More than a thousand plays pack the schedule of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, from solo shows to full-scale dramas. It is the world’s biggest showcase of new writing for theatre, a place where many of today’s leading writers (and directors and actors) have started out. After publishing our highlights of musical theatre, LGBT and cabaret, here is a selection of some of the theatre we reckon is worth looking out for this year.
At Gilded Balloon Teviot, Olivier Award-winning actor Sheila Atim explores the complexities of womanhood through her first play, Anguis, which combines theatre with her own original music. Set in a recording studio, it is an interview between the great pharaoh Cleopatra (Paksie Vernon) and a contemporary virologist, Kate (Janet Kumah), directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson.
Also at Gilded Balloon Teviot, husband-and-wife team Rob Rouse (Bottom in BBC2 comedy Upstart Crow) and Helen Rutter return with a new comedy, Funny in Real Life, about a stand-up comedian whose world falls apart when his wife decides he can no longer mention her onstage.
Down on Cowgate at Underbelly, When the Birds Come is the latest play from Tallulah Brown who had success at last year’s Fringe with Songlines. This new piece explores the rift between a brother and sister against the backdrop of climate change.
Also coming to Underbelly in Cowgate is Remy Beasley (Beyonce in Sky comedy Stella) who will perform her own show Do Our Best, directed by Fringe First Award winner Hannah Banister. It follows self-obsessed Sophie’s attempts to come to terms with grief by finally achieving the Girl Guides entertainers badge.
Another destination for new writing is Pleasance Courtyard where shows include Typical from Nouveau Riche, the makers of award-winning Fringe hit Queens of Sheba. Written by Ryan Calais Cameron, it tackles the daily tensions experienced by black British men, based on a real-life story. It will star Richard Blackwood whose past roles include Vincent in EastEnders.
The Pleasance will be bringing a new show, The Last of the Pelican Daughters, to the Courtyard, developed by The Wardrobe Ensemble with renowned theatre company Complicité and Bristol Old Vic. With irreverent humour, it looks at what it means for young people to grapple with inheritance, loss and justice in a comedy about four sisters trying to come to terms with their mother’s death.
Another new show at the Courtyard developed with the support of The Pleasance is The Accident Did Not Take Place from award-winning company YESYESNONO. Featuring a new guest performer each night, it explores conspiracy and “post-truth” news.
Wireless Operator at Pleasance Courtyard is the true story of a terrifying night-time Lancaster Bomber raid during World War Two, uncovering the trauma of the airmen who survived. Written by Bob Baldwin and Max Kinnings, it stars Thomas Dennis who previously played Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in the West End and Albert in the UK tour of War Horse.
Over at the Pleasance Dome, comedian Marcus Brigstocke is directing his own play, The Red, a bittersweet drama of family and addiction, based on his own recovery. Starring real-life father and son actors Bruce Alexander and Sam Alexander, it finds Benedict, a recovering alcoholic, faced with the dilemma of his late father’s final request to toast his memory with a bottle of exceptionally fine red wine.
Summerhall has become a hub of new writing during Edinburgh Fringe, and this year is no different. Highlights include Hold On Let Go, a new show from Unfolding Theatre about memory and what we pass on, created by writer Luca Rutherford, director Annie Rigby and dramaturg Selina Thompson.
Theatre company Paines Plough will be returning to Summerhall with a host of shows in its circular Roundabout space. They include Daughterhood, a new play by Charley Miles, about two sisters who face up to the almost surmountable gap that has formed between them after one stayed home to care for their father and the other left to “make a difference”.
Also in Roundabout will be Baby Reindeer, a new play by Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Richard Gadd. Directed by Olivier Award winner Jon Brittain, it is described as a chilling story about obsession, delusion and the terrifying ramifications of a fleeting mistake.
Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre is another destination for premieres of new plays during the Fringe. Highlights in its schedule include the world premiere of Enough from leading playwright Stef Smith, featuring Amanda Wright and Louise Ludgate as two immaculate accommodating flight attendants whose seemingly perfect lives are rapidly unravelling. Directed by Bryony Shanahan, it is “a fragmentary and intense journey into female friendship and unearths what happens when you can no longer be the woman people want”.
Also at the Traverse is Meghan Tyler’s surreal Crocodile Fever, a grotesque black comedy about two sisters returning to their family home in Northern Ireland in 1989. Directed by Gareth Nicholls, it is a celebration of sisterhood and a reminder that the Troubles are closer than we imagine.
Belgian theatre collective Ontroerend Goed returns to Edinburgh with their show, Are we not drawn onward to new erA, at Zoo Southside. It promises to be as inventive and challenging as their previous work, based on the debate on whether humanity is moving forwards or backwards. Like its title, the performance is a palindrome: you can see it forwards or backwards.
For another year, King’s Hall is transformed into CanadaHub, a showcase of Canada’s contemporary performance scene. Theatre includes Article 11’s Deer Woman, a comedic-dramatic thriller about one of the 1,600 officially recognised missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Click here for more.