Edinburgh Fringe 2012 round-up

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© Marc Brenner
Posted: Mon Aug 20 2012

The pick of this year's Fringe shows coming to London, and the ones that need to transfer

Having just completed a week at the Edinburgh Fringe, I'm pleased to report it was a solid year, with the predicted Olympics-related slump in ticket sales seemingly more an issue for comedians than theatre shows. Here's my pick of the plays that'll be transferring to London in the next couple of months, with their Edinburgh venues, plus those that really ought to be heading south.

Top five shows that are transferring to London

'Morning', Traverse Theatre
As a piece of writing, Simon Stephens's blackly hilarious 'play for young people' probably isn't even his best new work of the year (it's something like his fifth UK premiere of 2012). But Sean Holmes's production for the Lyric Young Company is simply phenomenal, a bombastically Brechtian roar in the dark that will set you reeling with its pounding rhythms and dizzying dissolving scenes. For a major star of the future, look no further than Scarlet Billham, who is funny, pitiful and terrifying as frustrated teen protagonist Stephanie.
Lyric Hammersmith, Sept 4-22.

'Monkey Bars', Traverse Theatre
Chris Goode's excellent new sort-of-verbatim play is based on recorded conversations with 72 children aged six to 11, extracts of which are performed by adult actors and transposed into adult situations. So, for instance, we have the job interview where the candidate muses on her favourite type of sweets, and the nightclub scene in which a group of half-cut 'adults' try to work out where money comes from. Occasionally moving and somewhat satirical, it's mostly sweet and funny.
Unicorn Theatre, Sept 25-30.

'Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions', Northern Stage at St Stephens
The UK premiere of these five short playlets from US playwright Will Eno offers a wonderfully wry and genuinely poetic send-up of the banality of corporate and political speak. Soon-to-be RSC deputy artistic director Erica Whyman's production is beautifully paced and acted, and while I'd hope the wobbly set is sorted out for London, it's a great piece of programming for the Soho's tricky main house.
Soho Theatre, Sept 12-Oct 13.

'I Heart Peterborough', Pleasance Courtyard
Another one heading straight for Soho, Joel Horwood's latest is a faintly insane pocket epic about a tragically self-deluded drag queen, Lulu; his young son, Huw; and their attempts to reach an understanding of sorts while negotiating the mean streets of regional England. Worth it just for the hilariously uncool deployment of an electronic cigarette.
Soho Theatre, Oct 9-20.

'Without You', Underbelly, Bristo Square
'Rent' was never nearly as big a deal in the West End as on Broadway, so it's a real treat to have original US show star Anthony Rapp blasting through a clutch of its biggest numbers in magnificently muscular voice. Some of the autobiographical spoken word sections were too polished for my taste, but you'd need a heart of stone not to be moved by Rapp's meditations on the death of his mother and on 'Rent' creator Jonathan Larson.
Menier Chocolate Factory, Aug 29-Sept 15.

Top five shows we hope transfer to London

'Mess', Traverse Theatre
Caroline Horton's follow-up to her 2010 Edinburgh Fringe hit 'You're Not Like the Other Girls Chrissy' is a huge step forwards: a magnificently odd tragicomedy about a young woman suffering from anorexia and her oddball friends' inept attempts to help. Heartbreakingly sad and laugh-out-loud funny in equal measure, it's likely to come to BAC next year.

'Mies Julie', Assembly Hall
The big buzz hit of this year's festival, South African director Yael Farber's burningly claustrophobic reworking of Strindberg's 'Miss Julie' will surely have its pick of venues if she wishes to bring it to London. Erotic, intense and with an almost unbearable climax, in this present-day South African setting Julie's madness is not so much a question of mental health as a physical manifestation of a country still haunted and defined by the insanity of apartheid.

'Bullet Catch', Traverse Theatre
Playwright and performer Rob Drummond has learnt some new tricks for this excellent, idiosyncratic show in which he enlists the audience's help to aid him in performing a series of illusions that culminate in the infamous bullet catch. It's a clever, engrossing exploration of the concept of free will, plus you get to see a man being shot in the face: what could go wrong?

'Beats', Traverse Theatre
Kieran Hurley's DJ and VJ-enhanced monologue about the end of the glory days of rave is bittersweet but exhilarating stuff, and as intense, energetic and sweaty a performance as you're likely to see from a man sitting at an old desk.

'Songs of Lear', Summerhall
There's been a heavy Polish international presence on the Fringe this year, but this intense, moving choral interpretation of Shakespeare's 'King Lear' from Song of the Goat was my pick of the bunch. Perhaps because of the more elegiac nature of the source material, it feels a bit better suited to the medium than the company's earlier 'Macbeth'. That played at the Barbican, and hopefully this will do the same in due course.

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