The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
This year’s Fringe is almost in the history books, but that doesn't mean theatre is over in Edinburgh. The city is actually a vibrant theatrical hub year-round.
From the storied Traverse Theatre to the up-and-coming Hey, Thanks! Theatre Collective, here are five Scottish theatre companies that impressed audiences at this year's Fringe and continue to do exciting work year-round.
Hey, Thanks! Theatre Collective
Does she like me or does she *like* like me? And is it wrong that she’s my flatmate? Armed with a coveted Keep it Fringe award, Hey, Thanks! Theatre Collective addressed these age-old questions with Kitchen Underwear, an intimate story about queer life in Edinburgh. Kitchen Underwear also marked the company’s first year at the Fringe.
Leaning into the sticky-tape-and-cardstock aesthetic of scrapbooks, the pages of Ash and Zee’s diaries were brought to life with the hand-drawn ovens, drawers, and mugs of a tiny, shared kitchen. It was in this setting that much of the play took place. Told partially through diary entries, the characters spoke to us directly, sharing their insecurities, confusions, and desires. Writers and performers Maria Goikhberg and Kate Stamoulis delivered a refreshingly light and simple story, which captured the little, everyday experiences of queer lovers.
When not at Fringe, you can find Hey, Thanks! Theatre Collective running workshops and cocktail nights at the coolest venues in Edinburgh.
A Fringe regular for over a decade, Sally Lyall’s Captivate Theatre is no small operation. This year’s powerhouse of a programme included five blockbuster musicals with over 200 artists in total. There was one show, however, that I just had to see a second time.
Their production of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame reminded me why I love musical theatre. It had bold direction, stylish design, thoughtful musicianship, explosive choreography, and heart-breaking drama. The cast, most of whom were local professionals and top-of-the-class drama school students, elevated the source material and conjured up an exhilarating and powerful theatrical experience.
But that’s not the only string to Captivate Theatre’s bow. During the year, they run weekly classes for young people in Edinburgh, and you can find them this festive season with more musical theatre magic.
Dance Base Scotland is Scotland’s National Centre for Dance. It hosts an array of new dance theatre, as well as offering classes in ballet, Bollywood, hip-hop, and Highland. In an exciting new partnership with Assembly (which is one of the Fringe’s longest-standing multi-venue operators), Dance Base brought a co-curated program of dance, circus, and physical theatre to this year’s Fringe.
A stand-out production was SKETCHES/GLISK, a double bill by choreographer Katie Armstrong and multi-award-winning composer and DJ Mariam Rezaei. SKETCHES toured the country earlier this year, bringing a unique reimagining of Bach’s A Minor Violin concerto—complete with string quintet, a DJ, and four dancers—to many Scottish venues. GLISK was equally experimental, incorporating acoustic piano, dance and DJing to pay tribute to the dramatic landscapes of the North East of Scotland.
During the year, Dance Base offers a bustling programme of classes and workshops for amateur dancers of all levels, as well as creative sessions and residencies for professional artists.
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland trains some of the world’s finest talent, including David Tennant, Alan Cumming, and Ncuti Gatwa. It is the musical theatre department, however, that is particularly well served at the Fringe, with annual performances for the last 20 years.
Never shying away from a creative challenge, this year’s cohort took on Big Fish by John August and Andrew Lippa as their full-company production. This non-linear and surreal musical tries to piece together the life of Edward Bloom, a retired salesman who is at death’s door. Edward, however, is a teller of fantastical tale. While these stories entertained his family in their adolescence, his adult son now struggles to find the line between myth and reality.
You can count on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for tight, well-performed, and creatively staged musicals. Tom Cooper’s colorful and considered direction of Big Fish brought thorough stagecraft and emotional weight. Particularly effective was the use of live onstage foley to bring the more bizarre aspects of the story (including a giant named Karl_ to life.
When not at the Fringe, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland produces a multitude of events which celebrate all aspects of the performing arts. It is, after all, the only conservatory in Europe which hosts all of the performing arts on one campus.
One of Edinburgh’s best-loved arts organisations, Traverse Theatre produces a range of shows for the Fringe (check out our top 10 picks here). They are known as the home of new Scottish writing, particularly that which is experimental, topical, and thought-provoking. And verbatim musical After the Act, co-produced by Breach Theatre and New Diorama, was just that.
The musical's book was taken from recent interviews with students and teachers who were affected by Section 28, the legislation which prohibited the mention of homosexuality in British schools from 1988 until the early 2000s. Set to an '80s-inspired synth soundscape by Frew, writers Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett deftly knitted these stories into a tapestry showing queer life in Britain under intolerant governance. For me, the musical’s most striking feature was the use of projection to display historical headlines which eerily echo contemporary conversations.
The Traverse Theatre offers a full programme year-round, often in collaboration with small companies or theatres elsewhere in Scotland. And keep an eye out for whatever Breach Theatre does next. If it’s anything like After the Act, it’s going to be well-worth watching.