What a Fringe it has been! After last year’s somewhat pared down proceedings, this year’s festival was back with a bang. So much talent, such exciting shows and so many overpriced haggis rolls. As the legion of artists and performers start to pack up their suitcases and increase their overdrafts, here’s our stand-out shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2023. From established household names to exciting works in progress, there’s something for everyone.
Here’s our run down of the top twelve shows we caught at the 2023 Fringe.
It’s a huge credit to Foxx that he carefully rations the spectacular musical setpieces of his show to imbue all his lyrical panache with real pathos. This is far more than just high camp of the highest order – it’s a form of artistic catharsis. Foxx is utterly hilarious and effortlessly charismatic, but he has some powerful things to say about childhood bullying too. When he sings ‘Maybe it’s better to be bad than a joke’, it is both heartbreaking and heart-swelling.
In his stylishly crafted debut hour, Young expertly skewers each and every stereotype the south has of the north and vice-versa. He has swapped ‘Scarbados’ for ‘that there London’ and is evidently thriving…ish. The show is so well-honed and Young’s delivery so accomplished that he positively croons certain lines with a frontman’s flourish – like Scarborough’s answer to Alex Turner. Whether up north or down south, Young is surely on the road to stardom.
This is what the Fringe is all about. The discovery of an exciting new talent with a unique perspective and the promise of becoming the next big thing. Bamrah is defiantly and proudly himself – which includes being a turban wearing Punjabi Sikh from Wembley – and that in itself is compelling. But when combined with his easy charm, warm delivery and self-deprecating wit, it’s kinda thrilling. Bamrah is representing in the best way possible. The next big thing is right.
Zafar has always been a masterful storyteller but he’s always allowed himself numerous tangents, and vitally, always been the protagonist. With Imposter, he sets himself the unenviable task of telling one linear story – without being the main character. He even has the hugely relatable subplot of getting married as a safety net but refuses to use it. Admittedly it’s a gripping story, but the way Zafar builds to crescendos and brings the numerous characters to life – without losing the crowd for a beat – is exceptional.
This is a one-woman mission to make musical comedy cool again. Bayler is like Kim Wilde if she worked in a call centre and discovered the joys of Greggs. Whether it’s lamenting her time in customer service or her short-lived adventures in hospitality, Bayler takes the top deck off with her belting musical numbers and joyously chaotic repartee. It’s not so much dancing like no one’s watching, more performing like you’re headlining Glastonbury. So. Much. Fun.
This is how you bring history to life – by stabbing it in the heart with an adrenaline shot and making it sit bolt upright to stare you in the face. Raymond Friel’s clever script and Marjolein Robertson’s pulsating performance combine to tell the story of Mary Queen of Scots with a hugely effective (and affecting) contemporary twist. Robertson is a spectacular talent, able to step in and out of the various meta layers of the play and its huge cast of characters with astounding ease.
It feels almost hack to compare Rushton with such luminaries as Sean Lock and Daniel Kitson, but in a show with the light motif of daddy issues they do feel like his true comedy fathers. It is evident in the wry matter-of-factness of his delivery that contrasts so perfectly with his surreal beats and double-bluff punchlines. Some of the wordplay is so exquisite it’s almost poetic. And of course every moment of ennui is immediately undercut by something gloriously and unpretentiously daft. He’s already getting attention in all the right places too, having scooped the inaugural Channel 4 Sean Lock Comedy Award earlier this year.
Dugsi Dayz is revelatory. Finally a depiction of Muslim women that isn’t evil or demure or subjugated or browbeaten or salaciously anti-Muslim. These aren’t young Muslim women trapped by their faith or trying to escape it. It’s a vibrant, thrilling, rebellious, passionate and relentlessly hilarious snapshot of British-Somali culture that welcomes everyone while making zero compromises. Each of the outstanding cast get their moment to shine, but the real star is Sabrina Ali’s vital and unfiltered writing. I cannot wait to see what she does next.
Ian Smith turns incredulity into an art form, confirming his status as the undisputed sultan of nerve-shredding stress. No one has had their melon twisted this tightly since Shaun Ryder was stepping on. There is something irresistible about Smith’s relentless malaise that is both frantically funny and hugely charming. Whether it’s traversing a floatation tank like a DVD screensaver or grinding his teeth down to chalk, Smith is the best company and a highly-strung joy.
“It’s hard to write comedy when you’re funny!” exclaims Mace without a hint of conceit. That’s because he is indeed achingly funny and consistently one of the festival’s most vital creative forces. And yet in search of his lost mojo he turns to higher education and fine art. This show has all of Mace’s trademark surreal stylings and outrageously funny nonsense, but with something more profound – a search for artistic fulfilment that leads to something angry and glorious.
This is such a wickedly accomplished show that I had to double-check it was Mather’s debut hour. There’s a thrilling rhythm and seamless flow to it and the gags come at such a relentless rate. Much of the show delves into ominously dark subject matter such as the many pitfalls of modern dating and working for the NHS during a pandemic, and yet Mather positively revels in the macabre with a playful zeal. Her dissection of deranged women’s weeklies is a tour de force.
The late great Paul Byrne must have been some guy to have not one but two great Edinburgh shows dedicated to him. First Sarah Keyworth’s Lost Boy and now this. For Ed, the loss was obviously more acute than that of a dear friend. And if the untimely death of a younger sibling feels like too raw a subject to ridicule, it underestimates Ed’s prowess as a comic and Paul’s wickedly twisted sense of fun. This is the perfect tribute. Hilarious, extremely dark, profoundly touching and resolutely unsentimental. Ed Byrne has plumbed the very depths of his soul and found something verging on greatness.