The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
As part of our Edinburgh Fringe coverage, Playbill is seeing a whole lotta shows—and we're sharing which ones you absolutely must see if you're only at the Fringe for a short amount of time. Consider these Playbill Picks a friendly, opinionated guide as you try to choose a show at the festival.
“This is maybe my favorite thing I’ve ever seen,” Playbill Videographer Ethan Treiman’s notes begin. And why wouldn’t it be? BATSU! is the live-action Japanese game-show of our wildest, and most vengeful, dreams. This is a twisted universe where an evening of punishment starts with short-range paintball shots. Where will it go from there? Could it get worse? Probably! More brutal? Definitely. More embarrassing? Oh, yes.
In the BATSU! universe, the spirit of punishment, Batsu no Akuma, inflict painful mischief on everyone in the land. This force is indefatigable and impervious to harm. That is, until the people of the land discover Batsu no Akuma’s greatest weakness: comedy. As long as the audience is laughing, the sadistic spirit can be kept at bay, trapped, within Batsu on Kane—the gong of punishment, the very gong whose deep, tinkering sound begins the show. For every failure of our comedy warriors (they say something unfunny, they don’t say or do something fast enough, or maybe just because we feel like it), they will receive a batsu, and the audience will cheer.
Oh, and they know that it sounds like Netflix’s Squid Game. Or rather, Squid Game sounds a lot like BATSU! “We were around before Squid Game!” the company proudly clarifies, having run for more than a decade in New York and in cities around the world (the show is still running in NYC and Chicago to this day).
The comedy warriors compete in joke battles, rap battles, charade battles—all trying desperately to avoid the firing of a paintball gun, the snapping of a long rubber band, or the attention of a giant yellow chicken. And the company is very funny. At one point, our warriors come up with two-syllable rhymes for the name “Jeffrey.”
The players are also deeply charismatic. As much as we delighted in seeing them pummeled, we couldn't help but root for them. Host Brian Walters is menacingly dyed the same shade of red from the tips of his hair to his toes (well, his shoes, but this dude is the perfect amount of freaky and awesome that we wouldn’t be surprised for him to reveal completely red toes). Walters doles out each batsu with the artful combination of reluctance and obligation. He’s like a sexy Joker.
Before the show begins, audience members can sign up to participate. BATSU! moves at breakneck speed. The spirit of punishment has no time for reluctant audience members to decide to be brave enough when called upon. Though initially, this Playbill team was bummed to not be called up, when we saw a participant on a losing team drink soy sauce (through a straw) out of a company member’s belly button as part of her batsu, all of our FOMO dissipated.
Later, someone drinks mop water. We were giddy. We were horrified. We were very comfortable in the audience at BATSU!
If you're lucky enough to live in a city where BATSU is playing, we only have one piece of advice: Go see BATSU! Wear the white headband, cheer for the giant chicken man, and have a drink in your hand. Or two. This is what “improv comedy” was meant to be, performed in fear of a cruel god’s imminent torture. This is truly our favorite thing we’ve ever seen, anywhere.
BATSU! completes its run at the Underbelly Cowgate August 27. But fear not, fans of improv and punishment, BATSU! is still running nightly in New York and Chicago. Learn more here. See photos from BATSU! below.