If the Edinburgh Festival feels like it’s getting increasingly mainstream, why not stay in London and see the alternative to the alternative? The Camden Fringe — now in its ninth year — runs from 28 July to 24 August and features over 200 acts inside (and a fair few outside) — the borough.
This is the place to see strange, underground acts as they emerge blinking into the summer sunlight — a full spread that includes new writing, opera, musicals, stand-up, sketch comedy, dance, cabaret, drama and poetry. It’s a lot to take in and the quality of so many new acts will be hard to predict, but then that’s half the fun — we like to think of buying a ticket as Regent’s Canal roulette.
But we’ll also be trying to help you whittle down your options by picking our highlights and listing them daily in our Things To Do In London article and email (not yet subscribed? What’s wrong with you? Sign up here).
For now, here are a few things that might just be worth a punt:
Lili — This ground-breaking show tells the story of Lili Elbe, the first person ever recorded to undergo full gender realignment surgery. Based on Elbe's 1930 sdiaries, the play covers her life as a famous painter dealing with such a life-changing decision. It's devised and performed by a company of actors who all identify themselves as trans. Lili is on at the Etcetera Theatre, 28 July-2 August. Tickets are £10 (concessions £8).
The Memoirs of President Obonjo — Nicely timed to play alongside the climax of the Commonwealth Games, this stand-up show features the eponymous African dictator (played by Benjamin Bello) offering his thoughts on how Britain should move forward. The self-proclaimed President of the Lafta Republic has recently been given a knighthood “for living in England for 30 years and not going back to Nigeria” — which seems as good a reason as any. The show is on at the Hen and Chickens, 1-3 August (times vary). Tickets are £8.
No Take Backs — Fringe veterans Sigil Club return for their third show in Camden (their sixth production overall). Previously, they have offered up raucous comedy but this one is going to the dark side and bills itself as “a black comedy about holding onto the past and holding people hostage”. Expect something funny, violent and surreal. No Take Backs is on at the Tristan Bates Theatre, 11-16 August. Tickets are £10.
Chimera My Evil Twin — These two female performers from Seattle have been described as “liquid on stage,” — a good thing, we hope. Their new show mixes Laurel and Hardy with Kraftwerk and takes on Big Money and Big Government. On at the Collection Theatre, 31 July-2 August. Tickets are £10 (£8 concessions).
Shakespeare — There are four shows on to commemorate the Bard's 450th birthday. Troilus and Cressida and Coriolanus are paired together as Our World At War at the Tristan Bates Theatre (18-23 August. Tickets £15 and £10). Get Over It Productions (who've been at the fringe from the early days) will put on an all-female Twelfth Night (Etcetera Theatre, 15-17 August. Tickets £10). Othello is updated to 1980s Cyprus and aptly performed at The Moors Bar (7-10 August. Tickets £12). And finally there's Demetrius Unchained, a sort-of sequel to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Etcetera Theatre, 21-24 August. Tickets are £8.50 and £5 for concessions).
Mind Reading — There are two brain-bending shows that look like they could be fun. Sean Smith delivers literary-slanted mind reading: bring your favourite book and he’ll ‘read’ you (Mind What You Read at the Phoenix Artist Club, 29-31 July. Tickets £9). Then things get scary with Reality Abuse, a show about inducing hallucinations performed by a psychic known only as S1l3NC3. (On at the Dublin Castle, 2-23 August. Tickets £10.)
Comedy — This being a fringe, there's a strong funny strand running throughout. We heartily recommend catching Helen Arney work up some new material at the Etcetera Theatre between 11-13 August (£8/£6); sketch trio Making Faces, who slayed us with a previous performance (8-10 August at the Etcetera Theatre, £7.50); Caroline Mabey's stand up show about becoming a parent, at the Camden Head 2-3 August (£6/£5); Joanna Neary and Dyball & Kerr doing character comedy at the Camden Head 23-24 August (£7/£6); and the token bloke in this list, James Dowdeswell, who's on at the Camden Head 5-7 August (£6/£5. He's actually not token at all).
The Camden Fringe runs from 28 July to 24 August — tickets can be bought in advance here, though many of the shows will have availability on the door. Recommendations by Stu Black and Rachel Holdsworth.