Stand-up Sophie Willan becomes the Novice Detective for Fringe audiences this year as she retells the true story of how she and her "slightly psychic" gran once set out to find her missing father.

Detective mac donned, magnifying glass in hand, we sought out the lady herself to find out more. Click here to read the interview.
ThreeWeeks Editors' Award winners Sarah Kendall and Alexis Dubus join us to talk about their Fringe 2014 shows on the Week Two edition of the ThreeWeeks Podcast. Also look out for performances from A Roaring Accordion, Unbound Productions, Verity Standen's 'Mmm Hmmm', Little Soldier Productions, Potted Sherlock and Vicky Aldridge. [click here]
Women's stories, men's voices. It's a simple concept, but it creates a powerful piece, challenging society's perceived gender norms. We spoke to Rebecca Chill and Bradley Leech, Artistic Directors of Unbound Productions, about the motivation for and impact of their show 'Travesti'. [click here]
"She looks for jokes in places where Frankie Boyle fears to tread" said The Skinny of Abigoliah Schamaun. But if you think shock comedy is the easy way out, think again. Schamaun reckons "dirty" is far from easy. [click here]
In his music tips at the start of the Festival, Daniel Cainer recommended ThreeWeeks readers take in some of the folk heroes that perform on the music Fringe each year, and for those looking for great gigs at the Festival, folk and beyond, the Acoustic Music Centre at St Brides is always a good starting point.

The man behind the venue is John Barrow (pictured), who has been presenting shows at the Festival since way back in the 1960s. "With some pals I ran my first Fringe-long series of shows in 1968", he tells ThreeWeeks. "And it's sort of like Topsy, it's just kept on going and growing from that".
"The main motivation behind it all", he goes on, "is to bring to the public's attention, during the biggest arts event in the world in Scotland's capital, folk, roots and acoustic music, and particularly Scottish music, and to show that this musical genre is not the minority interest art form which it is often thought to be by those who don't know enough about it to comment".

Asked how he picks the acts that appear in his annual programme, Barrow responds "mostly we don't". He explains: "I'm an old-fashioned Fringe-type who believes that if the Fringe is to be open, as it is still described – nowadays erroneously in my opinion – you editorialise or select as little as possible. We say what is available as far as the venue goes and what we can offer to shows, people contact us and generally it's more a process of self-selection. Though you have to be very careful however, to explain to Fringe 'virgins' what it's like being 'on the Fringe' and that the shirt you came here with may not be with you when you make your journey home!"

Although perhaps best known as the hub of folk, roots and acoustic music at the Fringe, Barrow's venue hosts some of genres other music too, and some other cultural genres as well. He explains: "Although not a large capacity venue, St Bride's is fortunate in having one of the bigger stage spaces in Edinburgh at about nine metre square with a semi-sprung wooden floor and a permanent Harlequin dance floor. So it's perfect for dance shows".

And so there is place for dance in Barrow's programme. "We've got a big Taekwondo show" he says, providing just a taster of his non-music offerings this year. "It's called 'BIGABI' and is from South Korea featuring remarkably athletic and graceful youthful performers, and we'll be welcoming a troupe from Russia featuring dancers from the Bolshoi Theatre later this week".

But it is the music that is at the heart of the AMC programme, with a series of one-off gigs and mini-residencies. It's interesting, of course, that in the music strand of the Fringe many artists choose to do one-off gigs rather than longer runs like the comedy and theatre performers. Does Barrow ever encourage music acts to go the residency route? Is there any advantage to musicians doing a longer run?"

"If a performer says they want to do a run at the Acoustic Music Centre then they need to be sure they can carry it off. As you say, music shows tend to be short-run shows only able to sustain one or two nights – depending on the size of the venue as well, of course – and very occasionally more than that".

He goes on: "If a performer thinks they can sustain a run of shows though, good luck to them but we'd be at fault if we weren't at pains to point out potential pitfalls – like not getting the size of audience they're hoping for. So, advantage – in selling more tickets? Possibly. Advantage – in reducing some costs over the piece? Probably. Ultimately it's a commercial decision".

The one-offs do mean that, unlike with comedy and theatre, the Fringe's music programme varies much more from day-to-day. Though if you fancy a musical break in this Festival frenzy, it's definitely worth checking out what's happening at the AMC on any one day. And St Brides, although away from the Fringe's hubs around Bristo Square and George Street, is surprisingly easy to find.

"St Bride's is actually only about 1.5 miles from the Fringe office" Barrow notes, "so really it's not a serious distance out of the centre of town. We're on the edge of the centre and it's a small centre. And in fact" he muses "we're the nearest venue to the rest of the world, since there are no other venues, I think, west of us before you get to Edinburgh Airport!"

More at

The Tommy Cooper Show (ADENUF Productions)
With music, magic and magnificent impressions, 'The Tommy Cooper Show' has it all! The audience cried with laughter as they were taken on a journey through the life and career of one of comedy's giants. The cast of three gelled together wonderfully and even managed to evoke genuine emotion during some of the darker moments of Cooper’s life. Sharon Byatt’s performance as Gwen Cooper, his wife of 37 years, was particularly poignant, and quite possibly one of the best performances I’ve seen at the Fringe this year. Packed with quick firing one-liners, ADENUF take a fond (but honest) look at the life of a man who entertained a generation. Hilarious, endearing and perfect for any Tommy Cooper fan.
Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Bethan Highgate-Betts]


Big Red Bath (Full House Theatre with Half Moon / Escalator East To Edinburgh)
'Big Red Bath' has a very simple concept: two children are having a bath, and things - a dog-shaped slipper, a rubber duck- come to life around them. There's lots of singing and dancing and very little dialogue, making it perfectly suited to the festival's youngest audiences. The actors play the animals with joy and humour, giving a real sense of character to each, but it's the designer who really makes this show something special. Every detail is perfect, from the toilet seat turtle to the lion's flannel mane, delighting the adults in the audience too. While maybe a little long for its target audience, this is a lovely introduction to the theatre, and to the magic that imagination can bring.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Gemma Scott]


Catriona Knox Thinks She’s Hard Enough (in association with United Agents)
However much energy you can pack into an hour, it’s likely not as much as Catriona Knox. Bouncing through a joyful set of character comedy, she gives us such perfectly pitched creations as an austerity-themed television chef and a scathing parody of TED talkers. A standout scene is a dramatisation of the new Prince George’s first birthday, which progresses in quite an unexpected direction. An audience member becomes part of the show (don’t sit at the front if you can’t deal with consequences!), and the frequency with which they get pulled up becomes a gag in its own right. Knox’s joy in what she does is written all over her face, and it’s fully deserved. Every hour should be this much fun.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Jon Stapley]

Charlie O’Connor – Dandyisms (Corrie McGuire For Objective Talent)
Extraordinarily fresh faced Charlie O'Connor makes a decent go of his first Edinburgh show, taking us through rude songs and chirpy stand-up with easy charisma. Sure, O'Connor's sex gags feel like they're based more in hope than experience, and he may not have found an original voice quite yet - Eddie Izzard and Tim Minchin would be sincerely flattered by the surreal word play and musical numbers respectively - but none of this prevents him from being brightly entertaining and inventive with his humour. Seemingly still very wet behind the ears, his set feels a little padded and his audience interaction lacks bite, but there's a lot of promise hiding behind that youthful visage.
Underbelly, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Andrew Bell]

Four Screws Loose In The Big Screw Up (James Grant Comedy)
Four guys, a lot of wigs and a brilliant soundtrack: this is the sketch show to end all sketch shows. The Four Screws are full of energy, whimsy and disturbingly accurate impersonations of pop cult celebrities, and their charisma and camaraderie engages the audience from the second they jump into the spotlight. As the troupe make a mockery of traditional stories, popular music and even Jeremy Kyle, no one can help but be charmed and delighted by these (in their own words) screw ups. You will be hard-pressed to find another comedy troupe at the Fringe who can make an audience feel quite so in on the joke, and yet so pleasantly surprised. A laugh-a-minute sketch show with heart, hilarity and brilliant imagination.
Assembly George Square, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Vicki Baron]

James Acaster - Recognise (Phil McIntyre Entertainments)
With his layered long-con style gags, Englishman James Acaster puts in an hour of very dry, very awkward and very funny comedy. Loosely stringing things together with a bizarre undercover cop as comedian narrative, Acaster approaches a range of mundane topics at really unusual angles, but delivers it with such deadpan rationality that you wonder why you ever thought about them any other way. His interaction with the audience was a particular highlight and, while his awkward and uncomfortable humour may not be for everyone, he had most of us gleefully giggling away at every punch line. It’s not hard to see why Acaster is such a Fringe favourite, as he delivers another solid hour of top range comedy.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Patricia-Ann Young]

Katie Mulgrew - Happily Ever After (Avalon Promotions Ltd)
When you stop to think about it, some of the lessons that Disney films teach us are pretty questionable. This is the loose premise of Katie Mulgrew’s show, in which she explores the effect of Disney princess culture on young minds – not least her own. Starting out in a lo-fi Sleeping Beauty-style bed (never mentioned again after the first three minutes), Mulgrew quickly builds a strong rapport with the audience, which keeps them on her side despite a few weak gags. It’s generally good fun though, and in the end Mulgrew provides some genuinely thought-provoking examinations of princess culture and what it teaches us to be. The show ends on a lovely note, too.
Gilded Balloon, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Jon Stapley]

Martin Pilgrim - Diary Farmer (Martin Pilgrim / La Favorita Freestival)
In a show that (despite the title and venue) involves no cows, Martin Pilgrim chronicles how his life has gone wrong. Likeable, relaxed and self-effacing, Pilgrim essentially spends the entire time ridiculing himself, and it works. The material is dark; some stuff about suicide cuts a little close to the bone (especially given recent events). A highlight though is a campfire-style storytelling session, with musical accompaniment from an unexpected quarter. There are a few predictable punchlines, but these are balanced out with some irreverent surprises, notably an excellent gag involving wolves. The material works best when doing the unexpected – I'd have loved more of this sort of stuff, rather than self-consciously clever callbacks that the audience is smart enough to anticipate.
Cowgatehead, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Jon Stapley]


Bianco (NoFit State Circus)
The circus is in town, and they’re after our hearts. NoFit State’s all-new 'Bianco' is an uplifting explosion of movement, colour and sound, underpinned by a seductive seam of melancholy. A dizzying array of aerial exploits are performed by tantalising characters in steampunk outfits displaying exceptional grace and strength, with an emotional soundtrack provided by the stunning live band. Love wins out in a yearning duet, bodies looped quietly around a moving rectangular frame, and a godlike figure flies too close to the sun. We’re all in it together - the performers are in front, above and beside us and we’re free to walk wherever we are safely permitted. It’s an achingly gorgeous series of performances, and a truly unforgettable night.
NoFit State Big Top, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Laura Kidd]

Marcel Vol. 1 – Italian Politics As A Work Of Art (Ursa Maior Teatro)
Four performers recite meaningless dialogue over blaring music while a horse-headed mannequin floats overhead. It’s meant as an abstract, absurdist exploration of cultural corruption, but only serves as a frustrating example of a theatre company with good ideas they can’t quite articulate. Featuring surreal dream sequences, post-apocalyptic navel gazing and discussions of Berlusconi’s sex scandals, this is an uneven and intentionally confusing mess. They’re going for Dadaist performance art but lack the clear purpose or the self-mockery. While there are some committed performances, strong images and pleasing visual textures created with repetitive movements, these can’t make up for a lack of any real focus. Judging by this show, there’s unlikely to be a volume two.
theSpace on North Bridge, until 16 Aug.
tw rating 2/5 | [Dave Fargnoli]


The Alleycats: Contemporary A Capella (The Alleycats)
A capella is nothing new at the Fringe, but it’s always nice to hear it done well. The Alleycats present an hour of contemporary covers, taking in Rihanna, Lana del Rey, Aretha Franklin and more. The arrangements are wonderfully intricate, with lovely individual moments from every singer: a version of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes’ ‘Home’ easily surpasses the original. There are, however, some audio issues. The less powerful lead vocalists sometimes get lost in the mish-mash, especially when taken away from the microphones by the choreography. The dancing is quite awkward – some participants look like they’d rather be doing anything else. But you're there for the songs though, and they’re first-rate. This group is fearsomely talented.
Assembly George Square, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Jon Stapley]


Laika: A Space Dogyssey (Double Edge Drama)
The story of the first canine to break the stratosphere is reinvented here as a very silly musical, packing in plenty of energy but little else. It’s unfathomable why Double Edge Drama chose a musical, when so few of the cast appear to have much singing experience. The songs are catchy (I walked out humming one), though the lyricists rhyme “sausage” with “knowledge”, which is surely some kind of war crime. There are glimmers of interest, but nothing is particularly memorable and a fair few jokes don’t land. Sending a dog into space to die is at once a heartless and absurd thing to do, and there’s definitely a compelling, funny story to be made from it. Sadly, this isn’t it.
Gilded Balloon, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 2/5 | [Jon Stapley]

The Reviewers (Charlesworth And Holland Productions)
You would hope for a Fringe show about a Fringe show to be silly and self-referential. 'The Reviewers' doesn’t disappoint. The story of a festival under the thumb of a hatchet-job reviewer, it’s bursting with jokes, top-notch physical comedy and neat meta twists. The plot is a threadbare, wispy little thing, but that doesn’t matter – for instance, a rather cheap plotline resolution is done with such a spot-on, subtle parody of 'Les Misérables' that the show gets away with it. The cast are (mostly) great singers and the songs are catchy and memorable. It’s possibly a bit too ‘Fringe’ and therefore not that accessible – I can imagine a first-timer being utterly bewildered. For everyone else though, it’s an hour of joy.
Greenside @ Nicolson Square, until 23 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Jon Stapley]

Siddhartha, The Musical (Gloria Grace Alanis and Broadway International Entertainment)
'Siddhartha' is a stunningly mesmerising spectacle. My mouth was agape from the moment the beautiful performers energetically took to the stage, my eyes unsure of where to focus with the costumes, set projections and choreography all vying for my attention. The story follows Siddhartha, a prince who has lived a life of decadence and privilege shut behind palace walls. In search of something more meaningful he chooses to abandon the palace (and his pregnant wife!), to embark on a journey of self discovery. Named after the founder of Buddhism, 'Siddhartha: the Musical' is pure entertainment, with stunning screen projections instead of a set, an absurd storyline, and complete decadence in every single aspect.
The Assembly Rooms, until Aug 24
tw rating 4/5 | [Keara Barnes]


Arrest That Poet (PBH’s Free Fringe 2014)
Danny Chivers is the nerdy, eccentric eco-slam-poet behind 'Arrest that Poet'. He may come across as an eccentric individual, but you find yourself hanging on every strangely enunciated word. Chivers is a man who’s been at the frontline of several high-profile, non-violent eco-battlegrounds, armed with nothing more than determination, a pen and some paper. He mixes well-crafted poetry with exciting, enraging and inspiring tales of his life as an activist. Am I praising him because it’s my moral duty to? Partly, but that’s because Chivers was convincing enough to make it my moral duty; he changed the way I perceive activists. So hop on your bike and schlep down to the Stafford Centre – it’s worth it.
The Stafford Centre, until 13 Aug
tw rating 4/5 | [George Robb]


A Game Of Soldiers (McArdle Media Limited)
With strong performances from the four cast members, ‘A Game Of Soldiers’ paints a fucking convincing picture of the fucking brutal, fucking humdrum, fucking experiences of fucking army life. (There’s a lot of swearing.) The characters are nicely drawn without resorting to stereotype, but the play suffers when addressing the geo-political aspects of the conflict, with exposition-heavy dialogue which feels out of character. The direction doesn't always work; the tribal football chants and communal singing are very effective at conveying the characters' emotions, but the in the round staging means that the more muted, emotional dialogue is lost at times. Overall, this is an honest effort at a difficult subject.
Lauriston Halls, until 23 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Andrew Bell]

Larkin’ About (Antonius Players)
Misanthropic womaniser and witty, sensitive poet, Phillip Larkin was a contradictory and conflicted character. His life and many, many loves are the subject of this mild biography which mixes his letters and poems with live jazz. The musical interludes are good, if a little short, and are well handled by the solid piano and flute duo. They alternate with episodes from Larkin’s life, as played by established radio actors Sunny Ormonde and John Telfer. While they have great chemistry, there’s a tendency to overplay things. Worse, they regularly refer to the scripts they carry throughout, unforgivably breaking the flow of the poetry. Somehow less than the sum of its parts, this isn’t the celebration of ‘drink, sex and jazz’ it could be.
Valvona & Crolla, until 18 Aug.
tw rating 2/5 | [Dave Fargnoli]

Newton’s Cauldron (The Catherine's Club in association with Mermaids)
The end of magic is nigh, as witches Wendy and Wombat plot to murder Isaac Newton, hoping to prevent the dawn of reason and enlightenment, and the death of their magic and superstition. With tongue firmly in cheek, the play is joyfully self-aware and has some solid nuggets of comedy strewn throughout. Cara Mahoney’s ditzy Wendy is an affably endearing protagonist who immediately wins over the audience, while Emma Taylor’s Wombat is the sassy but put upon big sister trying to live up to her full potential. The script jars, however, when trying to switch gears from comedy to family drama, leaving the ending a little flat. ‘Newton’s Cauldron’ is very fun play, but sometimes lacks that magic spark.
Paradise at The Vault, until 17 Aug.
tw rating 3/5 | [Patricia-Ann Young]

The Secret Wives Of Andy Williams (Old Trunk Productions)
A wayward novice in a nunnery is charged with caring for three orphans. This challenge changes her and those around her in Sadie Hasler’s bizarre, oddly touching comedy – like ‘Father Ted’ with a darker streak. Fluid direction by Sarah Mayhew allows the actors to play multiple characters, and scene changes are underlined by subtle lighting changes on the blank, prop-free stage. What starts as a strange black comedy swerves smoothly into an intelligent, non-reductive look at crises of faith, revealing the humanity hidden beneath a habit. Sister Mabel Matthew (Sadie Hasler) is particularly wonderful – caring, world-weary and supremely wise. The absurdity jars occasionally with the starkly poignant moments, but the strength of characterisation and direction aid the message that coming-of-age can happen at any age.
Underbelly, Cowgate, until 24 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Tim Bano]

Spectrum (New Celts Productions and Seam Theatre Company)
Temple Grandin was an autistic American woman, whose research and insight changed the cattle farming industry. This could feel like a stale, worthy topic - looking at the challenges of growing up “different” and the struggles she faced just to get herself heard. Maeve Bell was excellent as Grandin, accurately portraying someone whose view of the world is different to most people's, but the piece was let down by an underwhelming supporting cast. There's an attempt at some clever use of props and staging, but it's the script that really hold things together. Intelligent and entertaining, 'Spectrum' manages to be educational without feeling like a schmaltzy, didn't-she-do-well biopic. Overall, an interesting story, told with sensitivity and humour.
theSpace on North Bridge, until 23 Aug (odd dates only)
tw rating 3/5 | [Gemma Scott]

Upper Lip (Broken Holmes Productions)
At first glance, this daft drawing room comedy looks like an unassuming farce in the style of ‘Jeeves and Wooster.’ Under the surface, though, it’s something altogether smarter and more satisfying. Naturally, it follows an upper class twit and his loyal butler, and there’s all the wry asides and manic scheming you’d expect. However, as their life of leisure unravels, a series of unlikely twists leave the audience in fits of laughter and seriously wrong-footed. It’s performed with real spark, setting off an already fizzing script that neatly balances jolly hockey-sticks hi-jinks with spot-on social satire. An offbeat collision of P. G. Wodehouse and Karl Marx, this is surprising, smart and very silly.
theSpace on the Mile, until 23 Aug.
tw rating 4/5 | [Dave Fargnoli]

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