What a Fringe it’s been!
In 2018 (for the first two weeks at least) Edinburgh basked in 25 degree days, blue skies and some of the best performers from all over the world.
Very few theatrical performances made the top of our list this year. That’s hardly a comment on the quality of the actors or plays, but the musical offerings in 2018 were exceptional.
So, keep your eyes peeled as the Edinburgh Fringe 2018 draws to a close and the great performers of our top 6 move back on out to the rest of the world.
In no particular order they are:
Courtney Act in Under the Covers
You can’t help but be impressed by the Shane Jenek’s hard graft as he has built the Courtney Act brand over more than 10 years of reality TV appearances, from Australian Idol to RuPaul’s Drag Race and most recently in the UK’s 2017 edition of Celebrity Big Brother.
But it would be reductive to the point of unfair to suggest that’s all Courtney is: just a Reality TV Star – and Under the Covers is a 60 minute showcase in case you were in any doubt.
Courtney is a sly raconteur, dishing occasional juicy titbits from her already remarkable life (without being too gossipy or reliant on too narrow a fan-base); she is a stunning “female impersonator”, werking a series of fantastic lewks, all while dancing her heart out and – most importantly – singing live.
The whole show is couched as a “glimpse under/behind the covers”, delving into the histories of some of the most covered songs (on which, of course, the drag scene thrives); the metaphor, alongside the discussion of some of Courtney’s more private moments, could be all too cute if it weren’t for her ability to then belt out her own covers of those songs with her own unique, touching and energetic takes.
What starts as simply a good Drag Act, evolves over the hour, building into a great and moving performance, as Courtney/Shane sing ”If I Were a Boy” as a duet before Courtney brings the house resoundingly down her cover of (very specifically) Dolly Parton’s ”I Will Always Love You”.
At a time when we’re at risk of achieving Peak Drag, Courtney Act in Under the Covers establishes Shane Jenek’s creation as far more than just another Queen standing on RuPaul’s shoulders.
Go and see it, if you can!
Now, speaking of #PeakDrag…
Iconic: Velma Celli
Don’t worry, this is the last drag act on the list, but it is an absolute must see if you:
- Like drag.
- Like music.
- Appreciate talent.
If you belong to just one of those categories you’ll be blown away by Ian Stroughair and his alter-ego Velma Celli. This is a transfixing journey through a playlist of songs that have shaped their lives and our world.
Many are great and familiar show tunes. If you have any awareness of gay culture at all, very few of these songs will be surprising; but, like Courtney Act, Velma belts them out live with extraordinary talent and depth of emotion that it’s impossible not to be rocked back on your heals.
The storytelling between songs is hilarious and moving in equal measure and Velma’s sheer pleasure in being there and entertaining is infectious.
Ticket’s to Iconic were regularly available from the Half-price Ticket Hut, a victim of the star not having featured on even a single Reality TV program, but so much greater is the pleasure for that.
If you ever hear of Velma Celli performing near you, drop everything: she is the real deal!
Brandon Barrett’s Brain Access
Another brilliant surprise!
I’m no aficionado of magic acts. When well done, it’s all very impressive, of course, but it really is “just” people finding ever more elaborate ways to trick you.
However, as luck would have it, Brandon Barrett was performing as part of the Free Fringe and, at just 15.5 years old, what an awesome performer he is!
From “mind-reading” to original takes on sleight-of-hand and even a straight-jacket escape, Brandon keeps the show moving with a patter worthy of a magician twice his age.
Brandon’s is definitely a name to watch out for (when he’s finished high school).
Christine Bovill – Piaf
Like Brandon Barrett, Christine came all the way to Edinburgh from… down the road in Glasgow, but what a world-class thrill it is to hear her!
Christine has been a regular at the Fringe for the last few years, though she no longer does the full, month-long run; preferring to do just 4 performances in 2018 – just twice doing her phenomenal Piaf concert this year, and performing her broader (though still period and French) Paris concert on the other nights.
And that exclusivity makes witnessing any of these shows that much more precious an experience!
As a former French teacher, Christine has a delightfully practical, school-marm-ish manner as she leads her audience on a journey through her own life and life of Edith Piaf; how the latter informed the former as well as inspiring all the songs you’ve probably heard tens or hundreds of times without fully understanding the literal meaning of the words, let alone their (likely) meaning to Piaf.
This is a fantastic show. Christine’s voice is superb – unique, but at the same time, powerfully reminiscent of Piaf herself – and the emotional resonance that each of the songs has on her fills the room.
See this show if you can! (I’m sure the Paris show is fine too….)
The Voice Behind the Stars
Then there’s Eliza Jackson’s tale of a another great singer: Marni Nixon.
As a lover of film and watcher of plenty of filmmaking documentaries, I was aware of much of this story and Eliza Jackson does a nice job of taking the audience through Nixon’s surprising life and work.
This is Jackson’s first foray as a solo performer in the Fringe and as a narrative piece this was too linear and ultimately unsatisfying.
Jackson’s voice is fantastic and when she sings as Marni singing as Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood etc. it’s outstanding!
If only there were more of those moments and less chronological recounting of the events of Nixon’s life.
It’s a small gripe, and this show will be polished over time. After all, it’s a fascinating story (that inspired Singin’ in the Rain among other things), and Jackson’s voice and acting are a perfect medium to tell it.
If you do have the chance to see it, it is absolutely worth it, and we’d love to hear how the story played for you.
We’ve saved the most intense for last.
Simon Callow’s one-man performance of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis is preceded by its reputation at this point, and I was excited to have the chance to see it.
Callow is a noted Wilde scholar in his own right. To see him interpret (via Frank McGuiness’s adaptation) and lay bare this last great piece of writing from the fallen idol of Victorian letters (though it did start its life as a literal letter) is moving, human, wrenching and infuriating.
At an hour-and-a-half, it is also not for the faint hearted. Nor is it likely to satisfy many people who haven’t come to it with a better than average knowledge of Wilde’s life and works.
But if you do have these things, then Callow’s De Profundis is much more than merely worth your time. It is a marathon monologue, to be sure, and on it’s face, this performance is “just” a man reading another man’s letter, written to another man. More than 120 years ago!
But as the title suggests, it is profound. It illuminates Wilde and Bosie, Victorian England, its prisons, the nature of humility and love, relationships and family. It is intensely personal to the one man who wrote it, and simultaneously has the potential to be uniquely and universally personal to us all.
And, as a piece of acting, this is pure. Callow loses himself in the role and, in doing so, he breaks the distance of time and Wilde speaks to you with his own voice.
Now that’s the real magic.