Sunday 20 August 2017

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 - our #FeministFaves

Here it is, folks! The full list of our favourite shows from this year's Edinburgh Fringe, in more detail than expected (we may have got carried away). There's just over a week left of the festival, so if you're in town and haven't seen these shows yet, get booking ASAP.

If you're all fringed out, or didn't make it to the festival, get these productions on your radar - Edinburgh is a springboard for successful shows to tour off the back of, so they'll be likely to pop up again on a stage near you.

As with our longer pre-fringe shows to see list, we've grouped these by venue and time to make it easier to plan if you're on a tight schedule. This list includes both solid Bechdel test passes, and female-led shows that we feel are worth bending the test's critera to include.

For in-depth interviews with some of our #FeministFaves subscribe to our podcast, and for constant updates on Bechdel test passing shows and up-to-the-minute #FeministFringe #TopTips follow us on twitter and instagram.

Out of Love @ Summerhall Roundabout 13:25 

A starkly truthful and sweetly funny story of the friendship between two girls as they grow up and part ways. Sharp writing from Elinor Cook and superb performances from a cast who spring from child to teenage to adult roles (and back again) in the split-second of a lighting change, with the deft unwavering confidence of gymnasts, and no props whatsoever. Out of Love perfectly captures the intensity of best-friendship between girls, and the lasting impact such early connections can have on women's lives and relationships, even beyond adolescence. 
Out of Love is performed in Paines Plough's accessible and ingeniously constructed pop-up theatre, Roundabout, which this year is home to five Bechdel test passing plays: see their full list.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: The selection of variously sized spaces filled with excellent female-led shows of all genres make Summerhall the perfect venue to spend a day at if you want to settle in to one spot and avoid lengthy treks through the rain between shows.

Salt @ Summerhall Northern Stage 14:30

Selina Thompson took a journey on a ship tracing the steps of her ancestors on the transatlantic slave trade route via Belgium, Ghana, Jamaica and the US. In Salt, she tells the story of her own journey so vividly that the sights, sounds and smells of the places become intensely present in the room - from her parents cosy home in Birmingham, to the claustrophobic bowels of the ship and dank castle dungeons where slaves were held. Thompson gains the trust of her audience immediately with her steady and direct tone of voice and eye contact, and maintains it. Her connection with us never strays from being sharply in the moment, while her story covers years. The memory of the people whose enslavement brought us all to this point fizzes palpably in the air throughout the performance, increasingly impossible to ignore, with the image of Thompson breaking up salt crystals etched deeply in the minds of all leaving Summerhall after seeing this show.

The Edinburgh run of Salt is sold out but we strongly advise asking about returns and seeking out Selina Thompson post-Fringe, her work is essential and unmissable.

Box Clever @ Roundabout Summerhall 16:40

A new play about one woman’s experience of a refuge and a mother’s commitment to do the best for her daughter, written and performed by Monsay Whitney, with singer-songwriter Avi Simmons providing live music, beautiful clowning, and a multitude of surrounding characters. Simmons does a sterling job switching between these many roles, and is especially lovely as daughter Autumn, but unfortunately had a few lines in a Jamaican accent for one character, which was jarring and could be reconsidered. Whitney's writing and performance in this show is phenomenal, her protagonist is a perfectly pitched complex portrayal of a woman persisting as she is challenged to breaking point by abuse and bureaucracy. Our hearts break with hers as she tries to bring up her four-year-old in a world where most other adults seem toxic, weak or uncaring. Throughout this tale of adversity Whitney never allows a hint of stereotypes often tied to female-led tragic narratives: inspirational strong woman, or weeping mis-treated damsel, but is she always truly, refreshingly, devastatingly human.

You've Changed @ Summerhall Northern Stage 20:30

Kate O'Donnell transitioned in 2003 before the term 'transgender' even existed. Her insight into how the world and attitudes to gender have (and haven't) changed is fun, witty, deeply personal, and brilliantly educational. Her hilariously matter-of-fact conversation with her own vagina wins the Bechdel Theatre award for most creative woman-alone-on-stage passing of the Bechdel test!

You've Changed is a show for everyone from the most gender-aware to those just discovering trans 101, O'Donnell is a welcoming host, ready to share her wisdom with anyone willing to learn. This accomplished performer and obviously fantastically intelligent woman could be a guiding light for anyone going through the 'coming out' process that she embarked on 15 years ago, and her show should be essential viewing for any cisgender fringe-goers with trans friends or family (which is most of us, whether we realise it or not).

Dollywould @ Summerhall 21:15

Sh!t Theatre f*cking love Dolly Parton, and so do we. This is not a sing-along-a jukebox musical, but is also not the socio-political documentary style that's come to be expected from performance art darlings Sh!t Theatre. Their 'main-stage crossover hit', is duly getting the bums-on-seats that their ever-growing reputation has earned, and lives up to all our hopes and expectations that have built up from hearing that this show is a "new direction" for the duo. There's not much more that can be said without spoilers, but think about all your favourite aspects of Dolly herself and you'll find them in the show: tits, glitter, uncompromising frankness, catchy hooks, vulnerability that's strictly on the performer's terms, and (as anyone who REALLY follows Dolly will know) a genius air of seductive mystery.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: The chippy up the road if you turn left outside Summerhall were way cheaper than the food vans inside, and they didn't mind at all that we spent the time waiting for our food performing our own rendition of 9-to-5

Workshy @ Summerhall 21:10

The box office assistant asked if we were squeamish before handing over the tickets to this performance by Katy Baird. It's a frank chronological explanation of the all the ways Baird has paid the bills over the years, with photos, video, a multitude of props, and some touchingly intimate personal anecdotes filling in detail between the lines of a CV which took her from burger flipping to live art.
Baird makes us aware of our relationship to her and to each other as viewers in a number of creative ways, the first is by asking for pay transparency via raised hands at the beginning of the show. This sets the tone for the level of involvement she asks of the audience (not very much), and the level of open-mindedness that should be brought into the room if you want to get the most out of the show (plenty). We won't spoil the rest of the fantastic ways that Katy Baird plays with and unites her crowd, except to say that we loved every moment, even the one that had some of the audience's high-earners shielding their eyes.

Eggs Collective Get A Round @ Summerhall  21:10

This lively ensemble piece from multi-talented comics Eggs Collective takes the audience along on a night out with three women. In identical sequined dresses the women begin as one giggling group, but the trio is gradually unravelled by each of the characters unique voices, vices and virtues as they take us step by messy step on a chaotic weekend.

Eggs Collective's show is deeper than it first appears, and without saying too much, we related to the way these women's joyous jokes and pop-theme tunes turned to tears, their woes weighed down by a level of self- and world-awareness not often afforded to representations of noisy, sparkly women.
They give you a drink too!

Rachel Creeger: It's No Job for a Nice Jewish Girl @ Black Market 13:40

Rachel Creeger's jokes are not just for the Jewish - this English Atheist was laughing as heartily at this performance as the Jewish American family beside us, who related so avidly that they waved their Kosher food-finding app upon its mention during the set. Although the title makes reference to a version of Orthodoxy which bans women from performing to mixed audiences, and relays tales from Creeger's years singing for female-only audiences in a successful Jewish girl band, this show seems to balance on the perfect line both welcoming the devout with in-jokes and tickling the non-believers with insight. Everyone in this cosy little pub, minutes from the soul-testing Mile, was equally warmed by Creeger's sweet 'supply-teacher' demeanour, and thrilled by the witty edge of her punchlines.

Ada Campe and The Psychic Duck @ CC Blooms 15:00

Variety legend (and comedy alter-ego of renowned feminist academic Naomi Paxton) Ada Campe returns to the Fringe with a wildly eccentric storytelling show inspired by the the music hall, circus and burlesque characters of fairground history. The name of this show correctly implies a hefty level of silliness, so keep that spirit in mind on arrival, but there is more to expect than just ridiculous (excellent) animal puns: Psychic Duck is peppered with wicked punchlines, gently chaotic audience participation, and ingenious magic. In a nostalgic setting and narrative style that will be familiar to fans of Victorian and Edwardian sensationalist crime drama, Ada Campe (who DIVA magazine described as an 'unhinged supervillain', and we see as the kind of lady Edina and Patsy would have get sloshed with and snogged, had they been around in the 1920s) weaves a tale of showbiz legends, female companionship, and achieving your dreams - however outrageous they might seem.

London Hughes: Superstar @ C Royale 19:15

One of our many Fringe hosts, as we surfed from generous person's couch to welcoming person's floor, told us that London Hughes used to be a kids TV presenter. I don't know what image that conjures for you - but Blue Peter this show is not. London Hughes is an incredible human whirlwind of talents, with her unstoppable energy the only thing recognisably 'kids telly' about her. Hughes astute observations on life bounce skillfully between the personal and political. She frames an hour of stand-up and sketches around a list of all the ways she's tried to get famous, leaping from fabulous dance routines to searing race commentary, pushing the line of audience interaction in a way that only someone so hugely likeable could get away with.  She never lingers on one topic or routine for longer than a minute, which makes this hour fly but simultaneously feel like 2 hours worth of material. If it weren't for the ache in our faces and bellies from laughing, we'd have gladly stayed for an encore, and will certainly be back for more in future.

#FeminstFringe #TopTip: C Venues Royale (where London Hughes is playing), and CC Blooms (where Ada Campe is on) are on the other side of the bridge from most of the other venues we visited, but are near loads of shops and cafes, so if you want a break from being flyered constantly, need to nip into M&S buy a cardi or some pants, or fancy a sit-down vegan lunch at Henderson's Cafe, work that into your day between these two!
Also, CC Blooms is a fabulous LGBTQ+ nightspot, if you feel the urge for a bit of late night dancing.

Mae Martin: Dope @ Laughing Horse at City Cafe 20:00

Mae Martin is another human whirlwind who made the time disappear before our eyes as we were completely absorbed her world. The world in which this show takes place is Martin's mind, which is inhabited by an imagined creature who's hungry for the dopamine that the show's title refers to (it's more about psychology than drugs, though drugs do come up). Martin is some whose life is a bullet list of one involving obsession or addiction after another. This show is particularly relateable for anyone who grew up as one of those 'weird' kids with fixations on a celebrity or hobby, and will recognise themselves with the kind of cringe-laugh that constantly threatens to turn into uncontrollable tears. If that's not you, you almost certainly know someone like that, and will laugh almost as hard: Martin's decades of experience on the comedy scene mean she has a mad-genuis-like awareness of how to connect with her crowd, and (given the potentially sensitive nature of some topics) takes perfect care of every individual in this crammed underground nightclub space.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: Get to City Cafe early and queue to ensure entry, Mae Martin is as popular as she deserves to be and will almost certainly be impossible to see in such an intimate space before too long. If you miss Dope at 8pm, or want to see more after it, Mae Martin also has an improv show later in the evening which she shares with a man, but is also good fun.

Georgie Morrell: Morrell Highground @ Underbelly Med Quad

Georgie Morrell (who's at the Fringe in two shows: this and her first show 'A Poke In The Eye', on at Cabaret Voltaire at 20:30) talks extensively and hilariously about her experience of temporarily going blind in both eyes (having been seeing with one eye for most of her life). She goes into particular detail and depth telling us about the NHS doctors and staff who have treated her, and the ludicrous process of being assessed for her benefits. Morrell's style is wryly self-deprecating, only dipping briefly into sweetness when playing clips of her parents talking alongside family photos, frequently giving an edge to any hint of cute by sending herself up for being 'spoilt' and a 'daddy's girl'. Though the audience sympathise with her health troubles and arduous run-ins with bureaucrats, we never feel pitying or voyeuristic, Morrell's responsive chats with the audience and confidence in her punchlines make her seem like the kind of natural comic that you could spend all day in the company of - you'll come out of this show feeling like you've made a new pal - one who we'd readily march alongside, should we bump into her at to a 'Save Our NHS' protest any time soon.

Good Girl @ Just The Tonic in the Mash House 13:00

Naomi Sheldon is a triple threat: actor, writer and comic, and Good Girl is a virtuoso demonstration of all three of these expertly-honed skills. Sheldon sweeps up the audience in a torrent of warm bubbling energy and has us captivated from the second the lights go up as she tells a simple story which could sound trite on paper: a coming of age tale of a woman learning how to process her own emotions. The plot is much more than that (we don't wanna spoil it!), but the real magnet for our undivided attention is Sheldon's physical and vocal transformations as she brings to life every character that her protagonist GG encounters on her journey to adulthood: childhood friends, teachers, and employers are all played for laughs without ever being stereotypes, or detracting from the emotional crux of the story.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: We don't think many of the Just The Tonic venues have raked seating, so if you're short like us get there early to pick your seats!

Evelyn Mok: Hymen Manoeuvre @ Pleasance Courtyard 18:00

As the name suggests, this is a show about Mok losing her virginity. While the inevitably awkward 'first time' provides an ingenious title and a warm chuckle of audience pathos when she asks if ANYONE has a good time losing their virginity, this is not purely a show about sex (or lack of it). It's about everything in life that brought Mok to That Night - from her experiences growing up speaking English and Swedish with an Indian accent, to the advice, strength and body-image issues passed down through generations of Chinese women in her family. Mok does not always allow her audience to settle in comfortably, or expect us to relate to every aspect her unique story: she keeps us on our toes at all times, but her wry self-awareness and compellingly confident stage presence mean we're always rooting for her (in a way that we never do for Amy Schumer, who gets name-checked as a comparison on her flyer). Hymen Manoeuvre left us eager to find out what happens in the next chapter of Evelyn Mok's life as she hits her 30s, and looking forward to hearing more from her in the future.

DIGS @ Pleasance Courtyard 13:45

Devising duo Theatre with Legs have created this dark comedy about Generation Rent, overdrafts, anxiety and surviving their 20s. A mix of not-entirely-stylised awkward dialogue between two housemates, overlapping finish-each-others-sentences direct address, and beautifully expressive solo scenes by each performer alone on stage, Jess Murrain and Lucy Bairstow have chemistry that simmers, sometimes with synchronicity and sometimes with conflict and tension. At times uncomfortable - especially for anyone who has ever felt alone whilst living in a shared flat in a big city - this show and the relationships it explores are both clearly deeply personal, almost universally recognisable, and electric to watch.

Offside @ Pleasance Courtyard 15:40

Fresh from a successful tour, Offside is a poetic drama, co-written by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish, based on the lives of female footballers, from the 1880s up to the present day. The three-strong cast lived up to the athleticism of their characters with dynamic performances, all of them switching between characters and accents seamlessly to tell a series of overlapping stories of inspirational individuals, with the kind of rousing feminist battlecry moments that guarantee a lump in the throat and a fire in the belly for the impassioned crowds it's attracting.

We chatted to Tanya Loretta Dee about her role in Offside on our podcast (out soon).

Cathy @ Pleasance Dome 15:30

A play about homelessness today, inspired by the film Cathy Come Home, and based on stories of people who have been homeless, are currently homeless, or at risk of homelessness. All characters are realistically detailed and played with precision and humanity by a small team of actors, and their circumstances are enragingly true-to-life. We believe in every setting as we travel alongside Cathy between flats and hostels, on buses and on streets, thanks to an ingenious Fringe-friendly set constructed from unstable-looking giant Jenga-block walls which crumble and are rebuilt everytime Cathy relocates.

Cardboard Citizens 'Legislative Theatre', with it's post-show law-making session, means that the audience is left feeling the urge to channel our anger and sadness into actions, to get involved in campaigns to change the systems that we've seen impact Cathy, rather than wallowing in helpless guilt.

Hot Brown Honey @ Assembly Roxy 21:00

Undoubtedly the fiery-est feminist hit show of last year's Fringe, the system-smashing cabaret burlesque show is back, with "lashings of sass and a hot pinch of empowerment". With DJ Busty Beatz at the helm, the team of formidable female superstars from a range of different artforms and backgrounds are making noise and taking up space gloriously from the moment the doors to Assembly Roxy are open.

This show is a blast of intersectional celebration and rage, consisting of a series of stunningly executed dance, circus and musical set-pieces. Particularly memorable are the cuttingly hilarious white-woman-on-holiday hula-hoop dance, the fuck-your-stereotypes maid costumes and Polynesian weaving routine, and a gut-wrenching aerial performance which will stick with you for ever. Then there is the beatboxing, and the incredible singing. We could go on. But just as it gets tempting to see these women as unstoppable superheroes decolonising the world one-song-and-dance-routine at a time, their impassioned raffle to raise money for childcare and pointed reminder to buy their merch lets us know that the mission of this show is very much in progress and the revolution can't continue without finances. So make sure you bring plenty of CASH with you when you see the show, and pay big to keep the honey flame burning bright!

Britney in: John @ Bedlam Theatre 18:30

The team behind last year's brain-tumour comedy, best friends Charly and Ellen, are back with a sketch show about a road trip across America that they took as 18-year-olds trying to make a documentary about American masculinity called 'In Search of John Hancock'.
Ellen and Charly have honed and developed their unique style of storytelling since we last saw them (it's a mix of their personal story, interspersed with pop-culture-inspired sketches), and the response seems to be an even higher laugh-per-minute-rate from their audience than their previous show (which was pretty high)  - though maybe it's just easier for us to engage with a light-hearted piss-take of earnest 18-year-old documentary makers than it is to find the LOLs in cancer?

Video evidence of their earnest docu-attempt in 'John' really adds an extra layer of humour to this show, and the simple but specific skewering of themselves and the world around them in their sketches showcases their skills brilliantly - they use no props except two stools, and wear their matching 'John Hancock' t-shirts at all times. If you want a guaranteed laugh, go to this show. If you want to hear more about it, listen out for our interview with Britney's Charly and Ellen (Ellen and Charly?) on the upcoming episode of Bechdel Theatre Podcast, recorded live at Gilded Balloon with Funny Women.

#FeministFringe #TopTip Funny Women Fest is on at noon every day at Gilded Balloon Teviot, and they have a different line-up of female stand-ups, comedy actors, and sketch groups every day. It's a great way to start your day, so bring a coffee and your diary in case you discover an act that you want to fit in to see more of later in the day!

Show Me The Money @ Bedlam Theatre (finished on the 13th)

Paula Varjack uses her own long career as the narrative backdrop for a funny, searing and extremely watchable exploration of how art is funded. Varjack demonstrates the hoops required to jump through, boxes to be ticked, admin to be filed, in order to fund art and dismantles with vigour and glitter the idea that you can't call yourself an artist unless you make money from art.
This was the second show we saw that asked for pay transparency from its audience (the other was Workshy - see above), and there was an audience member sat near us on £70k+! - we hope he has made a hefty investment into Varjack's work - Show Me the Money is valuable viewing for artists and non-artists alike and we'd love to see it tour extensively beyond the Fringe and reach as wide an audience as possible.

We Are Not Afraid @ Just The Tonic at The Caves 18:45

Roisin and Chiara are Pippa's favourite ever comedy double act. They have synchronicity like no other duo we've seen, as well as each possessing their own individual talents and distinctive physicality. It's a perfect match.
These two fearless improv geniuses bring a dazzling array of character sketches to life on a scale that threatens to knock the audience off their folding chairs and burst the seams of their modest venue in the caves. This was easily the paciest of all the shows we saw at the Fringe, so if you're feeling fatigued we advise planting yourself on the front row of this riotous rampage of larger-than-life characters in deliciously surreal situations. Wear your mac on your lap because it may get messy.

Quarter Life Crisis @ Underbelly Cowgate 14:40

Yolanda Mercy uses original music and spoken word in her quest to achieve adulthood. Alicia is a fictional character but we sense that her voice and experiences are not far from Yolanda Mercy's own. Mixing up the real and imaginary allows Mercy to create a distinctive and realistic character in Alicia, and a neat structure that takes us from her bedroom to a family wedding, via a sweet Tinder date, with the tug of her busy London Millennial life and her Nigerian family and history pulling her in all directions at once  as she interrogates and affirms all aspects of her own identity and place in the world. This show is gorgeously uplifting, and Mercy's presence as a performer is pure sunshine in the dark caves of Underbelly Cowgate. There were certainly happy tears in the audience when we saw Quarter Life Crisis, and word of mouth is spreading quickly of this astounding new talent, so get in to see it while you can.
Listen to our interview with Yolanda and director Jade Lewis on the most recent episode of our podcast, recorded just before they left for the Fringe.

Prom Kween @ Underbelly Cowgate 20:35

Rebecca Humphries' new musical is set firmly in the world of the American High School familiar to British audiences countless movies (think Grease, Hairspray, Mean Girls, Clueless etc) and it's plot centres around the recognisable popularity contest in which characters compete to become Prom Queen at the end of the school year.
Prom Kween has two unique aspects which make it stand out from its Hollywood peers: Firstly, the awareness of gender as a spectrum rather than a binary - our outcast hero does not identify as either male or female, show's host is a splendid queen (familiar to lovers of TV's Drag Race). Secondly, Prom Kween's dry humour and many layers of irony and cheekiness mean that despite its All-American setting, this show has a particularly British appeal that it's screen counterparts don't.
Prom Kween is a joyful pick-me-up right from the beginning (we were offered glitter to decorate our faces on arrival), and you can hear more about it on the next episode of our podcast (out soon).

That's all for this year!

For more detail on some of these shows, including interviews recorded live from the fringe, check out our Podcast, and keep following us on twitter where we'll be retweeting ALL the shows that pass the Bechdel test.

And our final, most important #FeministFringe #TopTip: if you're running short on time and budget to see shows at Edinburgh, check out this mural on the front of Assembly George Square Theatre for the best booking advice possible...

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