Jessica Sherr was once told she had Bette Davis eyes. A simple remark that led to her researching the entire life story of the Hollywood great, and subsequently the creation of her one-woman play 'Bette Davis Ain't For Sissies'.

Returning to the Fringe at The Assembly Rooms this year, the story tracks Davis's defining moments as she fought her way through the Hollywood system. We spoke to Sherr about her play, and the woman that inspired it. Click here to read the interview.
I know what you're all thinking, where the hell is that Doug Segal, freaking people out with his mentalist skills? Well, he's not at the Festival with a brand new show this year people. He's not even in Scotland. Yet. But he did send Edinburgh this letter. [click here]
The first ThreeWeeks cover stars of 2014 are the marvellous Axis Of Awesome. We locked the guys in the Loft Bar at the Gilded Balloon to fire some questions in their general direction, and took some photos while we were at it. [click here]
It's the first of the ThreeWeeks Podcast Extras where we put together some of the performances and interviews that we couldn't fit into the main edition, but which we can't wait a whole week to share with you. Featuring Jonny & The Baptists, Jay Foreman and the guys from Blues! [click here]
Whilst widely regarded as the biggest cultural festival of them all, the Edinburgh Fringe is also a significant forum for cultural entrepreneurialism.

Behind the scenes, alongside the hundreds of producers and production teams making the shows you all see happen, are a community of culturally-minded business people pursing their own Fringe ventures, whether those be venues, mini-festivals, show strands, awards, media, apps and so on. In much the same way the Fringe encourages anyone with a show to perform, it likewise welcomes anyone with a Fringe business initiative to pursue. Some fail. Some succeed. Some become Fringe institutions.
This is another reason why the Fringe is so exciting, and why so many innovative and inspiring things happen here. Though it's also why the festival can be so confusing. And why the Fringe sometimes feels like a festival of festivals (within the wider Edinburgh Festival, which is already a festival of festivals). Plus sometimes these new ventures officially ally with the Fringe Society, other times they sit on the edge, on the fringe of the Fringe if you like.

Also, because there is no such thing as a completely original idea, most new Fringe business ventures are similar to and compete with existing Fringe business ventures. Sometimes to the annoyance of the existing players, though the Fringe is all about competition, and most new initiatives have some distinguishing features from what went before, serving the needs of a different kind of performer or a different kind of punter, or just taking things down a slightly different route.

It's because of this process that the Fringe now boasts not one, not two, but three free show strands. It's no secret that there have been some tensions between the Free Fringe and the Free Festival over the years, since the latter spun off from the former, after free show pioneer Peter Buckley Hill parted company with the Laughing Horse team, who collaborated on the Free Fringe for a while.

The latest free show strand, the Freestival, has also spun out of the Free Fringe, creating some new tensions earlier this year. Though ultimately – whatever frustrations may occur, whatever allegations may emerge – ambitious and entrepreneurial creative people launching their own business ventures, and providing new competition, is as much part of the Fringe as flyering on the Mile, discovering the next big stand-up, premiering a new play and moaning about the weather.

The Freestival's Alex Marion (pictured) is very open about the circumstances that led to the launch of the Fringe's newest free show strand.

"After years of collective experience at the free end of the Fringe, a group of us started thinking about how we could do things a little differently" he says, "to enhance the experience for acts and audience alike. One thing lead to another and we approached Peter Buckley Hill with some ideas for changes to the Free Fringe model. This seemed logical as most of us had worked with PBH Free Fringe for years, some of us very closely and very hard. Peter saw it differently and told us we should start our own free organisation. So we did".

Though, Marion is keen to add, "there has never been, and never will be, any animosity towards PBH on our part. We wish the Free Fringe well, and all its performers are welcome to perform on our stages". And Marion reckons that, whatever may have been said in the past, one crucial thing links all three of the free show strands together. "We all believe passionately that access to the arts for public and performers should not be limited to those who can afford to spend a small fortune" he says.

On where the three free groupings differ, though, he tells us: "The differences are small but crucial. The Free Fringe is run according to Peter's ethos and depends on the collaborative efforts of all concerned in terms of running the venues, fund-raising and donations. Laughing Horse's Free Festival is more business-like in the sense that it takes all the organisational load off the acts' shoulders and focuses on key hub venues to showcase its acts and draw traffic, and they do it very well".

He adds: "Both of these have grown very large and this is where Freestival comes in. Our belief is that unfettered growth inevitably dilutes the quality of shows on offer. We think that by remaining small and carefully curating our programme we can come as close as possible on the Fringe to guaranteeing quality shows for the audience".

Though, he does note, the Freestival is not totally alone in presenting a tighter programme of free shows, pointing out that Bob Slayer's Heroes strand – which has emerged out of the Free Festival in recent years – is doing something very similar. "And Bob has found a middle way by offering free shows where seats can be guaranteed in advance with a payment" he adds.

Despite being brand new, and smaller than its competitors, the all new Freestival has arrived with quite a fanfare thanks to sponsorship from pizza sellers La Favorita, helping to fund venue costs and a big marketing campaign. "We met La Favorita and they liked our model", Marion explains. "They felt it mirrored their own commitment to quality and to supporting the arts and Edinburgh through the Fringe".

On the inaugural Freestival programme itself Marion says of the shows that feature, "we watched every video, read every CV, and made collective decisions and built a programme filled with acts that we believe in 100%". And as for the future he concludes, "we aim to learn from every mistake, enjoy working with amazing performers in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, and keep doing what we set out to do, keeping small, getting better at all the time".

More at www.freestival.co.uk

The Big Bite-Size Plays Factory Goes Down The Toilet (White Room Theatre)
If you're looking for a show that teaches as it titillates, this one is for you. Teaching children about sewers and what exactly can/cannot go down the toilet doesn't sound very entertaining, but this company knows how to have fun with a challenging topic. Audience members of all ages are welcomed warmly by the cast, and the performers are excellent at interacting directly with the children throughout the performance. Bringing a genuinely important issue to our notice, this piece is a great way to introduce kids to theatre. Energy, education and references to poo – exactly what children really want out of theatre.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Vicki Baron]

Brush (Haddangse - Korea)
A Korean folk tale (performed mostly in Korean) about a boy's quest with his grandmother to make his mother give him a baby brother doesn't necessarily sound like a great basis for a kid's show, but somehow it works. Fusing calligraphic drawing, dance, physical comedy and a dash of Korean innuendo (I think), 'Brush' had the audience giggling, gasping and cowering in just the right amounts. The cast are emotive and acrobatic actors but, while they are undoubtedly also skilled at painting, some of the drawing sections are a little too long. Overall though, 'Brush' was engaging, amusing and visually interesting. Despite the language barrier, it was clear enough that my four year old son understood what was going on.
C, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Andrew Bell]

Celeste's Circus (Faux Theatre)
'Celeste's Circus' is a straightforward, charming show, ideal for introducing younger children to the theatre. Taking us on a trip to a paper doll circus, Celeste captures the audience's attention with ease and gentle humour. The dolls, puppets and sets are very simple, but remarkably effective when combined with the whizzes and pops from Celeste's collection of noise-makers. The surprise cascade of bubbles lends an air of magic to the performance, though the final high wire act is a bit underwhelming and the whole show feels a little short for the price. Despite this, 'Celeste's Circus' is a delightful little show for the little Fringe fan, and not too bad for the grown-ups, either.
Scottish Storytelling Centre, until 17 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Andrew Bell]


Abandoman: Hot Desk (Underbelly Productions by arrangement with Dawn Sedgwick Management)
Rob Broderick's high energy, high speed improvised rap songs are a thing of beauty when they work. Whether drawing inspiration from random objects donated by the crowd, or riffing on facts gleaned from his easy audience banter, Broderick is a mine of quick-witted, hilarious rhymes. His bandmates are also note perfect in their support. The trio of love songs that start the show have us in gales of laughter. It's just a shame that the three quick, "in the style of" sections that come next lose much of that energy, being at best clever rather than uproarious. The finale is storming, however, and the audience leaves buzzing with a mixture of happiness and tinnitus.
Underbelly, Bristo Square, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Andrew Bell]

Aaaand Now For Something Completely Improvised (Racing Minds)
This improvised story-book adventure, in which the audience crafts a basic plot from which Racing Minds take their cue, is a sell-out once again. They appear flawless, for even their mistakes manage to be hilarious: the further they are pushed out of their comfort zone, the further you are pushed into a state of hysteria. Three dimensional characters are born in seconds and, even when they're buying time, it is still time enjoyably spent by the audience. The only annoying thing is that they have a morning slot – the rest of your day will be a disappointment by comparison! Spontaneous and improvised? Nah. These guys were deliberately and thoroughly crafted by the gods of comedy.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [George Robb]

Laughter Is The Worst Medicine (Lost Voice Guy)
Most performers worry about technical problems because they don't want to recite their heartbreaking monologue in the dark. But for Lost Voice Guy, a power failure would ruin the whole show. He can't talk due to his disability, so he uses an ipad to communicate. In this amusing tale about last year's Fringe, when he ended up in hospital with pneumonia, he covers everything from disability and Mr Man books, to a death-match against Stephen Hawking. His comedy is extremely self-deprecating; laddish but ultimately charming, and the iPad limits the pace, making for a slower, more considered show. Lost Voice Guy nearly died last summer but, while laughter may not have cured him, he's certainly made a remarkable recovery.
The Assembly Rooms, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Gemma Scott]

Lucy Porter: Me Time (Lucy Porter)
Do you know what a bedside beaker is used for? Go find out from Lucy Porter. Appearing in her tenth solo show, she has a fond festival following, resulting here in a very full house. Porter manages to be simultaneously charming, relaxed, and self-deprecating (all extremely desirable traits for a comedian!) and it all contributes to a natural and entertaining production. Recounting humorous stories from her life with animation and affection, her various impressions really bring the past to life. Though perhaps a bit rushed at the end and lacking in those side-splitting moments, this is a smooth, continuously engaging performance. With enjoyment guaranteed, Lucy Porter is that woman you just want to be friends with.
The Stand, until 10 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 [Keara Barnes]

Rhys James: Begins (Live Nation in association with Lisa White at Glorious Management)
23-year-old Rhys James passes perfectly from prose to spoken word poetry during his show, losing neither humour nor charm as he does so. The only real difference between them is that one doesn't rhyme. A self-proclaimed "language comedian", he offers a set which is rapid-fire and intricate. He darts around, turns his own words upon himself then confidently cuts himself down: it's impossible for hecklers to make jokes at his expense, because he's already made them all. Watching Rhys James is like being attacked by a swarm of flies - his punchlines surround you in an indiscernible flurry, slightly annoying but also pleasantly tickly. He may not have quite found his niche yet, but he's very close.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [George Robb]


Anatomy of the Piano (Will Pickvance)
This was an anatomy lecture in an old veterinary dissection laboratory: the subject was a piano and the lecturer its humorous and engaging player. It was a pleasantly surreal experience, leaning forward in the tiered wooden seats to view the piano, heightened by the clever way the content matched the venue. And Pickvance can play; his gently whimsical, comedic style belied the skill of his constant piano accompaniment. My favourite of his many musical genres was boogie-woogie – this classically trained pianist can rock! In amongst the pianistic daftness were some thought provoking gems, such as how a jobbing pianist, unable to take his own instrument with him, has a lot of first dates. Clever, skilful and entertaining: well worth a visit.
Summerhall, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Louise Rodgers]


The Happy Prince (English Cabaret in association with C Theatre)
Back from a successful 2012 run, this charming musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde's well-known fable keeps magic firmly at the forefront, with a storyteller-cum-stage wizard (played with a flourish by writer Susan Casson) and her troupe leading the proceedings. Christopher Cubitt is well-cast as the troubled Prince, and Robert Blackmore as the swallow progresses convincingly from flighty to self-sacrificing, though I struggled to hear his voice at times. The strength of the bittersweet morality tale still stands, but as the original work is a short story, the framing device - which is used several times throughout the play – can seem a little like padding. Thankfully, this doesn't stop it being an accomplished and thoroughly warm-hearted piece of theatre.
C South, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Laura Gavin]


Woyzeck! (Time Zone Theatre)
It was an excellent decision to present this interpretation of Georg Büchner's play through the eponymous character's eyes; actor Gareth Somers shifts between the broken soldier and the officers and doctor who taunted, manipulated and humiliated him. A tremendously physical performance sees him clambering amongst the audience, adding a frisson of unease that perfectly complements the brooding tension of the play. It's a warm, often humorous performance, too, humanising a character that can easily be too abstract, too detached. As Woyzeck narrates the story of his life unravelling, his mind wanders, fittingly reflecting the damaged psyche of a man haunted by paranoid delusions. There is no outside truth, only the shattered fragments of a broken man. Outstanding.
C nova, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Andrew Leask]

Ablutions (FellSwoop Theatre in association with Bristol Old Vic Ferment)
Dark, drunken and drugged out, 'Ablutions' charges the audience with imagining themselves as a dead-end bartender in Hollywood, drinking themselves into oblivion. With a biting, bleak script and clever use of live music to convey mood, 'Ablutions' takes us on a convincing journey into the underbelly of American life, while the ending provides just the tiniest glimmer of hope through self-awareness. The supporting cast are particularly strong, creating a parade of horribly believable losers. The nihilistic attitude to life won't be to everyone's taste, however, and the second person narration clashes with the standard dramatic action. Despite this, 'Ablutions' is an engaging, twisted tale of bitter self-discovery and how day to day failures can overwhelm you.
Assembly Roxy, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Andrew Bell]

The Alchemist (Oxford University Dramatic Society)
Ben Jonson's classic 1610 satire is a savage skewering of the greedy and gullible. This version is an anarchic treatment by a large cast, who bring energetic life to the play's bickering gang of conmen and their deserving victims. Admittedly they take a while to warm up: a hesitant opening is confused by unclear delivery and drowned out by music, while slapdash staging sees actors ricocheting off a rickety set cluttered with props. As the farce gathers pace, though, the performers hit their stride. Relishing the humour in the viciously witty dialogue, they inject proceedings with an infectious sense of comic mayhem. This may not be pure gold, but the company's obvious chemistry keeps the show bubbling along nicely.
Just the Tonic at The Caves, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Dave Fargnoli]

The Anima Project (Wrong Shoes Theatre Company)
The concept behind this dark, psychological, interactive show is interesting and shows ambition, but the company seem to have bitten off more than they can chew (probably more than any theatre group can chew, actually.) They're trying to create ground-breaking, dystopian theatre, but it felt more like a theme park horror-house, complete with over-annunciating villain. Despite placing great emphasis on psychology, it shows little knowledge of human nature – namely, that audiences seldom like to be touched by screaming, half-naked actors (except, of course, for the strangely eager few). "It doesn't pay to be sane when everyone else is crazy," you scream at us. Yes it does: it might stop you ending up in a production like this.
C Nova, until 9 Aug.
tw rating 2/5 | [George Robb]

An Audience With Shurl (Dramatic Change)
Sue Bevan is an incredibly gifted storyteller. Welcoming us, in character, as we enter the room, she is already entirely in control of her audience, and she never loses that throughout the next 55 minutes. Things begin with warmth and humour, dipping into moments of shock, horror and sympathy at breakneck speed, but never losing us for even a moment. It's gripping, immersive stuff, and powerfully emotional. The time flew by, and at the end I was exhausted: happy and sad at the same time, feeling like I'd heard the true confessions of a real woman, not an artfully constructed and skilfully portrayed character. I'm not quite sure what I expected, but I didn't expect to be moved so completely.
Spotlites @ The Merchants' Hall, until 23 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Andrew Leask]

Beowulf: The Blockbuster (Pat Moylan Presents A Show In A Bag Production)
A story about a single father in 1980s Ireland. A story about teaching your son to live well. And most of all, a story about stories: how we find meaning in them; how we use them to find meaning in our lives. The central narrative - a dying father telling the story of Beowulf to his son - is crammed with references to Star Wars, Bruce Lee and James Bond, but this isn't mere nostalgia. Rather, writer/performer Bryan Burroughs perfectly captures the way we use the stories we learn to filter experience, as lenses through which we view the world. There's humour, sorrow, wit, warmth...through it all Burroughs is in complete control of our emotions. A masterful performance.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Andrew Leask]

Blood Orange (Electric Theatre Workshop)
Prepositions, conjunctions dropped make script stilted, not Shakespearian. Metaphors, similes, like rabbits on Viagra, breed and overwhelm pretty script garden of interesting Generation X disconnection flowers. Chorus, interrupting, show what actors can tell well without help. Choppy sentence fragments tumble clustered, shouted into overblown monologue. Plot uninspired, yet well drawn, like copy of American History X, shows power of far right seduction. Actors fight disability of language to lift play like crane, swimming through metaphor swamp to cut to emotional chase of love, hate. Conclusion, inevitable as chemical comedown, wraps up message elegantly without over obviousness. Still, stars, as on cloudy night, remain half covered.
Summerhall, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Andrew Bell]

In Control (Aireborne Theatre Leeds)
At first, this seems like a great concept: present a horror movie scenario, but remove the safety net of watching on a screen. By making it live, the audience will feel at risk. Uneasy. Complicit. In practice, though, the opposite is true; theatre is every bit as artificial a construction as movies, with a far longer pedigree. This means the audience are always acutely aware that we are watching drama. The limits of practical effects, and some unfortunately poor performances from the victims, only exacerbate this, further diluting any potential shock or discomfort. When your play includes several minutes of nothing but three actors crying, they need to cry convincingly. And unfortunately, they don't.
Paradise in the Vault, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 2/5 | [Andrew Leask]

Pioneer (Curious Directive/ NNF/ Watford Palace Theatre/ Escalator East To Edinburgh)

The human urge to explore and to pose big questions is at the heart of this ambitious, fact-based sci-fi mystery. The understated plot follows six characters on separate journeys into extreme environments, from Siberia, to the bottom of the ocean, to the surface of Mars. Bold staging and an impressive shifting set help to evoke these distant worlds, giving a clear shape to the philosophical script. It's well served by a strong cast who take care to make their characters complete and believable. Though their disparate stories do develop slowly, they arrive at a surprising and satisfying conclusion. Great science fiction can expand horizons and push boundaries, and that's exactly what this production succeeds in doing.
Zoo Southside, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Dave Fargnoli]

Replay (Onstage Tonight Productions)
Touching on suicide, madness and paedophilia, this is an undeniably brave new play, exploring serious subjects from an unexpected angle. Our unreliable narrator is piano teacher Freya, a complex character struggling to justify her unhealthy obsession with an underage student. Such dark themes demand careful treatment, and the young company tries hard with heightened language and heavily stylised movement. This physicality works well when it underscores the action, but too often feels like an arbitrary afterthought. Given the importance of music in the characters' lives, it's disappointing that the production's use of sound rarely goes beyond twisting the dial on a radio. Under all the self-conscious staging, though, there's a smart and ambitious play trying to understand itself.
C cubed, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 2/5 | [Dave Fargnoli]

Shrew (Ami Jones)
This piece is a blistering account of what happens to a woman who finds herself trapped in a life she never wanted. A one-woman show based on Kate from Shakespeare's 'The Taming of the Shrew', it looks honestly at relationships and disappointment. Ami Jones uses powerful, intelligent writing and high physical energy to bring her anger to life. She has a very compelling stage presence: the audience don't dare to look away from her for a moment. Some of the direction feels a little contrived, and there are moments when you fear for Jones' vocal chords, but this is a memorable piece with a lot of interesting things to say. A real debate-starter of a show.
C Cubed, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Vicki Baron]

Swimming (Menagerie / Mercury Theatre, Colchester / Escalator East To Edinburgh)
There are lots of little moments that shine in 'Swimming'; some of the dialogue really crackles, and Jack Bence demonstrates impressive emotional range, slipping from frustration, to rage, to remorse in a fluent, organic style. Yet somehow the whole is less than the sum of its parts. There's something stilted about some of the lines: something artificial and forced, clashing uncomfortably with the the otherwise naturalistic dialogue. The serious, poetic interludes strive for weight, but achieve only pretension, and an important emotional beat was lost when an actor mumbled her way through the crucial lines, the only moment her character had to show any depth. In striving to say something meaningful about teenagers, this fails to say anything at all.
Pleasance Dome, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 2/5 | [Andrew Leask]

Travesti (Unbound Productions)
There's something bizarrely compelling about watching a man, stripping and putting on make up, while speaking the words of a woman who's been the object of male intimidation. From sexualised pop routines performed with obvious and comical enjoyment, to the poignant realisations of a rape victim, 'Travesti' explores the varied experiences of being a woman. It's impossible to pick out an individual member of the young, all-male cast for praise. They all give nuanced, naturalistic performances, relating the stories from real-life interviews with great empathy. Rebecca Hill's direction juxtaposes different female perspectives, so that they create layers of new meaning, disagreement and unanimity. You know you've touched your audience when there are audible murmurs of agreement throughout. Flawless.
Pleasance Dome, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Laura Gavin]

Wastwater (The Human Animal)
'Wastwater' certainly keeps you on your toes. It's a promenade piece; we are ordered from room to room to visit a series of often uncomfortable scenes. The throbbing soundtrack and projected scenery make an evocative backdrop to the three interconnected dramas, which all take place within earshot of Heathrow. They deal with everything from complex family ties to a tense, sinister transaction. The last scene is dominated by an edgy performance by actor Bryony Davies, but it is Lisa, a character in another, more intimate bedroom scene, who sums up the underlying point: we have no idea what's going on in the next street, the next household, the next hotel room. A provocative – though certainly not relaxing – 75 minutes.
C Nova, until 16 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Laura Gavin]

We Never Land (Sonic Boom Theatre Company)
A free cupcake is a good start to any show, but it's gone too quickly. The same could be said of 'We Never Land'. It starts off peppy and witty, mixing wordplay with a sense of wage slave ennui, but then it seems to run out of energy. Repeating motifs, established early, are underused later and the whole thing feels like an exercise in drama student navel-gazing about the value of a creative life. Our narrator is a decent actor, but lacks the range to imbue multiple characters with the veracity needed to carry the dull plot. The end has a decent emotional punch, though, and gives a glimpse of what, with a bit less padding, could have been a very good show.
C nova, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Andrew Bell]

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