In our November issue, we’ll feature a report from Nicole Serratore of Mildly Bitter’s Musings on some of the form-breaking work she saw at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Below, as an early web bonus, is Nicole’s list of her Top 10 favorite shows at the Fringe—one of which, No. 4 (Lippy) will be coming to New York City’s Abrons Arts Center in a few weeks; some of the artists she’ll profile in her November feature, including Brian Lobel, will be at the Abrons Arts Center Oct. 3-5 as part of the Forest Fringe.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival had more 3,000 shows on offer in 2014, and after a week-long trip to see as many as I could, these were ones that made an impression on me:
- A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts (Secret Theatre: Show 5). In this devised theatre piece by the Secret Theatre repertory ensemble from London’s Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, every night a different company member’s name is pulled from a hat, and that actor becomes the evening’s protagonist. Pushed to the brink with physical and emotional tasks—eating a whole lemon, revealing their fears, plunging their hand into a bucket of ice water until they can’t stand it any longer—the actor leaves a bit of themselves onstage in this raw, honest, sometimes funny but often heartbreaking piece. It illustrates beautifully the fragility of our physical selves, the strength it takes to stand onstage alone and give of oneself, and the warmth, love and laughter emanating from this diverse and talented ensemble, which has now made 6 shows together.
- Hug. In this immersive, intimate and intensely personal work by British artist Verity Standen, audience members sit in a room, blindfolded, and are immersed in choral music as singers enter the room singing—then take you in their arms as they sing. I got lost in the beauty of the creation of art, as I was so close to the singer that every breath and note she sang felt like it was vibrating through me. Many people left the show weeping. For myself, I wanted to stay wrapped in that hug forever.
- Hurtling. A one-on-one theatre piece by U.K.-based American artist Greg Wohead, which involves a cassette tape and a pair of headphones. This site-specific work on a high vista—in this case, Calton Hill in Edinburgh—made me believe in chasing the impossible in the hopes that perhaps I could stop time for a moment. It is a meditation on time, place, distance and connection; it left me dizzy and buzzing. I don’t want to say too much more, because so much of its power comes from the sense of discovery.
- Lippy. Irish theatre company Dead Centre managed to create a funny and haunting story about four women who locked themselves in their house and committed suicide. Weaving together stories about lip-reading with an exploration of what we say and what we think—and the distance between those things—Lippy exists in a dream-like space. Everything is happening on two levels: an imagining of the lives of these women and the horror attendant there, and a deconstruction of storytelling, voice and the impossible knowledge of why people kill themselves. Stunning visuals and a totally original form made this a striking standout production at EdFringe. (Though not part of the Forest Fringe Festival, this will play at New York’s Abrons Arts Center Oct. 15-Nov. 2.)
- Confirmation. This collaborative work between Brooklyn-based director Rachel Chavkin and U.K. theatre artist Chris Thorpe, Confirmation deals with confirmation bias and reaching out to speak with people we fundamentally disagree with. In a time of political shouting and stratified thinking, Thorpe and Chavkin build a piece and space that is about trying to reach beyond ourselves and listen to each other in “honorable” dialogue. With audience interaction, some role-playing, and a charismatic performer (Thorpe), Confirmation pushes the audience to think about our own beliefs and how we engage with others and their ideas.
- Spine. A powerful story by Clara Brennan about a rough-and-tumble teen, Amy, who is stumbling through life full of rage and destruction, and the elderly woman she meets by chance, Glenda, who sees the fire in Amy as her greatest asset. Glenda works to bring out Amy’s fight and redirect her energy toward building a better world. From Soho Theatre/Fools Cap, and starring rising stage star Rosie Wyatt as both Amy and Glenda, Spine gives us the best of intergenerational friendships and the emotional wallop of someone seeing the good inside us when we might not see it ourselves.
- Christeene: The Christeene Machine. Christeene, the genderqueer drag terrorist act from Austin, Tex., has been touring Europe, and it touched down in Edinburgh, leaving toilet paper and destruction in her wake. Words continue to fail me as I try to describe this alt-alt-alt-cabaret show in which Christeene and her back-up dancers gyrate, simulate and stir things up. It’s graphic, raw and shocking, but all the better to strip away the masks we wear on a daily basis and reconnect us with our childhood sense of wonder—get us to listen to our inner “ponies” and let our real selves all hang out. You wouldn’t think a show with such an abundance of exposed butt-cheeks would have such a loving, gentle message. But amid the rage and the riot, Christeene is giving us her best advice for living a fearless life.
- Lungs and Every Brilliant Thing. Duncan Macmillan shows he can write funny, heartfelt and smart with these two shows, which toured through Edinburgh as part of the London-based Paines Plough pop-up theatre space, Roundabout. Lungs (which was originally produced in collaboration with the Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. in 2011) is a two-hander about babies and love in the time of climate change, and it shifts from a rapid-fire comedy to anguished drama. Moving at such a clip, we can’t help but be swept along into the challenges of relationships and life brought to painful reality by actors Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis. Every Brilliant Thing is a solo show with substantial audience participation. Starting with a child’s view of his mother’s depression and suicide attempt, the play has its hero make a list of every brilliant thing his mother should live for. The show brings the audience together to think about mental illness, depression and suicide, but in the most magical and loving way. There was a lot of laughter through tears here.
- Wingman. A charming lo-fi verse play (or, as I like to call it, a sweary-sweet poetry/drama) about a son and his estranged father reconnecting at the deathbed of his mother. Addressing the difficulties of family and forgiveness, British writer-performer Richard Marsh finds depth in the tricky emotional landscape of fathers and sons, but does so while making you laugh.
- HUFF. Like a living children’s book come to life before your eyes, HUFF is an experiential theatre installation for children and adults who can appreciate whimsy. It’s Sleep No More if you swapped out Macbeth for the Three Little Pigs—and, well, left out the nudity and orgies. Open cabinets, answer the telephone, crawl into a bed made of straw and watch animation on the canopy of the bed. Shona Reppe and Andy Manley have created a magical world of pure wonder for the young and young-at-heart. Smart, droll and meticulously thought out, HUFF made me want to spend more than 25 minutes being a child again.