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As part of our support from the National Lottery Community Fund*, we are super happy to have a team of paid reviewers at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 

Don't forget our Somewhere: For Us LGBTQ+ Fringe Guide is available across the city, and here in digital format!


*Thank you to the National Lottery and National Lottery players


Review: Gubsmacked (Summerhall Tech Cube) ****


Gubsmacked sucker punched with a smack in the mouth. A variety night of poetry performances that landed in the feels speckled with brilliant queer humour. From work exploring the confluence of identities to the echoes of our past and its ghosts that trail us like a shadow. From the odd and curious veiled by sweet messages of what it is to be human to the homages to the water of this volcanic terrain. This collaboration between award-winning, BAFTA nominated poet Leyla Josephine and Black Isle-born Colin Bramwell has already become a feature of the Scottish live poetry scene - long may it stay-n!


From asking the audience to do a live reel featuring the show’s name Gubsmacked, which involved explaining to an audience of viewers from across our fair isle what ‘gub’ is. Its ubiquitousness in the U.K. was up for debate as an English audience member was told on no uncertain terms that a ‘gub’ is only a mouth in Scotland because there are ‘no o’s in Scotland only u’s.’ The quips from the hosts ran to time as perfectly as the night’s performances.


This space was fertile ground for emerging poets to perform, such as Maryam Grace, Sara Mostafa, and Mwansa Phiri. In the form of lightning poems, five minute slots that gave us a taste of each poet’s style. Sara’s poems were beautiful and lyric weaving stories in from her everyday encounters translating her love for language while Maryam exposed the harsh realities of the language of assumptions. Funny and earnest, Phiri’s work regaled us with two poems that explored the binaries of love and hate, a sweet sour homage to relationship attachment styles.


Oassissy, the genderqueer drag clowns of Oasis, stole the show. Their performance of stage anxiety unravelled into a rendition of an Oasis and had me in stitches before they snogged their way off-stage. While wordsmith Ellen Renton, a poet of the ages, created an atmosphere of intimacy to the landscape of the evening with poems that connected us to the past and unfurled the possibilities for the future with aplomb. Followed by headliner Rob Auton’s deadpan and lifeless delivery of his stanza’s crystallised the humour of his work with his epic poem about living on planet Jupiter - a poignant reflection of the beauty of living on earth - stellar and not to be missed.


See the last night of this gorgeous evening of metrical compositions for its final show on the 23rd of August. Queer royalty Jo Clifford will be headlining. Go for no other reason than to pay respects to our long reigning eminence. It will be a night you will not forget!


Review: Santi and Naz (Pleasance Courtyard) *****



Homosexuality existed in India until the British came and put laws in place and made it illegal, to this day still taboo. But Queer identities have always been in India but we rarely hear those stories. When we read about Partition we only hear stories of heterosexual people.


Santi and Naz is a powerful, emotional and beautiful story written by the incredible writers taking the contemporary theatre scene by storm by creating new stories for south Asians, Guleraana Mir and afshan d’souza-lodhi. Two writers who understand what is missing from the theatre scene when it comes to representing the south Asian community. Unlike many queer plays, this play isn’t as in your face about the themes but more subtle. And that works beautifully as this is the first time I have witnessed a queer story during Partition. 


Santi and Naz, through its seamless and joyous direction by the fab Madeleine Moore, shows all the layers that you want from a show dealing with tough themes during one of history’s biggest tragedies. 12 million people were displaced and more than 3 million deaths. What makes Santi and Naz stand out is that so many stories we never hear about from this time period. So many people were lost. And there is a habit of either whitewashing or making everything heterosexual when telling Partition stories that involve love. 

Both performers, Rose-Marie Christian and Karendip Phull, give such rounded and heartfelt performances. They bring joy and a youthfulness when the characters are young and then a maturity and deep emotion when older. A beautiful two hander and both these talented actors understand how to carry such weight whilst supporting each other. This is evident as they both carry the story so well without letting go of the elephant in the room that is the story of Partition. 


The play really hits home on its themes of friendship, loyalty, identity and childhood. The Thelmas have done it again and created a powerful and thought provoking play. They have given space to a story that is rarely seen during a time that is rarely spoken about in history books or on TV. 


As a queer Indian watching this show, it made me see that the reason I sit here today is thanks to Partition and made me believe that there were queer people out there whose stories we may never hear, amongst a dark time for South Asia. A fact also, when the Partition of India was happening, over here in the west, the Fringe was just beginning. Britain was celebrating the beginning of a new festival as it idiotically ripped apart another country. 


Santi and Naz is a beautiful play that will get at your heartstrings. With impactful and vibrant performances, incredible thought-provoking and powerful writing and direction that brought together beautiful words to life and gave voice to another type of story during one of Britain's worst moments in history. A play I highly recommend as it’s bold, brilliant and one of only a few south Asian shows on at the Fringe, and a very rare queer south Asian gem. This play CANNOT end at the Fringe! Congrats to all involved in this beautiful piece. 


Review: Wasteman (Assembly George Square Studios) ***


Just before Wasteman opens, a friendly front of house member pops on stage to let us know that performer Joe Leather (he/they) is recovering from a herniated disc and so won’t be able to perform the dance routines in the show with as much energy as they normally would. They also won’t be wearing heels. Gasp!

However when Leather enters via the audience they prove that they have every intention of being just as fabulous as they intended when they dreamt up this show. 
And anyway who says drag queens need to wear heels?!

Audiences should know that drag comes in all shapes and styles and doesn’t need to play to a stereotype.


However in Wasteman Joe Leather enjoys playing with stereotypes, there’s our principal queen- a likeable but under confident northerner who works as a bin man by day and dabbles in drag at night. He tells of his affluent, ridiculously posh boyfriend Jonty who cooks him fancy meals that he can’t pronounce the names of and his work colleague Gammon who is your stereotypical tabloid reading cis-het man. And then there’s his best pals sister, Tanya, a hairdresser and make-up artist who’s determined to make him the next big drag sensation as Miss Stoke!


Throughout this semi-autobiographical performance, based on Leather’s experience of working as a refuse collector in lockdown and creating a drag character on Zoom to entertain their friends, we learn of Joe’s friendship with Kieran and how as baby gays they used to try on Kieran’s sisters Irish dancing costumes. Kieran is mentioned often, always in the past tense, heavily alluding at what’s to come.


Leather packs a lot into their script and at points falls into overtelling (as opposed to showing), they’re clearly keen that we don’t miss any details.

Unfortunately due to sightlines we miss a lot, Assembly have done him dirty with a space that hosts a large number of people all on one level and so whilst Leather works hard to engage his audience with silly jokes and bubbly songs, ultimately there are some audience members whose attention is lost- they wander out to the bar or in the case of one lady decide to do their makeup and spritz a bit of perfume on!

Leather isn’t phased by this and gives us a rap that is more BIN-ini than Bimini, strutting through the crowd to pull the focus back and encourage the judges to award them the title of Miss Stoke 2023.


In a climate where drag shows are being protested by terfs and LGBTQIA+ people are attacked for being themselves, it’s great to see that Wasteman has attracted a predominantly mainstream, enthusiastic audience who will hopefully continue to tell Joe’s tale long after the lights go down.


Review: Without (Underbelly Cowgate) *****



A compelling and charming original from an impressive young creative team, Without is a real gem of a new musical, with music by Ben Tomalin, and book by Maisie Fawcett and Sophie Holmes.


The action is set around a street bench and tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a busker and a young runaway. After leaving home, we find Rose (Marianne Steggall) alone and despairing on a street corner, waiting for her girlfriend who was supposed to have met her. Alongside Rose is Henry (Darragh Chaplin), a homeless ex-music teacher who happens to be busking right next to her at his regular spot.


As the musical progresses, they both open up about exactly how they ended up together on this particular patch of pavement. It’s a celebration of friendship, solidarity and the magic that can happen when two people with completely different lives find common ground. The characterisation is impressive; Chaplin’s performance is nuanced and convincing—he somehow manages to straddle the cool/uncool line that many a young teacher toes—whereas Steggall plays the teenager who’s had to grow up too fast with a charming rawness. The performance is intimate, and at times you feel like just another bystander on that unnamed street.  


The scene is peopled by a four-strong ensemble (Sarah Craig, Liv Koplick, Alex Morton, Anna Toogood) who magically manage to conjure the business and variety of a bustling city street. This chorus sing, act, dance, and have impeccable comedic timing. Alex Morton’s vocals, in particular, were hair-raisingly good.


The music is catchy and captivating, with folk/pop numbers that pack an emotional punch (there were certainly tears in the audience). The multi-talented Tomalin expertly plays keyboard, Josh Leigh is on drums, and Chaplin strums his all-important guitar. Impressively, the soundscape of busking is captured alongside the familiar refrains of musical theatre and captivating pop numbers.


The show tackles some difficult themes, such as homophobia, homelessness, alcoholism and family breakdown. Yet there is a lightness of touch that allows space for joy, humour, and the love of music to be the overriding emotional tenor of the show, without diminishing the seriousness of its subject matter. The insidious homophobia that Rose experiences at home is all too recognisable, and this challenging element felt well-considered and is handled with intelligence and care. Most impressively, the show manages to hit all the cathartic highs of musical theatre, without offering simple answers to complex problems.



Review: Buff (Pleasance Courtyard) *****


I laughed, I cried and I connected with so much within this play.

This play was one hour, but that hour was entertaining and gut wrenching. This 5 star nominated play I first heard about during its run at The Vaults Festival in London.

“BUFF” is beautifully performed with such great energy and comic timing by the fab Pearse EganPearse Egan. Through the show he beautifully takes us through all the emotions that his character experiences. We clearly see the journey of emotions he goes on whilst also keeping us engaged.

The play is a powerful exploration into the gay community and fat phobia and body shaming. The story brings to light a very real topic but brings humour to the piece. Our protagonist Nicky, has a new flatmate who is a muscular instagram model of a guy. And we see Nicky through the play put himself down in front of him and with others with phrases such as “you have an Adonis’s belt and I have an Apollo's muffin top”, speaking of the 6 pack of his flat mate compared to his own body. Nicky passes his self deprecation off as a joke or shares that when he is nervous he gets crude, but we as the audience see the pain within. 

There is a real reality shared within the script and performance on how harmful and hurtful dating apps can be. It is a place where people go thinking they are safe from this sort of stuff, being part of a community who experience prejudice but the play shows that this isn’t the case and fat phobia, racism etc all exist even within queer communities. 

Buff as a play is powerful as it also speaks of body standards. The comment of “Love Island men, thought you’d like them”, made me think of how beauty standards in todays world as so visible, that specific bodies are shown on screen and made to believe that’s how we should all look but it’s not.

The scenes in the school were comic genius at the way Pearse felt like a teacher speaking to various voices at once.  Buff eloquently through the scenes in the school show the powerful use of language though and how language can be used to hurt people, whether describing someone or the self deprecating nature can hurt too. And I agree with the play that we should be educating on language on all things from a young age from anti racist to anti fat phobia.

Overall, Buff is a powerful play with strong messages about the body and I sat there relating to a lot of the play as a queer Asian man. The person next to me wasn’t a part of the queer community and related. This is the power of theatre, when a message is beautifully conveyed in a skilled, comic yet heartbreaking performance of incredibly inspiring writing. Go and see this play. And let’s share kindness. One of a kind play and I hope this isn’t the end of the journey. Congrats to all involved in bringing it together. 


Review: Drag Queen Story Hour (Assembly Roxy) *****



When do you need drag queens? When you're 7? When you're 11? When you're 77?


Aida H Dee's Drag Queen Story Hour is for anyone of any age. It's a romp from beginning to end that gets the young audience - and their adults - shouting, hopping, roaring, and laughing so hard the theatre rises off the ground.


If you are 77, you'll be oohing and hissing and oh-yes-it-issing with everyone else.


Aida, also known as Sab Samuel, is an experienced entertainer who started Drag Queen Story Hour in 2017. In his flashing sequin jumpsuit and towering wig, he dashes around the stage and up and down the theatre steps in a rainbow rocket of a performance.


The children in the audience love it. The show is very interactive and you get the feeling that some of the audience end up magicked out of any previous shyness. They shout back and forth to Aida and come up on stage to demonstrate 'walking on one foot'.


The story is a traditional folk tale – available as a book, Three Goats United – which Aida has rewritten to give it a more 21st-century energy.


'What do you think happens next?' Aida asks. Hands are raised: everyone has an idea. This isn't just a story, it's about active imagination.


What's the message?  a Channel 4 reporter once asked, and Aida replied, 'Have fun in life.'


Protesters have turned up at some Drag Queen Story Hours, but there wasn't a sign of them as the Edinburgh Fringe show started – just a very long queue and a full house. After the show, older and younger fans turned up to have their pictures taken with Aida in the sunshine.


Your seventy-something reviewer was surprised and flattered to be asked whether she was actually Aida's grandmother, whose portrait is on the first page of Three Goats United – the book is dedicated to her. Some fans didn't quite seem to believe my denials. It's not every day you go to a show to write a review and become part of the story, but that must be the drag queen magic, and why stories told by drag queens are unlike any others – you aren't who you think you are, and if you let the spell work you can be a monster, a pink goat, a grandmother and a five-year-old all in the space of an hour.


Have fun in life. Take everyone you know to see it.



Review: Blossoming (You Undo Me) (Gilded Balloon, Patterhoose) ****


For Tao, London is a city of freedom, possibility, and an escape from fraught family dynamics. Born in secret as a result of China’s former one child policy, the expectation of Tao to carry on the family line weighs heavily on him as he sets down his luggage to knock at the door of his London lodgings. Following in the footsteps of his mother, Tao has left his home town in China to experience life in England before starting university.


The trajectory of his story dramatically changes when Tao forms an intense and unlikely crush on Matt, his emotionally distant flatmate. Tao’s intention of staying just three short months in the capital is long forgotten, as London’s nightlife and drag scene provide the backdrop for Tao’s queer awakening. All the while, Tao’s family are hoping for his return to China.

Blossoming (You Undo Me) is a one man musical, directed Xin Huang and performed at the Fringe by both Deng Tao and Apollo Ziegfeld.


Though the poster reveals little about the premise, this is a classic coming-of-age musical with a twist. The first queer Asian musical at the Fringe, the story delicately tackles a queer immigrant’s journey tinged with moments of humour and despair. Suitcases cleverly set the stage, their opening and closing weaving threads of Tao’s disparate life together. The striking contrast in costumes mirror Tao’s journey. Shedding the simple shirt and shorts of a shy student to adorn himself in flamboyant red feathers as a drag queen, all aspects of the staging are carefully considered to reflect Tao’s rising self-confidence.

The songs are memorable and filled with emotion, blending Chinese opera with modern musical theatre, and a touch of unexpected puppetry. However, the spoken sections punctuated the flow of the performance a little, not quite joining all elements together due to the setting of some of the monologues with the performers back to the audience.

This tender, sincere, and uplifting musical is significant in bringing underrepresented queer Asian voices to the Fringe. Yet, the universal themes of self-discovery and heartbreak make it relatable across cultural boundaries. In one scene, as Tao opens a suitcase to reveal the nightclub Heaven, there is palpable delight, alongside 80s tunes, as we root for the newly-out character surrounded by queerness. Long after the show ends, audiences will be left warmed by Tao’s heartfelt story and reminded of significant moments in their own coming-of-age.


Review: Alan Turing - Guilty of Love (Alba Theatre at Hill Street Theatre) ****



This new musical tells the familiar story of a well-known British icon, but from a heart breaking new perspective.

I’m ashamed to say as a gay man that my knowledge of Alan Turning before seeing this show was limited. He had first come to my attention after seeing his memorial statue in Manchester’s gay village. Upon further investigation, I had read the story of London born computer scientist Turing, and his pivotal role during in code-breaking and cryptanalysis during the Second World War.

However, ‘Guilty of Love’ looks more in depth at the man himself, his passions and his complicated romantic life as a gay man, who was prosecuted in 1952 for gross indecency and subjected to chemical castration as punishment, before tragically dying of cyanide poisoning just two years later.

The story begins in his youth where Turing – characterised to perfection by Jamie Sheasby - had fallen in love at boarding school with classmate Christopher Morcom, played by talented newcomer Andrew Hornyak. Christopher died young at age 18, and so after his death he becomes a ghostly narrator for the rest of the show, helping to tell the story beautifully through songs played on an acoustic guitar.

The play mostly focuses on Alan’s longing for this brief first love, and also the close relationship he maintained with Christophers mother long after his death. But it also cleverly winds the story of the rest of his life around it, without ever feeling confusing or jarring. Culminating in a very emotional ending that had me very misty in eye region, I’m not ashamed to admit.

David Kettle’s direction is slick and the transitions between timelines are smooth and facilitated perfectly by the very strong ensemble cast. The choreography and vocal harmonies really elevate the story telling and are sung beautifully by this talented range of singers. The only negative is that the music – aside from Hornyak’s guitar playing – is all backing track, and the sound quality wasn’t great. A live band would have really lifted this piece even more. But for a fringe show and smaller venue, the backing tracks do the job and don’t hinder what is a beautifully tragic and heartfelt story.

‘Alan Turing – Guilty of Love’ runs until Sunday 27th August at Venue 41. Alba Theatre at Hill Street Theatre, 19 Hill Street, EH2 3JP.

Venue accessibility: this venue is up four flights of stairs with no lift access.



Review: Creepy Boys (Summerhall) ***** 


The doors have just opened and the energy of the Creepy Boys is felt. It’s 10pm at night but it feels the day has a long time ahead. 

Creepy Boys is the new production from Scantily Glad Theatre, who have been creating work since 2014, who strive to create theatre to empower Queer voices. And this duo definitely are an empowering energy. 

Performers Sam and Grumms create with such vibrancy and joy, the personas of 2 twins who are celebrating their 13th birthdays. As an audience you are instantly made to feel you are at the party from the ribbons to being asked to blow up balloons.

Audience participation is such a strong tool used in this show and works so well. A party wouldn’t work with just the hosts as guests also help to create the atmosphere, and the Audience are supported to feel comfortable to respond and enjoy the party.

The connection between the performers and the theatre technician is so beautifully crafted and brings an added layer of joy to the room.

The show even with its comedy nature does have a dark side, without spoilers, it brings together a true feeling of a horror mixed with a comedy. A bit like scary movie meets chucklevision/ sister sister (insert any other famous twins). But also at moments gave me a feeling of Rocky Horror Picture show meets Addams Family.

And although the performers aren’t related, they both have such lovely warmth and love for each other which is truly visible and the support for each other which is needed in two handed shows.

The two performers personas are also very different which is beautiful, one less energetic than the other but the balance works, it shows the difference in the characters.

A shoutout to the lighting and sound designs of the show, creating memorable moments from music to cultural references. Most were hard to click with I felt ,as it was American references I was told, but still hearing the joy from the Audience showed it didn’t matter because there was something for everyone. 

The smoke machine was an unnecessary touch as it was positioned in the wrong direction, so didn’t feel the full impact of it.

I can’t praise the performers enough on their high skills in clowning, movement, voice and improvisation, all the skills that created such a joyful creepy theatre show. Showing initiative to connect with the audience, the duo said the show is hard to explain, I disagree, it’s so clear. The world created is clear and I left thinking of the quote said “nothing lasts forever”, and it’s stayed with me. How we should always have a joyful childish side and enjoy the moments we have.

A brilliant piece of theatre, and the care these performers show is evident right up till the end, when the announce they are raising donations to give one ticket per show for an LGBTQIA+ young person.

Highly recommend this party of a show.


Review:An Asian Queer Story: Coming Out to Dead People (Just the Tonic at the Mash House) ****


‘Tradition is just intergenerational bullying.’ If there was one line to epitomise the message and delivery of this show, this would be it. One part raw truth and one part deadpan humour, Ricky Sim’s one-person show ‘An Asian Queer Story: Coming Out to Dead People’ is raucous and self-aware. Having grown up as an immigrant in the USA raised by Malaysian parents, Sim navigates the journey of his queerness in the early noughties with banger anecdote after banger anecdote (pun intended). Beneath this raunchy exterior is a beautiful story of grief and acceptance, highlighting the quandary of growing up queer in two cultures at the same time. Coming out has never looked this poignant – yet Sim’s show is also steeped in the dark hilarity that, paradoxically, can often accompany grief. Weaving in anecdotes and one-liners that will land with any queer audience.


Having also been raised by an immigrant parent in the States, the reality of navigating two cultures and being part of a third, one of our own making, is a story as old as time. From critiquing corporate pride to discussing what Asian queerness in the noughties looked like, this is a story about acceptance, joy, and prejudice. The show’s overarching message (without giving too much away) is to consider which demographics get to come out, and when coming out becomes a privilege - which, for many, it is.


Sim's warm delivery and expert navigation of the one-person format is sure to make 'An Asian Queer Story' a surefire hit with first-time Fringe attendees. Sim goes to great lengths to make his audience comfortable, checking in early on to make sure that the air-con is not bothering them, and comfortably joking about his own body whilst laughing at himself when he feels the audience does not know how to react. As a comedian, he lets us know which jokes are his favourites, and the ones that we feel uncomfortable laughing at… well, he’s keeping them anyway.


At various points, Sim had me either in stitches or shedding tears of compassion as he shared his beautiful story of familial love, as well as revealing the pride he takes in his queerness.


A story that is a must-see this Fringe and, after 13 years of attending the festival, it's safe to say that those words do not come out of my laptop-fatigued fingers very often.


Review: The Wild Geeze (Gilded Balloon Teviot) ***** 


Dark comedy? Music? Burlesque? Vagina puppets? As soon as I read the show description for The Wild Geeze, I was intrigued, and Irish duo Breda Larkin and Miss Laura Lavelle, hailing from Galway and Limerick respectively, certainly did not disappoint, delivering my favourite performance of the Fringe so far. 


A sold out hour in the Gilded Balloon’s turret room flew by in a bloody blur of ridiculous, riotous laughs and wild cabaret, with the audience eating up every moment.


There was no phoning it in here. While some other shows have had me subtly checking my watch or stifling a yawn, I did not take my eyes off the stage for the full 60 minutes as Larkin and Lavelle quite literally left it all up there – blood, sweat and other miscellaneous bodily fluids – and left us all wanting more.


In this perfectly paced hour, Larkin and Lavelle managed to squeeze in so much including striptease, NSFW puppetry and raps about trees, all while dismantling the patriarchy, saving the planet and getting the front few rows a little, ahem, wet in the process. There were certainly no complaints in this largely queer crowd, though, who whooped and cheered with delight.


Bonded by “dark jokes about their dead siblings”, there is an electric chemistry between this duo, whose voices and energies work so well together. This deep connection, forged on the Irish cabaret circuit, is palpable, creating a wonderful atmosphere in the room. Welcoming, warm and interactive without being intimidating, seasoned festival pros could learn a lot from these Fringe debutants.


Don’t be put off by the late start – or the long climb up the stairs – this is an unforgettable evening that you’ll be glad you stayed up for and, mark my words, you will be singing these songs for a long time to come. Miss The Wild Geeze at your peril.


Review:You and Me (Summerhall) ****


It’s a tale as old as time- man meets man, they fall in lust but one of them has a wife at home. However, in Amina Khayyam’s kathak dance theatre piece the man in question is from a south Asian community where he believes his queer identity will not be accepted.


Performed by Shyam Dattani and Giacomo Pini, You&Me is both beautiful and devastating. Dattani opens the piece slowly traversing across the stage carrying a chair, his symbol of home, across his back. On his ankles are ghungroo’s, anklets made of bells, that tinkle as he walks. In the background Pini quietly observes as Dattani performs a solo full of complex and contradictory feelings- his love for his family, his attraction to other men and the shame and anger he feels towards himself. As his emotions heighten so do the noise of the bells, a constant reminder of his tie to his culture.


You&Me is informed by Khayyam’s work with south Asian women’s groups, where participants shared their experiences of being married to a male partner who identified as LGBTQIA+ and due to cultural fear were unable to come out. The women supported their husbands, providing them cover from those cultural pressures. It’s this narrative lens that makes You&Me so truly special. It provides an understanding that takes the audience far beyond attraction or sex. There is no question of cheating. Only a fear that authenticity will not be found.


And so when Dattani and Pini, who shared their own coming out experiences as part of the creative process, do eventually connect there is a palatable feeling of relief and joy throughout the audience. Together they perform a duet that quite literally swings from euphoria to soft and sensual and back again.


Khayyam’s use of Kathak is exciting and contemporary, it moves beyond the traditional genre allowing its expression to be as progressive as the stories it tells. It is accompanied by an excellent live score composed by Jonathan Mayer and performed by Debasish Mukherjee (tabla), Iain McHugh (Cello) and Pete Yelding (sitar).


You&Me is part of Amina Khayyam Dance Company Kathak Monologues- – dance pieces written & choreographed by Amina Khayyam thematic from a South Asian feminist perspective. The second in the series of work, Bird, which explores what happens when someone runs away from domestic abuse, is being performed at Summerhall 14-27th August.


Review: Clown Sex (Pleasance) ****



In a world where we swap memes about nuclear apocalypse and mental breakdowns, maybe there isn’t much left that can shock?


However, the awkward glances and nervous laughter prompted by Natasha Sutton Williams, ‘Clown Sex’ at the Pleasance suggests people are still astonished by vivid descriptions of sex. Gary Strange is a sewer-dwelling voyeur, using plumbing to eavesdrop on people living above. Sutton Williams deftly moves across a triptych of scenes, presenting a capsule-collection of Hogarthian grotesques.


It's a show not just designed to shock; it also dares us to find the lurid world Sutton Williams creates as entertaining as she does.


An anal sex obsessed teacher hands out prescription prophylaxis, in lieu of breath mints, to smelly school kids before embarking on a night on the lash.

A snooty CEO, en-route to her next big interview, ends up regaling a hapless receptionist with tales of feline bestiality during a trip to South Africa. The final scene sees Gary Strange recount a night of passion, under the big top, with the revolting and terrifying, Cuckoo the Clown.


You can be forgiven for feeling a bit apprehensive during the first half, but by the second half the writer and performer has the audience by the throat, delivering blow after blow of laughs. 


It’s maybe not a show designed to make you think deeply or to ponder a higher academic concept. However, it does dare you to leave your outrage at the door. As a writer Natasha Sutton Williams has created a cavalcade of characters that shift the audience from shock to complicity by making them devilishly funny. Her confident performance is bold and delivered with machine gun precision. The characters are well-observed and given weight by representing something we can all strangely identify with.


Whether that be an inner want for hedonism, selfish propensities, self-indulgent nihilism or the secret expression of desires we might never utter in public. Although, perhaps each scene could have been shorter, to create space for a couple more characters from Sutton Williams’ imagination to join her motley crew on stage.


The 20th century absurdist theatre movement was a response to the catastrophes of that age - blurring lines between fantasy and reality. Clown Sex operates in a similar vein. It’s like an afternoon spent watching Jean Genet riff with Julia Davis, and with only three walk outs during the one-hour performance, Natasha Sutton Williams must be doing something right.  


Review:Nan, Me and Barbara Pravi
(Summerhall) ***


The concept of ‘Nan, Me & Barbara Pravi’ is a worthy one. The push and pull of honouring obligations to family, at the cost of your own joy, is one that many people who have cared for elderly relatives will feel acutely.  It’s a situation which shows that love can also, at times, be torture.


Hannah Maxwell’s one-woman show at Summerhall explores how a queer woman cares for her widowed grandmother and the frustrations that can bring as life continues in the outside world. Maxwell’s desire for release and connection to her own life manifests in her love of Eurovision and in her doe-eyed devotion to French singer Barbara Pravi.


The performance is energetic, charming and warm as Maxwell interplays her clear adoration for her grandmother with the fantasy escape offered by the sexy French singer. Her desire for release then switches from smothering, elderly domesticity in Luton, where unwanted neighbours drop-by umpteen times a day, to partying and the fair-weather friends that litter life on the London social scene.


Maxwell works hard across the modest performance space but makes things difficult for herself with clunky devices that get in the way of the story. Some of the audience participation devices failed, requiring prompting from the stage. Although Maxwell can clearly think on her feet to handle misfires, while making the audience feel at ease. Thankfully the audience participation falls away by the second half which is where the show finally gets into its stride - segueing into a stark, confessional scene about substance misuse and addiction.


It’s a scene that’s well juxtaposed with the whimsy of what has come before. The writing in this section is particularly good and the performance genuinely captivating. During a powerful monologue section Maxwell refers to herself as a work in progress. It’s a moment which feels applicable to the whole show.


There are hugely enjoyable vignettes which talk to Maxwell’s obvious talent and sheer confidence as a performer. However, there is a distinct lack of cohesiveness. Maxwell tries to squeeze in too many elements, when she just needs to rely on her clear writing and performance abilities to guide the audience through.


While ‘Nan, Me & Barbara Pravi’ lacks flow in places, there are genuine moments of hilarity and drama. This show has potential to be a brilliant piece of theatre and hopefully it will develop before the end of the run.


Cara Connors: Straight for Pay

(Pleasance) ****



Cara Connors (she/they) is playing a rather small, intimate venue at this year’s Fringe, so there is a very strong chance that, as an audience member, you will get more up close and personal than you’d expect from your average comedy show. She will make eye contact with you as she talks about the pitfalls of becoming infatuated with your therapist; she will spin right past you while doing an impression of a drunk mum at a wedding; and she might even ask you to adopt the persona of a not-so-well-meaning old man who really wants to know if the lesbian couple before him are, in fact, sisters. All of this builds up to a chaotic, yet insightful hour of hilarious stand-up.

Judging by the audience’s roaring laughter and knowing groans, Cara’s story resonates with many. Growing up in a Catholic environment, never questioning the heteronormative path expected of everyone, getting married to a man and spending five years with him before realising that they were, in fact, queer all along – in their own words, “I got straight married and gay divorced”. This is a story that is clearly not unfamiliar to many members of the community, and Cara recounts it with verve and plenty of self-deprecating humour. At one point, she tells a stunned, silent audience that she misses being straight – before correcting herself and explaining that what she misses, in fact, is ‘feeling safe’. The sad reality of living in a world that still hasn’t fully learned how to accommodate queer lives is recounted in a way that allows us to laugh about it, while never losing sight of the deeper underlying message.

It's true that Cara’s exuberance, and the way that they shift from topic to topic, sometimes within the same sentence, is enough to give some whiplash. But for many others, this rapid-fire, over-the-top performance is an important part of the humour and the charm. Another point in favour is the universality of the experience, as Cara shows that they know their audience and avoid too many American cultural references that would be lost on an international crowd.


In other words, no matter your sexuality or gender identity, and whether you want to know about the perks of intergenerational dating or the aftermath of facial hair removal from the age of 10, you can rely on Cara Connors to deliver an hour of full-body laughs, and plenty of thought-provoking material.

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