August 2, 2012 What to see: Edinburgh Fringe special The Guardian / Lyn Gardner Why stick a pin in the Fringe brochure? Here are my top tips from deep inside Edinburgh – and a few pieces of advice for anyone approaching the festival for the first time. As I’ve said before, looking for great Edinburgh shows is like looking for a few needles in a haystack. That’s the reason why I don’t book out all my days in advance; what looks good on paper doesn’t always turn out to be great in performance. It’s best to book in a few shows in advance and leave some slots free every day for the show that reviews, word-of-mouth and Twitter (increasingly importantm this; you can find me @lyngardner) are bigging up. I find that talking to people in queues is invaluable for intelligence: it’s amazing how often the same names of shows start to emerge. But if you must book shows in advance (and I do understand the urge), here are a few tips. It’s by no means definitive, and it will almost certainly start changing within a few days of the start of the festival, but here goes. For quality experience and higher production values than you find in most shows on the Fringe, the Traverse theatre is the place to start. I’m already hearing enthusiastic whispers about Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro!, and Kieran Hurley’s Beats is already proven, as is David Greig’s The Letter of Last Resort and David Harrower’s Good with People, which have both been seen previously but never together. Chris Goode’s Monkey Bars is right at the top of my list, as is Simon Stephens’s Morning, both of which deal with young people. Northern Stage at St Stephen’s has plenty of quality too. Much of this programme is already tried and tested: check out Will Eno’s Oh, the Humanity, Unfolding Theatre’s Best in the World, Third Angel’s What I Heard About the World, Dan Bye’s The Price of Everything, Jane Packman’s A Thousand Shards of Glass and a new cabaret-style performance from RashDash called Ugly Sisters. Things start to get very interesting as we head to Summerhall, which in its second year boasts a great lineup of the interesting and the frankly bizarre. Check out The Guild of Cheesemakers, Sleepwalk Collective’s Amusements, Shu-Wing Theatre’s Detention, Jenna Watt’s Flaneurs, 24h (it really does last 24 hours), Song of a Goat’s Songs from Lear and Macbeth, Fish and Game’s Strange Hungers, Square Peg’s Rime, and the poetry-based one-man piece Red, Like Our Room Used to Feel. I reckon this is the venue that could throw up some major surprises. Things to look out for at the Pleasance venues include Les Enfants Terribles, with the first world war entombment story The Trench and The Two Worlds of Charlie F, about the realities of modern warfare; last year’s Fringe darlings Curious Directive with After the Rainfall; Joel Horwood’s latest, I Love Peterborough; the spyhole play about sex, Peep; Molly Naylor’s My Robot Heart; Miriam Margolyes’s Dickens’ Women; Maurice’s Jubilee featuring Julian Glover, Sheila Reid and Nichola McAuliffe; Pete Edwards’ tale of difference, Fat; Phill Jupitus and others in the political comedy Coalition; and High Tide’s Bottleneck. The site-specific Would Be Nice Though …, played in an office, sounds promising. On past form, Shams’s Thin Ice should be worth checking out too. Tumble Circus’s This Is What We Do for a Living looks great too: it won the best circus show award at the Adelaide Fringe. If that little lot doesn’t keep you going, the Underbelly features the Old Vic New Voices plays, which include Strong Arm, Bitch Boxer, Chapel Street and more and should give a boost to new writing – thin on the ground in recent Fringes. Look Left Look Right are back with a new verbatim play about the BP oil spill, Nola, and Dancing Brick are back too with Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice, a tale of memory and loss. The Prize is a verbatim play exploring the sacrifices made for Olympic success, and Bye Bye World is an award winner from Holland about the desire to leave your life and start afresh. The real Lady Chatterley’s Lover is revealed in Stephen Lowe’s Just a Gigolo. Another interesting young company, Milk Presents, are back with A Real Man’s Guide to Sainthood, the story of St George. Away from the major venues, there are plenty of shows worthy of attention. I like the look of Rhum and Clay’s A Strange Wild Story and Killing Time, which are both at Bedlam, a venue I really love. Holly Rumble’s One Minute Birdwatching in Princes Street gardens and Hear a Pin Drop Here at Lauriston Halls both sound delightful. I’d check out The Elephant Man at the Institute Français d’Ecosse and Donna Rutherford’s Kin at the Playhouse on the Fringe. Alan Bissett’s The Red Hourglass is at the National Library of Scotland. Forest Fringe isn’t fully operational this year after the catastrophic loss of the Forest Cafe, but check up what it’s up to here. Still Life: An Audience with Henrietta Moraes looks intriguing at the Whitespace. Short of cash but still want to see some shows? Try the PHB Free Fringe? The Assembly Rooms in George Street is back in operation this year but under new management. Theatre highlights include Molly Taylor’s NTS show Love Letters to the Public Transport System, Les Dennis as failed comedian Jigsy, Dave Florez’s father and son drama The Intervention, the return of La Clique in Royale: The Queen’s Selection, and the marvelous Liz Lochhead, queen of all she surveys, giving a daily audience in Making Nothing Happen. C Venues is a good place to look for student work, and some of it should be very classy – including One Academy Productions (otherwise know as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), which is reviving Sondheim’s Company, directed by none other than ex-Traverse boss Dominic Hill. Also at C, check out The Flanagan Collective’s new musical, Beulah, which is inspired by Blake, and Githa, about early 20th-century playwright Githa Sowerby. There’s a new Belt-Up show, A Little Princess, and for politics and contemporary events try Presidential Suite, about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, and The Economist, about the Anders Behring Breivik massacre. Linda Marlowe is at the Gilded Balloon in Miss Havisham’s Expectations. Here you will also find Stella Duffy directing Murder, Marple and Me, about the relationship between Agatha Christie and Margaret Rutherford; The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (sadly sans Mike Daisey, but certainly still worth a look); the endlessly inventive improvisation piece The Showstoppers (there are some family matinees); Mel Giedroyc’s debut play, Slice; and standup comedian Matthew Osborn’s Shopping Centre, about a loner caught up in a riot. At Assembly George Square, look out for The People Show 121: The Detective Show, Re-Animator: The Musical, which sounds like good gory fun, and two shows from South Africa: And the Girls in Their Sunday Dresses and The Sewing Machine. Hangman should be worth seeing at Assembly Roxy, and I am looking forward to Irish company Cheerywild in Love All, about Ireland’s first Wimbledon finalist, Dancing Brick’s Perle, a comic-book tale of loss, the cabaret show Rubies in the Attic, and Sarah Daniels’ Soldiers’ Wives, about the women left behind when men go to war. Also check out Thread at Assembly St Marks. There are undoubtedly masses of shows really worthy of attention that I’ve missed out, and there will certainly be some in this list that turn out to be shockers. I’ll be sharing with you via the paper, the blog and Twitter what I think about the shows I’m seeing, and do please let us all know the shows you plan to see, the ones you rate – and, for everyone’s sake, the ones we should all avoid.