The big four (Underbelly, Assembly, Gilded Balloon and Pleasance) offer a wealth of dynamic, innovative, reliable and high profile shows ever year, and this is no exception. Underbelly’s Fringe was launched in the iconic Udderbelly, with comedy, improv, sketch and circus excerpts for the gathered media to enjoy. The big purple cow takes residence in Underbelly’s George Square ‘pasture’, surrounded by tempting food smells and a lively Fringe atmosphere. But Underbelly’s reach is far wider, with hubs across the city, notably: Bristo Square, Cowgate and its relatively recent circus set up on the Meadows.
This year’s launch was brilliantly compered by the sharp comic Rhys Nicolson, who can be seen nightly at Freisian. He was briefly joined on stage by Basil Brush, leading the way in what seems to be a theme of late century reminiscence this year – and not just at Underbelly. Perhaps the current political, economic and environmental crises have triggered a kind of 90s escapism in the creative arts.
Sketch duo Double Denim took us back to this era, with their take on growing up as girls in Australia during this time frame. Underbelly has a knack of curating energetic, up and coming acts that embody Fringe, such as these. Their Adventure Show is ridiculous, physical, colourful, upbeat, well-observed and riotous.
Fringe regulars NewsRevue also took us back to the 90s, through the lens of the current climate. Lyrics about Brexit and party politics were cleverly set to Spice Girls songs, providing that sense of reminiscence alongside the group’s trademark topical satire.
Circus is big news at this venue – although not in the purple cow due to its architecture, so on this night we just had a brief taster of one group, Backbone. Other acts on the bill included the rocking sounds of Tokyo Rose, Radio 4 comedy Fags, Mags and Bags, Magical Bones: Black Magic and Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Manual Cinema is back this year, so is Shlomo, Circa, Andrew Maxwell, Abandoman, Foil Arms and Hog, local illusionist Kevin Quantum, Austentatious and many many more. You could spend all day, every day of the Fringe just at Underbelly, and see an incredibly diverse range of shows, having mixed experiences. You’ll find the old and predictable nestled among the new and innovative here. And if you can’t stomach the Fringe crowds, you can catch an Underbelly show or two in Edinburgh over the Christmas period instead.