Assembly’s programme launch is unique. At other venues, these are closed-door events reserved only for the press. But here the launch is extended into a full two-hour gala performance with both media and the ticket-buying public looking on. As such, this one is a slick, audience ready affair, designed not only for photo ops and press info but to provide a night of glamorous, appetite-whetting variety, to a packed Assembly Hall.
The gala is an excellent option for anyone unsure where to begin at the Fringe. The annual event features excerpts from a wide range of diverse and popular shows. It’s mostly very well-known acts on the Fringe circuit, with a few up and coming ones (by Assembly standards, we’re not talking brand new comics here).
Opened by Choir of Man, Frisky and Mannish then took the stage to host. This pair is always a joy – ebullient, funny and with the perfect timing and awareness needed to ensure everything runs to time, as well as providing a glimpse into their own show: PopLab. Artistic Director William Burdett-Coutts made his annual overly long speech before returning to the action with sequins, song and camp comedy from Reuben Kaye.
This year’s Fringe seems to have a 90s/late century vibe going on, and nowhere is this more evident than at Assembly. Friendsical: A Parody Musical About Friends, must be the epitome of this era’s reminiscence. It’ll likely be given a wide berth by Millenials, but see those in their 30s and 40s flocking to celebrate what’s arguably the most popular sitcom of a generation. From this excerpt, it looks set to satisfy the show’s loyal fans.
Flip Fabrique (of Attrape-Moi fame and success) presented the breathtaking – almost tear-jerkingly – beautiful poetic acrobatics of Blizzard. Morgan and West: Unbelievable Science followed with a more pedestrian offering before Noise Boys ramped it back up again with beatboxing, urban tap-dancing and rap.
Comic Joanne McNally arrived on stage announcing that: “Compared to everyone else in this show, I look like I’ve just wandered in looking for the toilet’. True story, but it got a big laugh and those laughs kept on coming till she left the stage.
More 90s nostalgia ensued with an explosive number from Cora Bissett’s all-Scottish hit What Girls Are Made Of. then Machine de Cirque: La Galeria brought us further artful, boundary-pushing and incredible acrobatics.
Ed Byrne (who rose to fame during the 90s) added to the 90s vibe. Although his material focussed more on his life now, as a middle-class dad and husband. And the finale left us in no doubt as to the prevalence of this theme, with Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical.
Assembly does the big shows well. For anyone looking for big names, showbizzy cabaret, acrobatics and reliable content, it’s hard to go wrong. And best of all, Edinburgh residents can get tickets to most shows for £5 until the 4th August (subject to availability and with proof of ID/address).