Fresh from her 17th consecutive trip to the Edinburgh Fringe, Jo Caruana picks her round-up of favourites from this year’s festival – which includes a medley of Maltese must-sees.
Yes, you read that right: this was my 17th consecutive trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I just can’t stay away. Since my first visit in 2001 when a friend and I decided to poke a toe into the Edfringe pond and see what it offered, to my four years of university in the city and the many (many) editions since, only wild horses could keep me from my annual appointment with the world’s largest theatre festival.
This year was no different, and I couldn’t wait to touch down in the city mid-August and get stuck in. As always, the stage was set for an unmatched selection of shows – stand-up comedy, heartrending drama, beautiful physical pieces and – my personal favourites: improvisation and cabaret.
The good news is, the 2018 edition of this decades-old festival didn’t disappoint. In fact, I would argue it was better than the last few festivals (last year’s was a bit of a low point for me). So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the favourites – including four wonderful productions with a tangible Maltese connection.
Underground Railroad Game
Hold on to your stallion, we’re in for a bumpy ride. This had to be one of the most memorable shows at the Fringe this festival – not least because of its shocking content and full-frontal nudity. Set in Hanover Middleschool in Middle America, this play is fresh from its sell-out run in the US and tells the controversial story of the country’s Civil War by tackling race, sex and power politics through the relationship that develops between two teachers.
It is about the transfer to Dublin and London, so see it if you can. It remains one of the highlights of the Traverse Theatre’s Fringe programme this year, which was easily one of the highlights from the Fringe as a whole.
Guess the topic that was on everyone’s lips at the festival this year? You guessed it – Brexit. In fact, there was a whole host of Brexit-themed plays to choose from, including The Dog’s Brexit and Brexit Through the Gift Shop. I chose to see the simply-titled Brexit and was pleased I did.
This satirical play follows the newly-elected Tory PM as he tries to navigate the Brexit waters, through minefields including his own ministers and the EU itself. Quick spoiler: it doesn’t end well. With a cast including Timothy Bentinck, Jo Caulfield and Hal Cruttenden, it was bound to be a winner.
Le Gateau Chocolat: Icons
Some shows just make your soul soar, and this was one of them. I had heard talk of Le Gateau Chocolat’s past shows and was eager to see this one – and what a show. From pop, opera and rock to Whitney and Pavarotti, this follows Chocolat’s very own personal journey – and it is as beautiful as it is entertaining. Frankly, I have never heard a voice like it. Happily, a little birdie has told me there is a good chance this drag queen icon will perform in Malta before too long, so stay tuned.
Flo & Joan: Alive on Stage
If you watch UK TV or YouTube, then you may have spotted this singing sister duo in a recent advert for a British bank, which (along with their mind-boggling talent) helped propel them to star status. I was lucky enough to get tickets to this sell-out show, which was filled with their trademark selection of dark and witty ditties about everything from ‘lady crisps’ to online trolling. I know they will be touring again soon, and I would highly recommend you travel to see them.
Murder She Didn’t Write
Improvisation is one of the cornerstones of the Fringe, and you can see improvised version of comedies, musicals, Shakespeare and more. This was the first time, though, that I happened across an improvised murder mystery, and I was glad I did. Although it was a little rough around the edges, this audience-inspired whodunit did everything a whodunit must do, and had us in stitches too.
Malta at the Fringe
This was a particularly good year for Malta at the Edinburgh Festival, with no fewer than four shows (that I could find) with a local connection.
Vessel was penned by award-winning Malta-based Irish performer Laura Wyatt O’Keeffe, and it stars London-based Maltese actor Edward Degaetano and was directed by our very own Chris Gatt. It is a show about women’s bodies, choice and love, and it explores the topic of abortion in Ireland. It received rave reviews and a number of award nominations.
Status and On The Exhale are both shows by China Plate, the company for which Maltese theatre professional Vikesh Godwani is currently working in London. Status questions national identity, while On The Exhale provides a vital critique of America’s gun culture. Both were political, gripping and memorable.
Finally, on the stand-up scene, I was thrilled to spot a flyer from a certain Steven Bugeja, whom I immediately took to be Maltese. Of course he is (his parents are Maltese, although he was raised in the UK), and he won the BBC Radio New Comedy Award in 2013, while also writing for hit shows including Mock the Week and 8 Out of 10 Cats.
If you like the sound of seeing a fellow Malteser in stand-up action, Steve will be touring the UK from September 8 to February 23, and you can find details at http://stevebugeja.com .
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