What's On at the Edinburgh Fringe - Theater Highlights for 2016

"Defying the norm since 1947"

Angel of Kobane
Photo courtesy of The Gilded Balloon.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe program is packed with temptations for theater lovers in 2016. What will you see?

Despite inroads made by comedy in recent years, theater still makes up 27% of the festival's 3,269 productions. If you have trouble deciding what movie to see on a Saturday night, you'll probably fry some brain circuits choosing from among the 883 shows on from August 5 to 29 -- not even counting the thousands more performances in comedy,cabaret, family entertainment, music, musicals and opera, dance, circus and physical theater.

These are the shows that I'll be trying to see. I've looked at companies, performers and directors who can be relied upon to be challenging and entertaining, year after year, as well as a selection of new shows that look tempting. With so many to choose from, my list of highlights is bound to be a little bit arbitrary. But so is everyone else's. That's part of the fun of the Edinburgh Fringe - you just have to take the plunge, win some and lose some.

If you are still confused, don't worry - there are lots of places and ways to pick up the Edinburgh Buzz, to find out what's hot and what people are talking about once you get there.

2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe Picks

My Top Pick

If I had to pick one show that roars into Edinburgh looking like the must see of the festival, it would be Angel- by multi award-winning playwright Henry Naylor. His play Echoes won a Fringe First award in 2015 and has since been produced to much acclaim in London and New York. The concept of Angel is intriguing and it's based on a true story. The Iraqi town of Kobane is under siege by ISIS but the people are depending upon a mysterious female sniper, the Angel of Kobane, who already has 100 jihadi kills notched up. The play, for audiences 12 and older is at The Gilded Balloon Teviot, Aug 3-16, 18-29.

Companies Worth Watching Out For

Traverse Theatre

Traverse, based in Edinburgh, is Scotland's new writing theater. The Observer has called it one of the most important theaters in Britain. During the festival, Traverse curates a season of its own productions as well as productions from British and international guest companies, highlights in 2016 include:

  • Milk - Described as "Funny, dark and provocative", the play Milk explores the universal need to feed and to be fed; physically, emotionally, spiritually. Six couples contend with the changing world. Directed by the company's artistic director Orla O’Loughlin, it's on Aug 5-7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-28 for audiences 14 up.
  • Daffodils (A Play With Songs) - Fresh from New Zealand and trailing kudos and awards, this production by the Bullet Heart Club is a boy-meets-girl story with a difference. It features a "live mix tape" of New Zealand's most iconic pop songs, played onstage by a three piece band. Inspired by "true events and small-town family secrets." Some strong language. On Aug 4, 6-7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-28.
  • Diary of a Madman - A new company bought the Forth Bridge and is about to put Pop Sheeran's family business (the never ending job of painting the Forth Bridge) under. Gogol's classic story reimagined for modern Scotland by the Gate Theatre, Nottinghill. On Aug 4-7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-28 for audiences 14+. Not to be confused with the French version of Gogol's story, brought to Edinburgh by the Compagnie des Perspectives and on at the Institut français d'Ecosse Aug 5-14, 16-21, 23-28

Northern Stage at Summerhall

Back again for another season at Edinburgh, this Newcastle-based company brings a varied selection of drama, comedy and cabaret including:

  • People of the Eye - Yet another play based on real events, this one tells the story of a family finding its way in the deaf world. Produced for Northern Stage by The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble and Erin Siobhan Hutching, it is accessible for deaf and hearing audiences through the use of British sign language, spoken English and "creative captioning." On  Aug 6-9, 11-16, 18-23, 25-27. 
  • Equations for a Moving Body- A play about the physiology and psychology of endurance. "What’s left at the end of 141 miles of swimming, cycling and running?" On Aug 6-9, 11-16, 18-23, 25-27.

Paines Plough

London-based Paines Plough, the "self-described national theatre of new writing," returns with one of the highlights of the 2015 season and a worldwide success: 

  • Every Brilliant Thing - Life's falling apart around you, Mum's in hospital and Dad's a mess. Time to cheer everyone up by making a list of everything that's brilliant in the world. The Guardian called this, "possibly the funniest play you'll ever see." On at the Roundabout@Summerhall Aug 6-8, 10-15, 17-22, 24-28.

Soho Theatre 

The London company is bring a mixed bag of cabaret, comedy and drama to the festival. A little surprised that this company, known for new writing, is bringing so much stand-up and so little theater, but there is at least one two-hander that will probably be worth catching:

  • Dublin OldSchool - In a world of drug busts and raves, two brothers reconnect on the streets of Dublin. Described as "dark comedy and family drama". At the Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 3-9, 11-14, 16-21, 23-28​

The American High School Theatre Festival

This organization has been bringing shows to Edinburgh for decades. Hundreds hundreds of talented American and Canadian students appear in dozens of shows at the Church Hill Theatre that may surprise you with their imagination and talent. Among this year's selection, alongside the usual assortment of slickly performed musicals:

  • Around the World in 80 Days- Nine actors recreate raging typhoons, runaway trains, stampeding elephants and over 30 different characters a new stage adaptation of the Jules Verne classic. And all of that in an hour and 20 minutes. This looks like chaotic fun. At the Church Hill Theatre, Aug 14, 16-17, 19.
  • The Dining Room - A satirical look at American upper middle-class families through "slices of life" that take place in a dining room spanning several centuries. On Aug 5, 7-8, 10.
  • Almost, Maine - A midwinter's nights dream in the remote, mythical town of Almost, Maine. Aug 15-16, 18-19.
  • Dark of the Moon- Supernatural romance between a strange witch boy, John, and a human girl, Barbara Allen, who must overcome a town's superstitions and hatred. This one, which is a revival of a 1940s Broadway and West End hit, may be more interesting than it first seems. Set in Appalachia and played in Appalachian dialect, it was inspired by the traditional song, The Ballad of Barbara Allen. Paul Newman once played John. August 5 - 8
  • Begin Again - Two apparently different families face urban struggles. This play features original rap and live vocals as it explores the question of "What will your legacy be?" Aug 14, 16-17, 19.
  • Brothers Grimm Speculathon- Two narrators and several actors attempt to romp through 209 classic Grimm stories in 55 minutes. Aug 14, 16-18.

And a Few More Picks

  • Bucket List- From multi award-winning Theatre Ad Infinitum, the story of one Mexican woman's fight for justice. Physical storytelling, instrumental music and song. At the Pleasance Dome, Aug 3-15, 17-22, 24-29.
  • Boris World King - "The thinking man's idiot returns following Brexit victory". The Times said, "Nails his blustery charm and the steely way he uses it." At the Pleasance Dome, Aug 3-9, 11-16, 18-23, 25-29.
  • Glasgow Girls - True story of seven Glasgow teenagers who take on the system when their school friend and her asylum seeking family are about to be deported - and win! At Assembly Hall, Aug 4-9, 11-14, 16-21, 23-28.
  • The Interference- From multi award-winning Pepperdine Scotland, a collaboration between the American university and leading members of the Scottish theatre community. In a culture where student athletes are celebrities and everyone has incentive to conceal, can truth rise to the surface? “Is the truth worth more than a football trophy?”. At C Venues - C, Aug 3-16.
  • Last Dream on Earth  A space-age play experienced through wireless headphones. The Guardian called it "spellbinding." Assembly Hall Aug 4-9, 11-14, 16-21, 23-28, 
  • A Fools Paradise - 30 Shakespearean scenes in 60 minutes. Six actors and you decide what comes next. If they don't succeed, someone gets a pie in the face. Really. At Venue 13, Aug 6 -12.
  • William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (Abridged) Don't take it serious, it's too mysterious. This is from the popular Reduced Shakespeare Company. And the clue is in the company poster, William Shakespeare as Groucho Marx. At the Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 3-9, 11-16, 18-23, 25-29.
  • Escape from the Planet of the Day that Time Forgot - The professor with a rocket in his cellar (no that's not a euphemism for anything), his ward and his eager assistant get mixed up with "sinister plant life, Norse gods, time travel, dinosaurs and a whole pile of pluck". I'll be honest. I have no idea what this play is like or about. But how can you resist a title like that? At the Assembly Roxy, Aug 6-7, 9, 11-13, 16, 18, 20-21, 23, 25, 27, 29.
  • Hamlet in Bed- Direct from off-Broadway a noir thriller about "sex, death, theatre and the world's most famous" with American actress Annette O'Toole.At the Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 3-9, 11-15, 17-22, 24-29.
  • BBC at the Edinburgh Festivals: Cabaret, theater, music, spoken word, puppetry, comedy at Potterow. There are several events for theater lovers at 9am and at 11 pm throughout the festival - Let the BBC pick the highlights for you. It's a free event but ticketed by random draw. Apply for tickets online

For more ideas about plunging into the Edinburgh Festival, check out Festival planning tips.

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