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What to see at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014: my top five

So I'm finally getting round to the Edinburgh blogs! Last Sunday to Friday was spent at the Fringe Festival, and I packed in more than ever before - seeing around 26 shows (and a lovely afternoon at Arthur's Seat).

We saw such a mixture of work, with some really exciting productions from a variety of companies at different stages of their career.

These are my top five must-see blew-me-away shows. I'll do at least one other post with some more highlights - there was just so much good stuff! I've also written a post on the work blog with some general tips for tackling the Fringe.

by Duncan Macmillan. Produced by Paines Plough. At Roundabout at Summerhall.

This feels a bit like a cop-out as it's a production that has been around for a few years but I'd never got the chance to see it - and it turned out to be my show of the Fringe. It was the last show we saw and the only standing ovation of the festival we experienced, deservedly so.

This play is essentially the story of one couple. It begins with a discussion around whether they will try for a baby and all the possible implications of that. We then go with them every step of the way, past this springboard of a narrative and through their relationship and lives.

I expected power and emotion but I didn't expect the play to be so funny. It's fast-paced and it's honest, somehow both everyday and epic: with the dialogue completely believable, while the journey we go on with them feels huge. The experience is heightened by watching in-the-round - as we audibly react to what happens, and the situation is intensified for the actors too.

I also loved the simplicity of the staging. There are no props and no miming - they just act it through, and hold eye contact with each other. It's strong and it's stunning and it broke my heart a little bit.

If you can't see it in Edinburgh, the Roundabout season is touring to a few venues later in the year. If you do want to see it at the Festival make sure you book as it is selling out.

When It Rains
By 2b theatre company. At Pleasance Dome.

When it Rains - Trailer from 2b theatre company on Vimeo.

This is one that we saw by chance. It worked out with timing so we gave it a go, thinking the concept of graphic novel on stage sounded interesting.

The use of technology here (watch the trailer above for a taster) is incredible. You laugh at the simplicity and genius of it - but it does not distract from the story - it aids it. This is not shallow or gimmicky but an interesting, moving and funny story with brilliantly rounded characters that make ridiculous life choices but also have ridiculous, awful things happen to them.

The line between tragedy and comedy can be a thin one, and this is the case here. Things go from bad to worse and as we find out the fate of characters through text on a screen with the action off-stage we laugh, but then are met with the bleak aftermath, sensitively portrayed and without sentimentality.

Every Brilliant Thing
by Duncan Macmillan. Produced by Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre. At Roundabout at Summerhall.

You wouldn't expect a show that focuses on depression and suicide to be so uplifting and joyous, but it is. When a little boy's mum has to stay in hospital after trying to end her life, he starts a list of all the the brilliant things that make him and others happy. As he goes through life, the real impact of these early life experiences, and of the list itself, becomes truly apparent.

This is a one-man show but really it's not. The interactive nature of this means the audience becomes fully involved. With the warm presence of our performer (Jonny Donahoe) and the charming nature of the material, the interactivity isn't daunting but enjoyable and liberating.

This production about hope in the face of crisis leaves you feeling happy, less alone and wanting to make your own happy list. It's also very funny.

By Theatre Ad Infinitum. At Pleasance Dome.

Image: Alex Brenner.

Light is Theatre Ad Infinitum's latest offering and the fourth production I have seen by them. Each production could not have been more different, though what is tying it all together - whether the poignant, emotional rollercoaster of Translunar Paradise or the sci-fi landscape here, is the physicality of the performers. With the performers Le Coq trained, whatever the story is, it is always told through their bodies.

The story of a dystopia through the eyes of an unsure or rebellious protagonist is familiar and potentially even a little predictable. That doesn't matter though - if a story is told well it's worth telling and this certainly is.

The standard stage setting is darkness and scenes come to life through pinpoint lasers or strips of lighting, displaying the surveillance and mind control of this terrifying state. It also moves us between scenes, from bar to laboratory, from dream-sequence to sleeping, with transitions so seamless it feels cinematic.

The technical tenacity and execution here is something else, with the company pushing boundaries once again.

Jonny & The Baptists: The Satiric Verses
Produced by Supporting Wall. At Pleasance Dome.

I didn't expect to enjoy this show of comedy songs and went in with low expectations. I was so proved wrong. I beamed throughout and didn't stop laughing.

The songs are political (their previous tour was called the Stop UKIP Tour) but are also hugely silly. The onstage relationship between leadman Jonny (same Jonny as Every Brilliant Thing, which was odd/amazing) and his guitarist and back-up singer Paddy Gervers was also completely charming and part of the fun.

This is one hysterical hour with an escalating level of energy and chaos that is so infectious.