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28 October 2014

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Five from the Fringe
Dave Gorman
Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure
spacer Our critic Mark Shenton recommends five shows (out of more than 1,500!) at the Edinburgh Fringe.

More from the Edinburgh Festival - London's top shows on the fringe

The Coast of Utopia
Abigail's Party The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Humble Boy
Blood Brothers

The Constant Wife
The Full Monty
The Vagina Monologues
We Will Rock You
Bombay Dreams

Alan Davies and Marcia Warren in Aunty and Me (Assembly Rooms), a brilliant comedy about death and loneliness...

New plays at the Traverse - Outlying Islands (transferring to the Royal Court next month) and Rona Munro's Iron are their own in-house productions, plus visiting new plays by Anthony Neilson, Gary Owen and Joseph Chaikin are worth a look...

The Dreaming (George Square Theatre) is a revival of the best British musical of last year, by the National Youth Music Theatre...

Sex and comedy is everywhere, as usual, but the best bets are Richard Herring's male answer to The Vagina Monologues, Talking C**k; Ross Noble (heading to the West End's Vaudeville Theatre after Edinburgh); the wordless Men in Coats, and Daniel Kitson, all at the Pleasance


Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Edinburgh International Festival
Traverse Theatre
Assembly Rooms
Pleasance Theatre
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Finding a good show on the Edinburgh Fringe is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack: there are 1,541 shows to choose from.

As early as next month some of them will start popping up in London - transfers are already lined up for plays from the Traverse Theatre to the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs (Playing the Victim, from 1 September), the Bush Theatre (Nine Parts of Desire, from 10 September), and Hampstead Theatre (The Straits, from 29 October).

Others may yet end up in the West End - last year, Jerry Springer - the Opera and Alan Davies in Auntie and Me were both Edinburgh sensations first.

In offering a taster from this year's daunting Fringe, let's hope there's a further life for these five shows!

Dave GormanThough it sounds faintly obscene, to googlewhack is actually to find two words that, when entered into the google internet search engine, returns a link to only one site instead of the thousands that usually result.

After Dave Gorman was told that his own website contained one, he embarked on another obsessive pursuit, as he previously did with his last one-man show based on finding people who shared his name, of people whose sites also contained them - and it took him literally across the globe in a race against time, to find a chain of ten of them before his self-imposed deadline of his 32nd birthday.

The result is a really inspiring true documentary tale of a truly pointless quest, and Gorman tells it with such fire and fervour that I was as enthralled as I was gripped and ultimately even moved. He is an instinctive storyteller with a great story to tell, and for sheer comic exhilaration, there's nothing to beat this.

It's also full of the kind of disturbing self-revelation that makes this the most consistently surprising, original and deeply worrying show on the fringe.

What kind of man pursues something as demented as this so doggedly? It's as extraordinary for what he tells you about himself as it is for what he tells you about the quest itself.

(At George Square Theatre to 24 August; 0131-662 8740;

Another evening of self-revelation, but of a different though no less disturbing, and maybe even disturbed, order: that of a supreme egotist, who clearly likes nothing better than to hold forth on her favourite subject, namely herself, for an hour. She's a real, take-no-prisoners original - but the ultimate prisoner of her entirely self-centred approach to life is probably herself.

She's had a frequently dazzling career as a media luvvie - she has headed BBC departments, edited a national newspaper (The Independent on Sunday), and presented and directed tons of TV shows - but she's also had a no less busy personal life that has embraced four marriages and three more live-in relationships of five years each. "I'm useless at relationships, but I'm brilliant at leading a big team," she tells us immodestly.

But she now finds herself, at 56, professionally adrift: "My career is going nowhere". So she turns the audience not only into her confessor, but also a focus group - we listen rapt as she tells us the quirky story of her life, and then are asked to make suggestions for what she could now do next.

Stand-up comedy or acting is probably not options on this evidence - but after the current trend for reality television, she may have invented a new brand of reality-check theatre. Next year, maybe Jeffrey Archer can follow her to the fringe for a similar re-branding.

(At the Assembly Rooms to 24 August; 0131-226 2428;

12 Angry MenEvery year without fail there are complaints that there's too much comedy on the fringe at the expense of drama; but this year many of the comics are fighting back by going 'straight'. Even last year's Perrier Award winner Daniel Kitson is performing a theatrical monologue entitled 'A Made Up Story' as opposed to stand-up; and Jo Brand is complementing her stand-up set with an earlier evening play that she's written with Helen Griffin and they both perform, about psychiatric nursing that they once both did.

But the piece-de-resistance of the comedy set is a gripping account of Reginald Rose's classic courtroom drama, 12 Angry Men, which features 9 Funny Men from the comedy circuit plus three more traditional actors as the jurors deciding the fate of a 16-year-old boy accused of murdering his father.

While former Perrier nominated comedy stars like Owen O'Neill, Bill Bailey, Jeff Green and Phil Nichol, amongst others, are more accustomed to making people laugh, here they have the far more serious purpose of deciding about matters of life and death and justice, and they pursue it with rigour and vigour.

They are ably complemented by American actor David Calvitto, the brilliant Scottish character actor Russell Hunter (who participated in the very first Edinburgh Fringe in 1947 and has since won no less than eight Fringe Firsts for his numerous one-man shows here), and Gavin Robertson, creator of the stage version of Thunderbirds F.A.B.

Guy Masterson's masterly production is taut, tight and satisfying.

(At the Assembly Rooms to 25 August; 0131-226 2428;

Since musicals not only usually require larger casts but also orchestras, musical theatre tends to get a little lost in the melee of a fringe dominated by one-person shows. So most of them tend to be done by student groups instead.

But London-based production company Louder than Words have produced a double-bill of ideal small-scale cabaret musicals, performed in rep by an outstanding professional cast and backed by a terrific three-piece orchestra, that provides Edinburgh's best musical experience.

Schwartz it All About, originally seen all-too-briefly at the Finborough Theatre in Earl's Court with co-deviser and director John Cusworth the sole remaining cast member from that production, deserves far wider exposure. This exemplary revue of the songs of Broadway and film composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz cleverly weaves a new story of the relationships of three couples out of Schwartz's uniquely lyrical and lilting love songs.

Songs for a New World, meanwhile, is Jason Robert Brown's ravishing off-Broadway song cycle, previously premiered in the UK at London's Bridewell Theatre in a different production, which is here also newly given a narrative thread.

A youthful cast of firebrand talents puts both shows across with passion and commitment.

(At the Pleasance Dome to 25 August; 0131-556 6550;

The People Next DoorFor those in pursuit of real new plays on the Edinburgh Fringe, the first port of call is inevitably the Traverse, Edinburgh's year-round theatre devoted to new writing. Every year they somehow manage to produce a programme of their own and visiting productions that includes several of the smash hits of the fest, and this year is no exception.

Their in-house production of the blazingly funny and urgently topical The People Next Door is a surprising, touching and occasionally shocking comedy by a young Scottish writer, Henry Adam, which turns the 'war on terror' into a domestic issue on a British council estate. Nigel's innocent life of idleness and spliff is suddenly disrupted when a corrupt policeman comes calling in search of Nigel's brother Karim - whom is suspected of being a terrorist.

A cast that includes Fraser Ayres as Nigel and Joe Duttine as the policeman Phil beautifully plays the darkly funny play that results, with Eileen McCallum and Jimmy Akingbola as a pair of upstairs neighbours who also impact on Nigel's life.

This is a play that deserves, like last year's Traverse production of Rona Munro's Iron that transferred to the Royal Court, to have a longer life outside of Edinburgh.

(At the Traverse Theatre to 23 August; 0131-228 1404;

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