Edinburgh Fringe – The End is Nigh

Sprinting for the Finish

Sarah Richardson’s round-up, what to see  heading into the last weekend..

You’ve laughed, you’ve blubbed, and you’ve destroyed at least one half decent pair of shoes. But there are still a few days of the Fringe to go, so where should you direct your last remaining energy?

Here, especially for those who have developed a Pavlovian aversion to flyers, is a run down of four very different shows that you may have overlooked, but would greatly reward a visit. Catch them while you can….

First up, on the free fringe, in the disconcertingly Treasure Island-themed venue Hispaniola, is ‘Nerd Do Well’.    During the time it takes self-appointed nerd Tom Crosbie to perform his show, he tells us, 100 million stars will have exploded.

With such cosmic activity underway, plus the small matter of 4000-odd other Fringe shows to pick from, it might seem strange to devote an hour to watching an unassuming chap in a mustard waistcoat solve a Rubik’s cube. But Crosbie’s mathematics-infused performance, one-fifth gentle comedy and the remainder magic and memory tricks, is, against all odds, genuinely staggering.

The show has a slightly unpromising start, with Crosbie executing a numerical puzzle at such speed that he seems in danger of losing the more jaded members of his lunchtime (or hangover brunch time) audience.

But Crosbie’s delivery swiftly becomes more measured, and his stunts, moving on to memory tricks with a pack of cards, increasingly impressive. It is in the second half of the show,  when he  breaks out the unlikely secret weapon of a Rubik’s cube, that he really excels.

Solving the fiendish puzzle with one hand, two cubes at a time and even blindfolded, he  confounds every attempt to guess the secret to his act. The stand out moment comes at the end when Crosbie uses 100 of the multicoloured toys to create a Warhol-esque picture of a celebrity named by the audience. Albert Einstein, pictured below, would surely approve.

Albert Einstein Arts Press

Oor Albert

Over at the Underbelly on Cowgate, the Nina Simone-inspired ‘Exactly Like You’ is a powerful one woman show that quickly strikes a chord.

Writer-performer Lotte Rice is a masterful spoken word artist who delivers a captivating performance as Abbie, a young woman who escapes a troubled home life by listening to records with her grandmother. When her grandmother dies she plunges into concerted destruction; haunted all the while by the voice of the blues artist she can no longer bear to hear.

Rice’s protagnoist is spirited and gobby, not always likeable but ensuring this story, at points deeply moving, stays just the right side of sentimentality. The show is laced with wry observational humour, and Rice’s lyrical prowess only just tops her spine-tingling bursts of some of Simone’s best-known songs.

There are one or two places where Simone’s imagined appearances feel slightly contrived; but those are just minor distractions from an otherwise belting production, which charts how music can become a bridge between generations.

Staying at the Underbelly, another captivating exploration of a character caught out of step with their time is ‘In Our Hands’. This is an enchanting blend of puppetry and stagecraft from Smoking Apples, the company that co-created last year’s well-received ‘Cell’.

Using simple but versatile props – crates, netting, those wooden toy boats your childhood self yearned for in Cornish gift shops – five performers tell the story of Alf, a trawlerman left at sea by the collapse of the independent fishing industry.

The play rollicks along to the sounds of waves and hauling chants, but also abounds with poignant touches: the old-fashioned fervour with which ageing fishermen listen to the Partridge-esque ‘Monster Fishing’ radio station; Alf’s bafflement over the concept of sipping wine when he visits his city-worker son.

And as the newspaper seagulls of the play’s opening scene transform into a heap of final demands for payment, this imaginative production offers a moving take on the necessity of adapting to survive.

Finally, survival is the somewhat unexpected theme of musical comedian Adam Kay’s fringe offering, the rather wonderfully titled ‘Fingering A Minor on the Piano’. Fans of Kay’s brand of always clever, often cheekily smutty word play will find plenty to enjoy in this latest show, themed around diaries Kay kept in his past career as a doctor.

But Kay’s success in delivering the message behind his rousing disease-themed choruses – the strain placed on those working in the NHS – deserves a wider audience than even the sizeable Pleasance Courtyard crowd. The balance between comic persuasion and audience-alienating lecture is often tough to strike, but Kay does so here with near-surgical precision.

Nerd Do Well, Hispaniola, until 27 Aug.
Exactly Like You, Underbelly, until Aug 28.
In Our Hands, Underbelly, until Aug 28.
Adam Kay – Fingering A Minor on the Piano, until Aug 29

Glad to welcome Sarah Richardson to the site.  She edits Building magazine and reviewed on the Fringe for Three Weeks in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.