The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has over 2,000 shows to choose from. Mark Drinkwater sifts through this year’s bumper programme and finds the best shows featuring social care themes
This year there is an abundance of disabled comedians challenging attitudes, as well as those pushing the boundaries of good taste. Deaf comedian Steve Day was a big hit on the Fringe last year with his show ‘Deafy’s Island Discs’. A regular on Radio 4’s You and Yours, Day returns to the Scottish capital to ask ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ His wife has had enough of his late nights and thinks he should give up, so Day is letting the audiences decide whether he ought to quit. Let’s hope he perseveres with the comedy.
Jaik Campbell has been a Fringe regular since 2001 and performed his first solo work ‘I’ve Stuttered so I’ll F-F-Finish’ three years ago. The Suffolk-born comic wanted to be a comedian at the age of eight, but only started in stand-up in his 20s as a way to help get over his stutter, and found that his impairment was a rich source of comedy material. This year he’s drawn on the themes in Barack Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope to examine society, hopelessness, and the search for happiness.
Laurence Clark’s latest stand-up show ‘Spastic Fantastic!’ (before there’s an outcry – he has cerebral palsy, so it’s OK for him to say the s-word!) sees him attempt to single-handedly reclaim the word ‘spastic’ in the way that black and gay people have reappropriated negative terms. Building on the success of past Edinburgh appearances, the show combines stand-up comedy interspersed with video footage of his mischievous candid camera set-ups. If previous work is anything to go by, this should be hilarious.
You’ll find social care gets given a more serious treatment at the theatre, with a number of dramas focusing on mental health issues. Red Cape Theatre’s latest production, The Idiot Colony, is based on real life events of women who were committed for decades to an asylum. The work was created after two years of research and interviews with former patients and mental health workers who lived and worked at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Great Barr, and known locally as the Idiot Colony. Based on true stories, the drama manages to be both genuinely funny and incredibly moving.
Elsewhere in the Scottish capital, James King’s new play Lucidity provides a frank examination of mental illness, drug abuse and romance. A dark comedy set in a private rehabilitation clinic where the protagonist goes through a process of sobering up and self-realisation.
The more adventurous theatre-goer might want to try one of the international productions on offer. Cutting edge theatre company TR Warsawa continue the mental health theme with 4.48 Psychosis. Written by English playwright Sarah Kane, this production, performed in Polish, examines what happens when the barriers between reality and imagination disintegrate.
Gone are the days when poets would recite turgid rhymes to disinterested audiences in pub side-rooms – poetry is the new rock’n’roll! One of the better known names on the Fringe is former mental health nurse John Hegley, who returns with some whimsical animal-related prose in his show Beyond Our Kennel. Special guests include the veteran actor Tony Curtis.
There are also plenty of up-and-coming poets worth seeing. My current favourite is Peckham poet Liz Bentley – an NHS counsellor by day and a poet by night. Her experiences of multiple sclerosis, comical mishaps and personal traumas get played out onstage in verse. Bentley also wins the award for most innovative venue with her show Liz Bentley-On-Sea taking place in the swimming pool at the Apex hotel. She’s going to make a big splash, so go dip a toe and get some hydro-therapy.
Ones to avoid
He might have won last year’s Edinburgh comedy award, but I’ll be steering clear of comedian Brendon Burns. His show is not for the faint-hearted with constant offensive references. And there’s nothing clever about the way he shouts his audience into submission. Burns also finds it hard to get through a sentence without bawling out the term ‘spastic’ – though unfortunately not in an empowering-Laurence-Clark-kind-of-way.
While there are hundreds of performances suitable for children, Kiddy Fiddler on the Roof definitely isn’t one of them. The appropriately named company behind the musical is The Bad Taste Ideas Factory. They might consider the show to be a thoughtful reflection on society and the media’s response to paedophilia, but the show’s irreverent title suggests otherwise.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs until 25 August