As the Edinburgh Fringe festival draws to a close, you’ll have seen The Recs’ reviews throughout the last month. As reviewers, we try and give an objective appraisals of the shows we watch, leaving our personal opinions at the door. However, looking back across August, we can now reveal the personal favourite shows of The Recs’ Edinburgh review team. IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
James McLuckie's Favourites
Lucy and Friends
Confession time. I picked this show because I thought the artist, Lucy McCormick, was a different performer. So, I had entirely different expectations of the unhinged, bizarre, creative and monstrously funny delight that I experienced. Knowing nothing about this cabaret curio was most definitely advantageous, as I had no idea where it was going and was frequently surprised when it went there. 60 minutes of beautifully-executed mayhem with a generous splash of poignancy. I certainly know who Lucy McCormick is now.
Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder
Second confession. I am a gay man who can’t stand musicals. [ED. Funny way to hand in your notice] I even fast forward through most of the songs in Grease! So, it was with much muttering that I agreed to endure this heavily-hyped murder mystery. My expectations down in the abyss, I wasn’t prepared for just how winning it would be. With a clever and witty script married to consistently excellent performances from the talented cast, I am even considering giving it a second watch when it continues its run in Bristol and Manchester later this year. So, while it would be a stretch to say that Kathy and Stella has made me a musical theatre convert, there really is no greater plaudit I could give it.
Letter to Boddah
I didn’t get to as much theatre this Fringe as I would have liked, and what I did see was a bit of a mixed bag. This was definitely my pick. An intense two-hander that explores how toxic masculinity can lead to extremism, a pair of standout performances from Jordan Reese and Kyle Fisher did justice to Sarah Nelson’s stellar script. Unexpectedly hilarious in places, this was a gripping hour that would be well worth your time catching if it returns to the Fringe or tours.
Chris Berry's Favourites
England and Son
I’ve been a big fan of Mark Thomas and his campaigning political comedy since he first came to my attention in the mid-1990s, via his radical Channel 4 series The Mark Thomas Comedy Product. So when I discovered he was appearing in a one man play specially written for him by award-winning
playwright Ed Edwards, it was a very easy decision to review it. England and Son certainly did not
disappoint, as in this tale of how the reverberations of empire and disaster capitalism can impact
communities, families, and the opportunities of the young, Thomas delivers a truly electrifying
performance, proving beyond doubt that he is as accomplished an actor as he is a stand-up.
Definitely one to catch during the play’s post-Fringe UK tour.
Benji Watersones: You Don’t Have to Be Mad to Work Here
Ordinarily, mental health and illness wouldn’t be considered as providing a rich vein of material for
stand-up. However, consultant psychiatrist Benji Waterstones expertly mines this subject to deliver
a hilarious, warm, and personal hour of comedy, drawing on his experiences of working in a
psychiatric ward of a major hospital, as well as considering how his upbringing and the pressures of his job have impacted his own state of mind. A show that is as thought provoking and clever, as it is funny. Watch out for Waterstones’ book – which shares the title of his stand up show – when this is published next spring.
Katy Berry: Diamond Goddess Crystal Pussy
Sometimes the premise for a show is so ‘out there’ it cries out to be seen, even when on paper
musical comedy isn’t normally one’s normal thing. Such is the case with Katy Berry’s (no relation)
show Diamond Goddess Crystal Pussy, the absurd plot arc of which involves her discovering she is
the product of a liaison between her mother and the god Poseidon, making her a demi-goddess with magical powers. In reality, the show plots a journey of self-discovery that draws on key moments in Berry’s own life, and which also uses her considerable musical skill and penchant for slick improv comedy to great effect. Berry may not be a demi-goddess in reality, but she is definitely a star in the making.
Steve Coats-Dennis' Favourites
Myra DuBois / Frank Lavender
Okay so technically these are two shows – but I’m evoking Editor’s privilige. Both are character-comedy creations from the mind of Gareth Joyner, but both are so keenly-observed, played with such different energies, you do end up forgetting that it’s the same performer.
I loved Myra’s (free) livestreams during lockdown. They were such a pocket of joy in a dark time. So it was a thrill to see Myra, live and looming, holding court in the packed Pleasance Dome doling out the fastest, funniest ad-libs in the business. Frank played to smaller houses – less well-known character, less buzzy venue and the vagueries of the Fringe – but I loved my afternoon with “the last straight man in showbiz”
Kieran Hodgson: Big In Scotland
Most people when you interview them are nice. I know that’s disappointing when we were hoping for tales of diva antics and slamming closed the Zoom recordings. There was not one single awkward interview for The Recs Fringe magazine…but Kieran was so lovely, it was easy to forget you weren’t chatting to a funny mate rather than a top comedy star. In fact our 40 minute Zoom chat got derailed for a 10 gab about how Turin is a hidden gem of a holiday location. (By chance we had both just been).
In our chat, Kieran spoke really honestly how putting Big In Scotland together was much more of a challenge than his subsequent, highly-successful shows. It was an absolute delight to see his hilarious cultural tightrope walk go down so well. People who took our recommendation have raved afterwards about the show. Needless to say, tickets are booked for his tour.
How To Live A Jellicle Life
A prime example how good things come to good people. Linus Karp and Joseph Martin make queer theatre that’s silly, sweet and a bit bonkers. The Recs interview Linus last year for our magazine and we’ve followed their work since.
We reviewed Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story after its very first performance at a 70-seat theatre at the Pleasance London and now it’s heading out on a major tour including a 700-seater in London.
In Edinburgh I saw an updated How To Live A Jellicle Life with added Padam and what hit home was how much Linus has grown as a performer.
Linus and Joseph have worked hard to generate the success they are enjoying. They love what they do. They are always friendly and grateful for the support we’ve given them. Their social media is endlessly upbeat and positive. It just goes to show how you can soar if you love what you do and put the graft in. Very proud of them.
From the moment I saw Lena – a new play with music about the highs and lows of Scottish singing star Lena Zavaroni – in the Fringe brochure, it caught my interest.
Interviewing the stars, Erin Armstrong and Jon Culshaw, and the writer, Tim Whitnall, about the show, it began to feel like something special.
Watching the show in Edinburgh, the power of this passion project real hit. A fine script, an ensemble who really pull together and a superstar turn by Erin in the title role was an extraordinary moving experience. When I think of the Edinburgh Fringe 2023, it’s Lena that will leave the most indelible memory.