My Edinburgh Fringe 2017 – Shows and Thoughts

I attended the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a 70 year old theater festival in Scotland, from August 14-23, 2017 and it was incredible. In all my travels this has got to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

In 9 days I attended 30 shows. Many more were booked but it was such an overload that I just had to take some time off here and there. My friends ask “Did you see the castles?” No. “Did you see the Military Tattoo?” No. I was here for shows.

My show thoughts and reviews are below. If interested in photos I took at the 70th annual fringe go here:

My Photos at 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Attending so many fringe shows taught me a bit about my own likes in theater and entertainment. I tend to like high aesthetics that are carefully planned – like excellent musical theater or well-rehearsed music performances. In general I do not care for improvised comedy or theater because I never quite walk away fulfilled from those experiences.

Here are my top 14 show experiences at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival:

  1. Bach for Solo Violin
  2. Into the Woods
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front
  4. Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story
  5. Assassins
  6. Tobacco
  7. Mary, Queen of Scots
  8. The Toxic Avenger
  9. Buzz: A New Musical
  10. David Hunstberger: The Big Nothingness
  11. Great American Trailer Park Musical
  12. James and Jamesy: 2 for Tea
  13. The Best Play Ever
  14. Blueswater Presents: Queens of the Blues

Here are the shows that I saw:

Tuesday, August 15

All Quiet on the Western Front
Theatre (Physical Theatre, Adaptation)
Pleasance Dome – King Dome (Venue 23)
Incognito Theatre
Why I Went: Prebooked, was previously highly rated
My Star Rating: 5 stars
Venue: Medium size, perfect for this piece
Thoughts: Amazing and impeccable. I ran into a couple of the actors later in the street and was just gushing with praise. The ensemble acting was incredible as they each took turns as the lead, and the ensemble in response was always 100% supportive of each other. For me, this single show would have been worth the trip to the fringe. The detail in physical choreography throughout the piece was stunning as the ensemble was in perfect sync. Amazing job lads!

Description: Following a sell-out run at Edinburgh Fringe 2016 and subsequent transfer to SoHo Playhouse, NYC, Incognito Theatre return with their adaptation of Erich Remarque’s tale that exposes the harrowing reality of trench warfare. Incognito use their signature physical style to create a poignant and visually stunning theatrical experience that exposes the personal sacrifices that were made for the sake of the Great War. ‘Enthralling, moving and fundamentally, beautifully human’ ***** (ThreeWeeks).

Forgive Us, Oh Father!
Musicals and Opera (Musical Theatre, New Writing)
theSpace@ Venue45
Why I Went: Prebooked, description caught my eye and was a new musical theater work
My Star Rating: 1
Venue: Intimate square with seating on three sides
Thoughts: Very disappointing in writing and execution.

The Addams Family: A New Musical
Musicals and Opera (Comedy)
Central Hall Auditorium (Venue 295)
American High School Theatre Festival
Why I Went: Prebooked, Haven’t seen the show before and have several friends on the national and international tours
My Star Rating: 2
Venue: Too large for this act and not supported by the sound design
Thoughts: Very disappointing. I realize this may be part of an educational program so I’ll just leave it at that. Hallie Strelsky as Morticia Addams was good. Shannon Flack as Wednesday Addams was excellent and I think she has a future on Broadway or West End if she wants it – her charisma commanded the stage and her nuanced character arc changes were highly polished.

About a Goth
Theatre (Drama, Solo Show)
theSpace@ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
Why I Went: Prebooked, looked like an interesting LGBT piece
My Star Rating: 3
Venue: Very small and intimate, like a living room
Thoughts: I wasn’t sure what to think while I was watching it, but the ending was very powerful and made the entire journey worthwhile. I’m torn on this because parts dragged a bit but the ending really brought a new dimension to what what had proceeded. Maybe this should be 5 stars because I’m still thinking about it.

Wednesday, August 16

Tobacco
Theatre
Assembly George Square Studios
Why I Went: I had ninety minutes free and asked the box office: “What’s playing soon that’s good”
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Like a lecture hall
Thoughts: What a great surprise! This was SO wonderful. Superb acting – actually I cannot imagine possibly being acted any better. And so well written. It had absolutely nothing to do about Tobacco and I found that interesting as well. I want all my theatre friends and all my close friends to see this show as I saw it. I could probably watch this 5 more times. Bravo! This was a delightful fringe moment in that I probably would have never booked it myself, but by chance I got to experience what I will probably count as one of my best theater experiences ever.

Buzz: A New Musical
Musicals and Opera (Theatre, Comedy)
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
Fat Rascal Theatre
Why I Went: Prebooked, looked interesting, I liked the movie “Hysteria”
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Medium size musical theater venue, one of the larger that I went to
Thoughts: I was expecting a work that was more historical or more edgy, but this was a very fun and light night out. It was great musical theater in that you could just escape and enjoy the ride for an hour or so. All the performers were excellent and the lead had a wonderful charisma with the audience. A little like watching Bridget Jones’ Diary. Really enjoyed this show.

Atlas
Theatre (New writing, Historical)
theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36)
The University of St. Andrews Performing Arts Fund
Why I Went: Prebooked, looked historically engaging with science debates
My Star Rating: 4
Venue: Very small with seating on three sides.
Thoughts: This was awesome. To whoever is funding this: Your money is well spent. The actors were excellent and the story was very engaging and informative at the same time. One character yelled a bit too much, which I think would have been more effective with different acting choices. I think there should be more theater like this that is historical, informative AND delivered by fine young actors as these students did. Awesome work!

Description: It’s 1684 and the world has entered a new era of scientific enlightenment. A friendly wager between three titans of natural philosophy – Edmund Halley, Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke – turns ugly. Enter little known and less beloved Isaac Newton, whose deep-seated grudges propel him to alter the wager’s outcome and the course of history. Atlas fuses historical fiction and character drama, and explores how rivalry and ambition changed the world. ‘Visually charming, emotionally powerful and beautifully written’ (OwlEyesMagazine.com).

The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Musicals and Opera (Musical Theatre, Contemporary)
C venues – C too (Venue 4)
Beyond Broadway Productions
Why I Went: Prebooked, hadn’t seen it before, sounded fun
My Star Rating: 4
Venue: Great for musical theater, seating on three sides – medium size
Thoughts: Excellent writing on this musical and really moves along fast. I think all the performers were form the UK and it was interesting to hear them try their best at Southern American accents. I guess it’s fair play for all the times we Americans do our bad British accents without knowing there’s actually more than just Cockney and High English (or is it Queen’s English?). What really impressed me, and I heard other audience members mention this, is that the ensemble on the sides were always in character throughout the show. Really added a lot of energy to the room. And the ensemble vocals were also excellent, so Bravo to the vocal director. Some of the best ensemble vocals I’ve heard in a while. The show as a whole was cute and well acted. Great job all.

Thursday, August 17

Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story
Musicals and Opera (Drama, Musical theatre)
C venues – C too (Venue 4)
Richard Williamson and Climar Production
Why I Went: Prebooked, have always wanted to see this musical
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Same as Trailer Park musical. Medium size, seating on three sides.
Thoughts: Amazing! Entire show is two characters and I was not bored for one second (I almost always get bored at some point at any show I see). Your acting was so on point and always driving the show forward. I also usually don’t like when the live music is only a piano, but the performances were so gripping that I couldn’t care less. Musicians were excellent because I didn’t notice you – you wrapped yourself in the tapestry so I could just get lost in the story. I mean that as a very high compliment. Vocals were good. Combination of acting and focus made the performance excellent. REALLY WELL DONE!

Zach Zucker – Human Person
Absurdist Comedy
Underbelly Cowgate – Delhi Belly
Why I Went: Had an open spot, asked box office what was next that was good
My Star Rating: I can’t rate this, it’s absurd comedy
Venue: Very small, like a living room
Thoughts: It’s absurdist comedy, so in a way it’s hard to “rate” since I’m guessing every show is different. I did enjoy how Zach was always in the moment, and at one point froze the show for about ten minutes because the audience was enjoying a singular moment – so he held that pose until we were done enjoying it (ten minutes later). In a way, that moment is probably worth a master’s class in theater theory. I can’t rate this. It’s absolutely absurd. Thank you Zach for giving me a memorable experience. Probably a unique once in a lifetime experience. I want to go see him again just to see what is different with a different audience.

Prom Kween
Musicals and Opera (Comedy, Theatre)
Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61)
Why I Went: Prebooked, new LGBT musical theater interested me
My Star Rating: 3
Venue: Medium size, three sided seating with small stage
Thoughts: This was ok, but I was expecting more. They had a live pianist but also used pop song soundtracks and even preshow music with original artist singing. My expectation was to hear a musical theater piece that dealt with LGBT issues and it was kind of that, but more of a contemporary piece thrown and stitched together with pieces they thought would land with an audience (at least that’s how it seemed to me). The audience seemed to really enjoy it. I prefer more structured works that’s all.

The Toxic Avenger
Musicals and Opera (Musical Theatre, Comedy)
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
Why I Went: Prebooked, looked really fun
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Largest stage venue that I attended. Traditional theater stage and seating.
Thoughts: A total pro cast all the way around. This was a clever musical theater work that had all the traditional elements with a great story, very good book writing, excellent acting and extra bits from the actors and an incredible band. For sound, this was the best of any live musical theater show I saw. I’m assuming that this same cast does professional venues with the same show. Top notch.

Friday, August 18

Into the Woods
Musicals and Opera (Musical theatre)
Assembly Hall (Venue 35)
Why I Went: Prebooked, first time seeing this show live
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Large theater, circular set and seating
Thoughts: Some of the best sound mixing of a live orchestra I have heard in quite a while, and by far the best orchestral sound design I heard at the Fringe. Top notch performances all the way around. The character choices for Red Riding Hood were interesting. One character yelled a lot in Act Two which was distracting – after the show I actually watched the Broadway version to see how the same character approached the role (no yelling). The audience did not jump for a standing ovation at the end but they should have. I’ve noticed at the Fringe that people don’t like to do the standing ovations much. This show deserved it. This was the best large cast show that I saw at the fringe. Top notch.

Curse of Cranholme Abbey
Theatre
Pleasance Courtyard – Pleasance Beyond
Why I Went: Happened to see a poster with 4 star ratings and looked interesting
My Star Rating: 3
Venue: Large traditional stage with sloped seating.
Thoughts: It was well done with a student cast. Straight play with sound effects. The ending was effective. For some reason I wasn’t drawn into the story, not sure why. Is this a play that is performed a lot or is it a student work? It was fine for a school play, just not something that moved or entertained me much. Sidenote: The marketing poster really got my attention, and what made me buy a ticket was seeing the four star reviews added.

SIX
Musicals and Opera (Musical theatre, New writing)
Sweet Grassmarket (Venue 18)
Why I Went: Prebooked, expecting a historical musical theater piece
My Star Rating: 2
Venue: Very small, stage was more like a small runway
Thoughts: Very disappointed. By making everything so contemporary, it lacked any proper amount of historical education. In 60 minutes, the historical meat of the production maybe filled two minutes. The rest was kind of pop songs to talk about our feelings, which seemed again like “this will land with a Fringe audience”. The one thing that was very good was the sound of the full ensemble singing. Unfortunately, a good harmony section would just keep repeating over and over and over again. My personal opinion is that if you took this same group but filled the time with more actual content of historical substance (and don’t just create what “might be cool with a modern audience”), then you might have a strong show to present. If your ticket sales were high then disregard me as a quack. If not, then remember this rule: Never underestimate the intelligence of your collective audience.

Saturday, August 19

Mary, Queen of Scots
Musicals and Opera (Historical, Classical)
artSpace@StMarks (Venue 125)
Louise Macdonald, Contralto – Ingrid Sawers, Pianist
Why I Went: Prebooked, I thought this was classical musical theater
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Church sanctuary
Thoughts: This was not what I thought it was, and it was mind blowing excellent! I thought it was a musical theater story, but it was a collection of classical pieces written to texts written by and about Mary, Queen of Scots. The natural acoustics were phenomenal. The brief overviews given by pianist Ingrid Sawers were very interesting and not a distraction. The voice of Louise Macdonald was stunning. I wanted so bad to speak with her after the show but I was so moved by the music that I knew I would just gush over her and scare her. It was incredible. Louise, your voice and your interpretations are so moving and inspirational.

James and Jamesy: 2 for Tea
Theatre – Comedy
Gilded Balloon Teviot – Billiard Room
Why I Went: I had 90 minutes open and asked the box office: “What’s next that people like”
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Very small, like a living room
Thoughts: Another Fringe surprise. I’m not sure if this was a show for kids or a show for adults that was kid-like. My best way to describe this show is absurd and sweet. I think of James and Jamesy and I just smile. The ending of their show was so sublime and sweet, that it colored the preceding journey with more depth. What seemed like a simpleton sketch for children suddenly seemed like a clever message of profound depth for adults. This is a show I would want all my theater friends to see.

Butt Kapinski
Comedy (Comedy, Thriller)
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) – Ace Dome
Why I Went: Prebooked, had previous high ratings and looked interesting
My Star Rating: 4
Venue: Medium size, artist roamed through entire audience space
Thoughts: I would think this show is a must-see at the Fringe. Very unique with constant audience participation. It’s an extremely clever show and Butt Kapinski puts it all on the line for the audience.

Sunday, August 20

Bach for Solo Violin – Tamás Fejes
Music (Classical)
Canongate Kirk (Venue 60)
Why I Went: Prebooked, I love JS Bach, high expectations
My Star Rating: 5+
Venue: Church sanctuary
Thoughts: Mind blowing performance. One hour of the JS Bach Sonata #2 and Partita #2. Probably the single most moving performance of my entire Fringe. I’ll have to admit that I secretly went around to the back of the church to hear the maestro warming up in the back. Ok, truth is I was taking photos of gravestones and then heard him warming up and had a creepy voyeuristic feeling. It’s hard to fathom the amount of time it must have taken him to memorize this full hour of solo repertoire. I actually cried several times during the performance. One time I just let the tear run down the side of my nose and sit there because I wanted to relish in the full experience. I was closing my eyes and pretending it was the first time the pieces were being played. What did people think of JS Bach’s solo violin pieces? Amazing and life-changing performance.

Show Description: Acclaimed Hungarian violinist Tamás Fejes returns to this year’s Festival Fringe to perform a selection of Bach’s sonatas and partitas from Fejes’s debut solo album. These masterpieces, which include the mighty Chaconne, are the pinnacle of the solo violin repertoire, full of intellectual and emotional nourishment. Tamás’s recording for Discovery Music label was recently released to critical acclaim. ‘There is an almost effortless feel to much of his playing… Sections like the Andante in Sonata No 2 are absolutely exquisite’ (Keith Bruce, Arts Editor, Glasgow Herald).

(Below) Canongate Kirk Sanctuary for the Bach Solo Violin Performance

6x6x6
Theatre (Comedy, Theatre)
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)
Why I Went: Prebooked, had previous high reviews (I thought)
My Star Rating: 1
Venue: Like a small lecture hall
Thoughts: C’mon guys. I gave this a one rating because the last duo of girls (the “triplets”) were quite good. What was going on with the rest of it? I have no idea. Apart from the last duo, was this even rehearsed?

Craig: Deception
theSpace@ Surgeons’ Hall – Theatre 1
Craig Stephenson – Magician
Why I Went: Had 90 minutes open and asked box office for next show
My Star Rating: 2
Venue: Small, like a living room
Thoughts: I’ll admit I don’t usually care for magic shows, which is part of the reason I went. To make myself experience something new. Magician Craig Stephenson seems like a very nice fellow, so there’s that.

Blueswater Presents: Queens of the Blues
theSpace@ Surgeons’ Hall – Grand Theatre
Why I Went: I had 90 minutes open and asked box office for next ticket
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Like a bar/club concert, seating three sides and flat stage
Thoughts: Amazing band and vocalist. Add to this her description of female founders of the blues and it was very powerful. Some of the best female blues vocals I have heard in a very long time. I liked the experience, I loved the musicians and I love the message this artist is putting out.

Porn
Musicals and Opera (Musical theatre, Modern)
SpaceTriplex (Venue 38)
Why I Went: Prebooked, expecting edgy musical theater
My Star Rating: 0
Venue: Wide stage and floor seating, medium size
Thoughts: There was a lot of buzz and anticipation with audience members in line before the show. It was apparent within the first minute what we were in for. It was very bad writing and very bad execution. My only zero rating for all my fringe shows. Score was pre-recorded (I’m going to guess in Garage Band) with very bad sound libraries. On a tech note: If you have a song with drums playing in triplets, then it doesn’t worked to quantize your piano 100% to straight eights. There was almost no clapping between songs from the audience. I think most of us were in shock at how bad it was. It didn’t break the traditional rules of musical theater, it just seemed like no one knew there were rules in the first place. And when I say “rules”, I mean “things that work.”

Monday, August 21

Peter Pan
Musicals and Opera (Musical theatre)
Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209) – Emerald Theatre
Why I Went: Prebooked, I love Peter Pan musicals
My Star Rating: 1
Venue: Medium, seating on three sides
Thoughts: I wasn’t expecting the old 1950’s Peter Pan, was just expecting a good school rendition. I realize this was a school production and that there are different educational concerns to take into consideration. That being said, I think the children could have been given a much better educational experience here in the theater arts. Mr Darling/Hook was quite good. The musicians were very good.

David Huntsberger – Big Nothingness
“A stand up show with some animation”
JustTheTonic@ Just Up The Stairs at the Caves
Why I Went: A girl on the street said “show starting in 15 minutes”
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Very small, like a living room.
Thoughts: Amazing. There were only 7 of us in the audience. Yet, David Huntsberger is amazing. In one show I am a Super Fan. He says he’s a stand up comedian, but he’s not. During his show he kept saying, “No one’s laughing.” The girl with the flyer said “he’s an existentialist” which made me almost not want to go to the show. I don’t think he’s an existentialist. I think David Huntsberger is a contemporary philosopher. I think he pawns off his thoughts as stand up comedy because the alternative carries an intrinsic weight: That this young man has some very important concepts to consider that seem prepubescent in delivery but actually are quite engaging. I spend most of my days reading, thinking and playing music. David has given me things to think about for many, many weeks. The sublime beauty is the ideas that are contained between his thoughts, the unspoken subtext. I may be way off base, but I think that when David really understands he is a philosopher and not stand-up, that a whole new level will open up for him and the rest of us in this world will be richer for it.

Broken by Annie James
Theatre
theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39)
Quids In Theatre Company
Why I Went: Prebooked, interested in LGBT new theater works
My Star Rating: 3
Venue: Very small, like a living room
Thoughts: The acting was excellent in this. I really enjoyed the piece overall. It was a little slow moving and repetitive in parts. At times I wasn’t sure whether lines were wrong and actors were trying to get each other back on track, or whether the script itself was just repetitive. The 3 stars then was for the dialogue itself, not the acting. I wouldn’t watch this a second time, but I would be interested to see either of these actors in whatever else they do. Very heartfelt and sincere portrayals, particularly for this intimate audience space.

The Accidental Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Theatre (Comedy, Satire)
C venues – C (Venue 34)
Tobacco Tea Theatre Company
Why I Went: Prebooked, sounded interesting, wanted to see Holmes with UK actors
My Star Rating: 3
Venue: Medium size, audience seating on 3 sides
Thoughts: It was interesting in many parts and the acting by the supporting actors to Sherlock were very good. It did drag quite a bit in the middle. I enjoyed the intro with the sound effects sequence and the ending was interesting with the plot turns that are satisfying for the detective genre.

Assassins
Musicals and Opera (Musical theatre, Drama)
theSpace@ Venue45 (Venue 45)
Why I Went: Prebooked, have always wanted to see this musical
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Medium square, audience seating on three sides.
Thoughts: It was near perfect. So excellent. Very fine musicians and an incredible cast all the way around. Major kudos to whoever directed this because each actor was unique and kept their own individuality that really made this an ensemble piece with depth. The subject matter is volatile in the current political climate and that fact was not lost on the audience. Delivered with taste. I do find that I prefer the intricacy of Sondheim vs. some of the newer “contemporary” musical theater works that seem to pander to the lowest expected audience denominator. This did not. It was sophisticated and excellent all the way around.

The Best Play Ever
Theatre (Comedy)
theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36) – Perth Theatre
Why I Went: Prebooked, I wanted to see the bravado of actors that would dare to give their show this title which invites critics to devour them
My Star Rating: 5
Venue: Small, audience seating on 3 sides. Same theater as “Atlas”
Thoughts: I almost skipped this show because I had seen some real crap in the last week at the Fringe and had a hunch that this would be another huge disappointment. I was quite wrong. I laughed out loud more on this two-person show (ok, a third did a cameo) than any show at the Fringe. The writing was so clever and the acting had incredible nuance and subtle reaction to the audience. I would follow this duo to any new show that they create. Audience members of all ages were laughing continuously throughout the performance. Right from the first 15 seconds we were in the middle of the action and laughing. It is amazing to me that two young actors could keep an entire room in the palm of their hands for a complete hour without a single moment of drag or boredom. Audiences make up their minds whether a show is good or not in the first ten minutes, at least that’s the old adage. The audience as a group had made up their mind within the first minute. You could see it around the room. I can’t praise this show enough. Oh, and did I mention the only real prop was a pen and paper? Amazing performance.

Tuesday, August 22

Sasquatch: The Opera
Musicals and Opera (Contemporary, International)
Why I Went: Prebooked, traditionally pop artists do not do well in writing musical theater so wanted to see how this went.
My Star Rating: TBD
Venue: TBD
Thoughts: TBD

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