The start of August normally means only one thing: Edinburgh Fringe. By now, we’d have bought our tickets, boarded trains, planes and vans and arrived in Scotland, ready to cram as many shows into a week as possible without sleeping.
The cancellation of this year’s festival due to the pandemic felt inevitable, but it still leaves a huge void in the nation’s summer.
Fortunately, comedians, actors and performers forced to swap the Royal Mile for their sofas will still be entertaining us with online shows and socially distanced outdoor gigs right here in London. Here’s what is on offer to keep you entertained in the Fringe-free month ahead.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe online
The Fringe lives on: it may not be taking place physically, but organisers are beaming online shows straight into your living room throughout August. Highlights include live comedy, theatre, music, dance and cabaret performances every Friday; live social media sets from 10 rising stars; and an audiobook (released August 6) featuring reigning Comedy Award winner Jordan Brookes, Sofie Hagen and Lou Sanders performing snippets of the shows we’re missing.
Until August 28, edfringe.com
We have Soho Theatre to thank for some of the most unforgettable Fringe shows (a small one-woman show named Fleabag ring any bells?), so the fact that they’ve asked comedians to perform from their sheds this year is characteristically inspired. Francesca Moody, who produced Fleabag, and writer Gary McNair are curating a series of daily comedy and theatre shows broadcast live from sheds across the land, with performers including Jack Rooke, Deborah Frances-White, Tim Crouch, Sara Pascoe and Yolanda Mercy.
August 14-September 5, shedinburgh.com
Fringe of Colour Films
Fringe of Colour began in 2018 as a simple spreadsheet listing shows by artists of colour. Last year, its founder Jess Brough won a coveted Edinburgh Comedy Award and this year the first online offering arrives. More than 40 films made by artists of colour stream as part of Fringe of Colour Films. Available as collections released on a weekly basis, the shorts range from stand-up comedy to spoken word and animation, showing all the breadth of talent the Fringe is famed for offering up.
Until August 31, fringeofcolour.co.uk
The Gilded Balloon, one of Edinburgh’s “Big Four” venues, is stepping up to the plate with brand-new shows and misty-eyed reminiscences over previous years. Sets will be broadcast via YouTube, including comedian Jarlath Regan and drag-apella group The Kinsey Sicks, while Katherine Ryan, Dara Ó Briain and Flight of the Conchords creep out from the archives for Saturday evening shows, alongside highlights from So You Think You’re Funny? the competition that gave a platform to Hannah Gadsby and Sarah Millican.
Throughout August, Gilded Balloon YouTube channel, youtube.com
Save Live Comedy fundraiser
The comedy scene needs to keep ticking if we’re to welcome back the Fringe next year. This massive Save Live Comedy fundraiser has called in the help of more than 40 comics performing live from the Clapham Grand stage. Hosts Al Murray and Jayde Adams are joined by a stonking line-up across three nights including Shappi Khorsandi, Rachel Parris, Dane Baptiste and Kerry Godliman. The shows will be streamed for free, but you can buy tickets to sit on the virtual front row — just don’t be afraid of a little audience participation.
August 9, 16 and 23, Twitch and Zoom, claphamgrand.com
Edinburgh International Festival
An interlude of sophistication, if you please; Edinburgh International Festival is bringing out the classical music in spades. There are two birthdays to celebrate as Mahler’s 160th and Beethoven’s 250th anniversaries loom, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Scottish Chamber Orchestra pitch in for the festivities. A series of films including a love letter to Scottish theatre and a modern-day interpretation of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone premiere on EIF’s YouTube. In musical offerings from years gone by, violinist Nicola Benedetti plays Vivaldi in an evening of Baroque, pianist Mikhail Pletnev performs an all-Rachmaninov repertoire and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly delivers a recital of songs by Strauss and Debussy.
August 10-28, eif.co.uk
Free Festival goes online
If you normally go up to the Fringe to discover something new, try the Free Festival’s online offering. From comedy sci-fi panel shows to the story of a man’s ambition to become the greatest holiday park entertainer in the land, you’ll find something to tickle your fancy. It’s all — you guessed it — free, but functions on a pay-by-bucket model, so chuck a few quid in to show your appreciation.
Throughout August, freefestival.co.uk
Edinburgh Art Festival
Magic, myth and nostalgia combine as the Edinburgh Art Festival commissions 10 artists to create work for a digital edition. There will be screenings, livestreamed performances and online installations to peruse.
Until August 30, edinburghartfestival.com
Radio 4 Summer Comedy Festival
No one knows the best comedy better than the comedians themselves. That’s why Radio 4 has handed over the reins of their first-ever Summer Comedy Festival, with Sara Pascoe, Darren Harriott, Daliso Chaponda and Jayde Adams curating their own line-ups every Friday in August, covering spoken word, cabaret and literature, as well as comedy.
August 7, 14, 21 and 28, Radio 4
Comedy in the Courtyard
In normal times, Battersea Arts Centre is home to one of the best line-ups of Edinburgh preview shows. They always get the cream of the crop, and that’s no different this year as they turn the courtyard into a socially distanced stage with Phil Wang, Lou Sanders and Russell Howard bringing the outdoor lols.
Until August 9, Battersea Arts Centre, bac.org.uk
Sasha Ellen: Character Building Experience
You may be sitting at home but the power is in your hands for this interactive role-playing game show. Sasha Ellen leads a group of comedians on a quest, where the audience gets to make all the decisions. With Dungeons and Dragons-style characters and improvised songs, we can watch someone else make the questionable choices for once.
August 20, Zoom, freefestival.co.uk
101 Jokes in 30 Minutes
Think you’re good at puns? Chances are you’re leagues behind Masai Graham. A previous winner of the Fringe’s Best Joke award (“My dad has suggested that I register for a donor card. He’s a man after my own heart”), he pulls out the big guns for two back-to-back shows. Graham is 3.3 laughs a minute, firing out 101 jokes in half an hour with one set squeaky clean and the next suitably filthy.
August 20, Twitch, twitch.tv/freefringefestivalonline
Eliott Simpson: (A)Sexy and I Know It
Eliott Simpson is as interested in sex as he is in taxes. In this hour-long stand-up show — performed in its entirety on Twitch — he talks about being asexual in a sex-obsessed world. With humour as wacky as his style, Simpson is all about educating us with tales of gender, queerness and a lot of cake references.
August 21, Twitch, twitch.tv/freefringefestivalonline
Online at The Space
Up in Edinburgh, The Space is all about new writing. Eighty live online shows span three weeks, all written over lockdown. From physical comedy for kids with Dr Bubble and Milkshake to a story of a man called Craig becoming friends with an orange, the isolation and absurdity of the past few months will make for some uniquely unusual entertainment.
August 8-30, online.thespaceuk.com
Comedy in the Meantime
Another mini-festival online, this one brings comedians from as far as Australia and New Zealand (the internet, eh?) for a series of line-ups throughout the month. Expect to see Karen Hobbs, who represents no Karens but herself, performing a lively set, with Kiwi rising star Eli Matthewson and identical twin-brother musical duo The Stevenson Experience also on the bill. Listen out for some of the more raunchy Edinburgh anecdotes — there’s no shortage of those.
August 8, 15, 22, rbmcomedy.com
Funny Gals: Natasha Barnes & Vikki Stone
Here’s the sort of history lesson we can all get on board with: a dive into the songs of hilarious ladies on stage. From Streisand in Sondheim to Ethel Merman and Avenue Q, melodious duo Natasha Barnes and Vikki Stone investigate the music written for women in musicals (August 12). The show is part of the New Normal Festival in the grounds of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building — south London’s answer to the Fringe in miniature. The festival has plenty more comedy, theatre, cabaret and music, including a fabulous improvised musical, Notflix, which is a sung version of your favourite film inspired by audience suggestions (August 10-11), and variety nights led by Sindhu Vee and Suzi Ruffell.
Until August 31, Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, Wandsworth, newnormalfest.co.uk