layers of lies, and why we do fit in, get out of trouble, flatter, protect, save others' feelngs...

We are in the round for this show, and Katie makes the most of the intimate setting with a gently comedic introduction, before unexpectedly disarming us with her family’s true-life story - a shocking account of how her mother was “gaslighted” by her father, who she says psychologically manipulated her into thinking and acting like she was crazy because she believed he was having an affair, which he denied for years. Katie says he was eventually exposed as a liar, but the damage had already been done to her mum, who was discredited as being paranoid and unstable throughout Katie’s childhood. Katie then holds herself to account for lies she herself has told, before giving a public promise to her current partner that although she probably will lie to her, if she does it will not be to hurt her, she will lie with love. She will break the circle.

Katie’s likeable, non-confrontational approach and raw honesty make this poignant story, peppered with humour, a lesson in lies - those we tell others, and the ones we tell ourselves.

Though I’m not really old enough to relate to some of the subjects covered, the show was still enjoyable. Katie started off the talk light-hearted, and ended on a note that was hard-hitting for many but with humour throughout that stopped the mood from dropping too low. It did make me think that if everyone was brutally honest with each other all the time we wouldn’t have any friends, and for most people I don’t think lies are told with the intention of hurting someone. In Katie’s Dad’s case he should have admitted the truth when he saw what his lies were causing.

We both agreed that Katie’s style of writing and performing is engaging, entertaining, and most of all, makes a difference.

Tell Me Anything - David Ralfe

The next show we had lined up was Tell Me Anything, written and performed by David Ralfe. When David was 15 he was in a relationship with a girl called Kate, who had an eating disorder. David tells the story of how he did his very best to help her in a diary-like fashion. It was emotional throughout, and pulled on the heartstrings of all in the audience. As I am about that age now it must have been difficult to know how to help someone you love when you don’t have the experience, and he missed out on the fun he should have been having at that age.

This is true. As David takes us backwards and forwards through his story, he rearranges tubes which are standing on the stage, as though navigating the maze of his relationship. He tries to make sense of Kate's compulsion to starve herself to achieve an ethereal/fairy like image; addicted to a disorder she admits is destroying her, but which also makes her feel good.

David begins the show with an inflatable dolphin attached to his back, as he had read that to help someone with a disorder, you shouldn’t judge, or force them to change, you should love them for who they are, and help them using dolphin-like traits of warmth, guidance and gentle nudging. However as his frustration and helplessness grows, with little support from her family or health workers, flashes of anger appear. Then David reveals his hatred of the media and its pressure on girls to look perfect, his dismay that Kate doesn’t see how beautiful she is naturally, and his revulsion when they kiss straight after she has made herself sick.

He loses the fight, the dolphin deflates, and he describes the ending of this, and his most recent relationship, touching on his need to be loved for who he is too. This was an intense insight into a boyfriend’s battle by proxy with an eating disorder, and the debilitating feelings men have too.

Skin of the Teeth – Fat Content

This was the last of the more serious acts we saw, and for me it was the most moving. Fat Content’s production, written by the award-winning poet and playwright Anna Beecher, is a reimagining of the Grimms' fairytale, The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn to Shudder. The story of a boy who can’t feel fear.

Nicholas is brought to life by Daniel Holme, whose exceptional portrayal of a young man’s vulnerability and simple wish to feel what everyone else does is heart-rending. Nicholas just longs to feel fear, and this, along with a naive belief that what is missing in him will not be used against him, leaves him exposed to adult manipulation. After a violent accident he is befriended by the charming Mr Bacon, who lures him away from his seaside home and makes a pet of him, cajoling him into carrying out dangerous tasks and dares. Nicholas agrees out of desperation to feel fear, with tragic results. Daniel acts out this dark and upsetting tale so urgently as Nicholas, the emotion in the audience is palpable. Despite being a grown man playing the part of a young lad, Daniel Holme, praised as a “talent to be reckoned with” by Onstage New York, shows Nicholas as so utterly open and exposed as the troubled and vulnerable youth, you’re convinced you are watching a young boy in real danger, willing him not to fall into Mr Bacon’s clutches and urging him to run as fast as he can to safety.

Nicholas describes how Mr Bacon and his gang sent him into a disused shopping centre in the dark to learn how to shudder, and blindfolded and whipped him to try and make him shudder at the pain he knew was coming. They even killed the dog Nicholas had adopted to see how he would react. If that was me I would have been terrified, but Nicholas was so determined to feel fear that he did everything they asked, and ended up stabbing another boy as they told him he might shudder if he hurt someone else and felt their fear. It made you want to tell him: “It might make you shudder but it will make you a murderer, and Mr Bacon is using you.”

Skin of the Teeth is billed as “a boldly physical one man show...taking an unflinching look at fear, fearlessness and the manipulation of young men.” It’s been described by Fringe Review as “A Work of Visionary Excellence”, and it is.

Our Show - Max & Ivan

Saturday night, time for some fun at the Pleasance, and what better way to start than with the dynamic and hilarious double act of Max, “the taller one” and Ivan, who “generally has a moustache.” They accurately promised Our Story to be the....Best – show – ever. Praised by The Times as “Astonishing: fast-paced and unflaggingly funny,” Max and Ivan took us through an action-packed, side-splitting adventure, directed by Tom Parry – and I haven’t seen Cameron laugh as hard at a show – ever.

This show tells the side-splitting tale of how the comedic duo first met, at two neighbouring summer camps. I can genuinely say this show was one of the funniest hours of my life. Having heard of Max & Ivan before I was excited to see what their show would be like, and I was not disappointed. I found myself laughing to the point where I didn’t even make a noise, just a combination of shaking and wheezing. It also included some of the funniest audience participation I’ve ever seen, taking a random man from the audience and creating “Luke the Destroyer,” the incredible wrestler who would save Max at the end of camp wrestling match, where the best wrestler must have a one on one fight with the coach. Possibly the funniest show at the Edinburgh Fringe, Max & Ivan are a must see, and definitely on our list for next year.

Like all successful double acts, Max & Ivan have a chemistry and affinity which results in impeccable comic timing, drawing belly laughs from the audience, sometimes without uttering a word, simply with an expression or stance. True comedy talent, with a lovely montage of photographs at the end of Max & Ivan when they were little boys. Awww. I second Cameron’s vote to see them in 2017.

If you can’t wait until then, check out their live dates here.

The Naked Magicians

They promised sleeves up, pants down – and as for the traditional magician’s top hat...well it was used for something a lot more naughty than pulling a rabbit out of.

Suffice to say this show features full frontal illusions. However there is nothing offensive about this Australian duo. The Naked Magicians are all about sauce not sleaze, and a little bit striptease. There are lots of surprises up the boys’ sleeves, when they’re wearing them, some (not too risqué) audience participation, and plenty of jokes along the way. I don’t want to give too much away about this one as part of the magic is all about the reveal – literally.

Currently wowing audience in the West End until 24th September. More info here.

Stop the Train Musical

From day two onwards the shows we had planned were mainly comedy, and it was well needed after the starting shows from the previous day. Following a good night’s sleep we set off to Paradise in Augustine’s, the venue for Stop the Train, written by Lancashire’s own Rick Guard and Phil Rice. Probably the most relatable show at the Fringe for me, and every other teenager. Stop the Train highlights the overuse of technology, not just among teens, but among working adults in the UK. Similar to All the Things I Lied About this show kept the mood aloft throughout with humour. One of the highlights has to be my favourite song, describing how the show’s financially struggling Welshman is waiting for his balls to drop (his lottery balls of course).

This is a personal favourite of mine, having already seen the show in Lancashire last year. Still in development, the musical merges catchy songs and humour with thought-provoking twists and turns – and lyrics that are current and relevant. Again, the best performance for me was by the beauty therapist and wannabe wag, who detailed her: “Ten steps to being famous, with no discernible talent.” Stop the Train sold out throughout the Fringe, so it’s no surprise to hear that very soon after, Rick Guard was sitting in Cameron Mackintosh's London office! I look forward to seeing this upbeat, characterful musical make a stop at the West End.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

And so on to the Pleasance Grand for the first improv show of our visit, which was given a huge build up - billed as a musical, made up on the spot, using ideas from the audience. It’s “Edge-of-your-seat, laugh-out-loud funny. Raw and satirical,” proclaimed

When I first heard what the idea of this show was I wondered what could happen if the whole thing just fell apart. However this was not the case, and how the performers kept this going for a full 70 minutes I have no idea. Showstopper! is a musical, but completely improvised, I don’t know how they manage it but they do, and then some. With the audience suggesting what the play should be about, the winning idea was brilliant; a musical set at Queen Elizabeth II’s hen party, and the same man who suggested this idea then followed it with an equally brilliant title, Liz on the Lash. Using wit, excellent vocals and hilarious acting, Showstopper! put together a better musical on the spot than most people ever could.

Suggestions were also taken from the audience for the show’s themes, and these were Chicago, Hair, Into the Woods, Hamilton and Kinky Boots. Clearly such a tall order calls for a cast who are completely in tune with each other – and they were. Working together with such intelligence and wit resulted in one of the best displays of teamwork I’ve witnessed. Their tale of a reluctant Queen who has promised to marry the son of Greek, who doesn’t think he loves her – but then realises he does after Liz disappears incognito, and has a few too many tipples with a commoner in Portsmouth, is laugh out loud funny. The quickly improvised choreography is amusingly clever. The stand-out performance for me came from Ruth Bratt, who has many radio and TV comedy credits (including Radio 4's Sarah Millican’s Support Group) and played Queen Liz with aplomb. In words taken from one of the improvised songs, Liz on the Lash made a splash.


Eurobeat is a comedic parody of the annual continental song contest we all know and love, and watch every year, even though we realise the UK will do terribly. The show plays on the common stereotypes of the countries in Europe. Probably not the most PC show at the Fringe, but definitely one of the funniest.

Eurobeat is held in Moldova, hosted by local celebrities Katya (Rula Lenska) and Nikolai (Lee Latchford-Evans). Basically this is a kaleidoscope of sequins, schmaltz and stereotypes, much like the real version with a double dose of irony. As we queued we were given flags to wave for our country of choice, and we all joined in the fun. Rula Lenska and Lee from Steps were a great foil for each other, playing the upright Katya and the goofy Nikolai, and we were treated to a couple of cameo roles for the results by satellite, including the excellent Patti Clare, aka Corrie’s Mary Taylor.

The vocals and choreography were strong and polished, with the cast clad in country-themed costumes. This is guilty pleasure at its best with no cliché left unturned. From the robotic Jedward-inspired Irish duo with flashing green trainers, to the innocent English Morris dancers in white (all probably related and from Portland we were told), and the girl group from Morocco with the culinary inspired lyrics: “His love was hot like Vindaloo...turmeric is sour, cinnamon is sweet, mixing it together makes it good to eat...”

Thank you Eurobeat!

Aaand Now for Something Completely Improvised – Racing Minds

On our last day of the Fringe we had our first morning show, another improv. Expecting something brilliant after seeing Showstopper!, yet again I wasn’t disappointed. Racing Mind’s Aaand Now for Something Completely Improvised is exactly what it says. Using a few props that are already on set at the start, appropriate music, and their own creative imaginations, Racing Minds produce from scratch, a play lasting a whole hour. Like Showstopper! they took ideas from the audience to create their show, asking random audience members to name the characters, a secret, and a title. We ended up with a mesmerising production named “The Missing Radioactive Submarine” in which the main character was Dave, whose big secret was that he had a very large breakfast this morning... with half a bottle of wine. In a cafe in Sau Paulo. Using this alone as a template for their story the group produced a fantastic, political satire, the majority of which I was doubled over laughing at.

What can I say, we were completely in awe of the comic genius involved in developing a plot from such a random and bizarre set of suggestions. As says: “Insanely original.”  Amidst the actual story there is some good-natured leg-pulling amongst the group and some real life insights, such as the reason for Chris Turner’s absence. He was at a wedding in Germany apparently (due to return for his own show that night), and had texted to say it which was well worth going as he had met several people who owned planes.

The emerging plot involved two Smashie and Nicey type DJs, who are active on the radio (nice twist). They are broadcasting from a submarine captained by a Russian crew, and this is misconstrued as a political threat and potential nuclear disaster, which David (Dave) Cameron manages to avert, thereby redeeming himself following his resignation. There were inspired performances from all, and an intelligent weaving of world politics into a topical comedy on the spot.

Daniel Nils Roberts – Honey

Racing Minds were so good that we decided to see one of the group’s one man shows - Daniel Nils Roberts’ Honey. We entered this show with high expectations, after seeing Daniel’s brilliant performance in the previous show. One by one Daniel plays different characters, and I became part of the show when one of them, the ambitious American UNICEF employee, asked me to feed him yoghurt and jam, using what was essentially a cardboard spoon shaped like a hand, holding it under my armpit. This was supposed to prove the point that the problem with babies is their tiny little arms. After departing this show, past Daniel snogging a bear wearing a blonde wig and skirt, we made our way to the Pleasance Beside for our last show of the Fringe.

The exit was as alternative as the entire act, which begins with a man dressed as a bear (the show’s device), sitting, arms folded, surveying us as we enter. This introduction alone sets an anticipatory tone for some daft humour, so we are already on the brink when Daniel begins what has been billed as “An explosion of gag-stuffed sketches and unhinged characters from this mischievous man-child.”

There’s a multi-media backdrop to set the scenes, including the UNICEF employee’s presentation, and a simple pink screen for the lovelorn romantic author who reads aloud to us. Daniel’s guide of historical art, with famous works of art studied and given alternative names, is simply hilarious. This is “had-to-be-there” humour at its best. Difficult to describe but impossible to forget. One fantastically funny moment, a 120 second one in fact, was when Daniel announced we were having a two minute break. And we did, as Daniel sat, to our surprise, doing nothing. Apparently the aim was to tackle the "Edinburgh slump," the 40 minute stage where audiences lose concentration. Was he really going to wait for two minutes? Yep, he did. And it worked. We paid avid attention for the remaining 18 minutes. We will be keeping an eye out for more of Daniel Nils Roberts, and his fellow Racing Minds comics.

Observational Tragedy – Chris Turner

To finish off a great few days, our finale to the Fringe was Chris Turner’s Observational Tragedy. This show was probably one of my favourites. Chris starts off the show talking about what he is good at, freestyle rapping. On entrance to the Pleasance Beside you are handed a post-it note and a sharpie to write down an object or topic. The post-its are stuck on the wall in a row, along with with hundreds upon hundreds of ideas written by previous audience members. With this being the last show the wall was almost covered beneath a sea of yellow squares. Chris randomly chose a few, and then from nothing except what he has in his head, rapped about them – a tornado, a flat screen TV, the big bang theory, and “Kalahari mice shit”. Chris had the whole audience in awe of his talent. After this however, Chris told us what he can’t do, he can’t recall long term memories, and has to anchor them to music in order to remember them further down the line. I can’t imagine how hard it must be not to have memories, but at the other end of the scale he has an exceptional gift and is using that to combat his problem, as well as stun audiences.  Chris is doing another show next year about feeling inadequate, and it will be top of our list.

I had read about Chris Turner prior to booking this show, and was intrigued to see the “lanky, intelligent white guy, leaning slightly on the posh side, who can really… rap.” His reputation as a talented freestyle rapper is well deserved, his skill at composing a track-length rap, with witty rhyming lyrics, from just a few post-it note prompts is jaw-dropping. So this rare talent underlines the poignancy of his revelation that he remembers facts but not experiential memories. Chris is a charming, sensitive young man, with evident love for his partner who he bonded with over her fondness for inspirational quotes, which she pins to her bedroom wall. The show hinges on one particular quote from Iris Murdoch’s The Sandcastle, and its reflection of the speed and ease with which something beautiful and full of hope can flip to sadness and loss.

“I saw a butterfly flying out to sea. It will get lost out there and die.”

Chris takes us through photographic evidence of his childhood experiences, much of which he relates to his grandparents. He describes the painful loss of his grandmother, prior to her death, to Alzheimer’s. This was especially tragic for Chris because she was a powerful key to his long term memory. Despite the sadness of the stories, the mood is never low, Chris adds touching and funny anecdotes throughout, and asks for volunteers to share their own childhood memories, which he then turns into a second astounding rap.

Chris’s last show talked about his mortality, as he celebrated the approach of his quarter-century birthday - the age at which a doctor predicted he'd die from the genetic medical condition he has, Marfan Syndrome. His ability at just 25 to take the cards he’s been dealt and not let them define him, to turn things on their head, find solutions, and share that in such an original, highly intelligent and humorous way is laudable. Chris also has an uncanny knack of chatting easily with the audience like it’s circle time. Overall, a unique show which is clever and funny, and tackles some serious subjects without getting too deep. As I tweeted after the show, Chris Turner is pretty fly, pretty awesome. He’s also pretty damn inspirational. What a finale.

Reflecting on all of this when Cameron and I arrived home, I discovered a quote to hang on our own wall.

“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has changed, and that changes everything.” Jonah Lehrer

Edinburgh Fringe 2016 was one of the highlights of the year for us both. It made us think, laugh, and plan things for the future, and know, that if in doubt, you can always improvise.

And most of all laugh a lot. In the right circumstances, there is humour in everything. Even mouse poo.







1 Comment

  • Elaine Pinkus
    by Elaine Pinkus 1 year ago
    Loved your reviews. Green with envy re the whole festival.
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