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.
New York audiences don’t often get to see theatre like The Ice Hole: A Cardboard Comedy. It’s hard to understand why, though, when a theatre of over 300 people sat mesmerized by its artistry at Edinburgh Fringe.
The basic plot is simple (if not absurd) enough. A fisherman catches a mermaid, and they fall in love. But she swims away, and he crosses countries and oceans—fjords to deserts—in search of her.
It’s how the story is told that makes The Ice Hole so special.
The show is aware that it is theatre. An actor sits center stage in a plaid suit, recounting the entire adventure directly to the audience in an invented language resembling Icelandic, while an assistant translates the story for the audience via mime and cardboard signs (with usually just a word or two written on them). As the actor narrates, he takes on the role of the fisherman, while the assistant is every other thing…from the mermaid to a souvenir vendor to a sheep to a tsunami.
The Ice Hole was created by Pierre Guillois and Olivier Martin-Salvan’s Molière of the French company Guillois’ Compagnie Le Fils du Grand Réseau. Their previous show Fishbowl was a 2019 Fringe sensation. In the performance I attended, Jonathan Pinto-Rocha played the actor and Grégoire Lagrange the assistant.
They are clowns at the top of their artform. And this is largely what I mean when I say that New York audiences don’t see this kind of theatre.
At some point in America, there was a cultural shift in the way clowns are viewed, leaving the performer as someone to be dismissed as children’s entertainment or as even someone to be feared. The performers in The Ice Hole (and the bulk of clown shows at Fringe) are more Laurel and Hardy then Ronald McDonald, more mime than circus. They are Slavas and Bill Irwins.
As exceptional as the performers are (and, truly, they are), what really takes center stage in The Ice Hole, is the audience’s imagination. And I would say, collectively, that was a job well done too. When the assistant pranced on stage wearing a cardboard box that said “sheep,” we made him a sheep. And we uproariously laughed together when he dropped a small box that said “poop.” With the help of a few signs, we even created a tsunami.
It is a wonderfully inventive piece of theatre, and there were a couple of points where it seemed that it might begin to have a message—the fisherman neglects to help a dolphin in an oil slick, for instance. However, more than becoming a piece about the environment, those moments only served to show us that the fisherman might not be worth rooting for on his journey to find his mermaid love. (And he’s not…there are even cardboard murders along the way.)
The show is not only fun, but also very smart and self-aware. Just when I began to grow the slightest bit restless, the assistant pulled out a series of signs intimating that the audience was getting bored. Which, of course, started fits of laughter and we were all pulled right back in. It was an amazing moment.
The Ice Hole was a standout for me at Fringe. And it made me kind of sad that such work is hard to find in New York. But I’ll be looking for it. And I’ll definitely check out anything Guillois’ Compagnie Le Fils du Grand Réseau has to offer at Fringe in the future.
The Ice Hole runs through August 28 at Pleasance Courtyard, The Grand space. It has toured throughout France since 2021. Read more on the company here.