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.
Reuben Kaye is a star. With seemingly limitless dexterity, his impeccable comedic timing and brazenly confident drag persona collide the moment he hits the stage, exploding outward in an undeniable display of star power. While he is a familiar face throughout the Fringe, it is his witching hour offering at Assembly Checkpoint, fittingly named The Kaye Hole, that reveals a tender brilliance within a trance-inducing haze of queer excellence.
You see, The Kaye Hole, while named for Reuben Kaye, is not strictly his show. Serving as emcee, The Kaye Hole is instead his personal curation of queer excellence from across the Fringe. Every single show is a one-off, featuring a different six act lineup of queer talent. Depending on the night, acts ranging from stand-up comedians, acrobats, and singer-songwriters to avant garde performance artists may appear. The lineup is never announced prior to showtime, requiring audiences to put their faith in Kaye's taste, and their evening in his hands. Will you finish a full day at the Fringe with an emotionally resonant dance piece, or a circus act that leaves you gasping? Kaye controls all.
Or does he? While Kaye curates the lineup, once he finishes his resplendent opening number and introduces the first act, he manually dims his star power to take refuge near the bar at the back of the venue, basking in their performance. A quick glance at him can paint a thousand different portraits throughout the night: eyes flashing with pride, crimson lips contorted in a gasp, arms clutching at the wall for support after a particularly well-timed punch line. Moments in each act appeared to take him by surprise as he watched on, equally engaged as any other audience member.
At times, he could be spotted crouched at the back of the aisle, looking up at an act onstage with nothing short of adoring support. The Kaye Hole is as much an offering to Kaye's built-in audience as it is a treat for himself. After all, with Kaye as in demand on the Fringe circuit as he is, it is unlikely that he is able to attend every show on his wishlist. Instead, he brings them all together for a modern day artistic salon, uniting the queer community at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to unabashedly celebrate and excavate their lived experience.
Playbill attended the August 18 showing, which featured a bevy of jaw dropping acts, including the hilariously irreverent trans comedian Anna Piper Scott, a magnetically deadpan comedy songwriter named Huge Davies, and a parody standup set by Zoë Coombs Marr. Three particular performances came close to blowing the roof off of the venue: Heather Holliday, an internationally recognized sword swallower whose closing trick involving a tube of vividly orange neon electrified the crowd; Tara Boom, an avant garde performance artist whose act involving hula hoops and a popcorn machine mounted on a helmet truly must be seen to be believed; and musical duo Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger, who, in a The Kaye Hole exclusive, collaborated for that night only with the divinely talented aerialist Imogen Stone to present a song about the aching indifference that permeates when religion fails a person.
That third act, which blended rough hewn vocals with physical feats that had the audience leaping to their feet in admiration, felt somewhat close to religious ecstasy. Located just steps away from Bristo Square, the Assembly Checkpoint is a former church, and the venue for The Kaye Hole still possesses the architectural touchstones of a Christian sanctuary. As Wright and Grainger cried out in search of recognition from a silent god, these architectural details came into focus, as did the power of reclaiming such a space as a sanctuary for queer identity and expression.
As detailed in our interview with Kaye earlier this year, conservative use of religion as a weapon against queer people is an all too familiar scar for many if not all of the acts performing onstage at The Kaye Hole. When Kaye returned to the stage for his own number in the evening's processional, his powerful rendition of Randy Newman's "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" brought several audience members to tears, quivering with cathartic release. The unique arrangement by Kaye's music director Shanon Whitelock crested over the room, filling the former sacred space with a new kind of holiness.
What Kaye has created with The Kaye Hole is not simply a variety show, previewing a series of acts that can be seen in full across the Fringe. What he has founded is a new kind of sanctuary, welcoming in members from across the world in glorious celebration of queer identity and artistry. God, as written by Newman, may declare his love for humanity with a sneer, but in the hands of Kaye, a deeply abiding love for mankind echoes through the room. In The Kaye Hole, everyone is seen, everyone is heard. The congregation assembles several times a week for 90 minutes, but act fast. As his flock continues to flourish, almost every performance of The Kaye Hole has sold out. Don't miss the salvation it provides.
The Kaye Hole is running weekends at Assembly Checkpoint through August 26. Due to demand, an additional Wednesday evening performance has been scheduled at Assembly George Square Gardens August 23. For more information, click here.