Ppolitics always plays a big part in the outskirts of Edinburgh. But with an outgoing prime minister, several Westminster scandals and a fast-moving Tory leadership contest, the potential for material is unusually ripe for artists this year.
As well as sit-down interviews with political heavyweights including Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and current and former Labor leadership including Gordon Brown, Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and Jeremy Corbyn, politics in the satirical arena will loom .
“There’s a real appetite right now for politics everywhere,” said standup, journalist and former Labor adviser Ayesha Hazarika, who has had to leave writing the start of her show to the last minute because of the fast pace of political events.
“We’re just living in this era of a very hyperactive emotional roller coaster of politics, and it’s getting more and more crazy,” said Hazarika, whose show, State of the Nation – Power, Politics and Tractors, opens at the Gilded Balloon on Monday 8. August.
In the last few days alone she has gone from writing off Rishi Sunak as Tory leader, only for him to improve in the Sky debate on Thursday and flop the following morning with his comments about divert funds from vulnerable urban areas to wealthy places like Tunbridge Wells.
“You’re like, ‘OK buddy, stop now because I’ve got a show to write,'” she said.
Boris Johnson will no doubt play strongly across political standup sets – which include the fringe debuts of Sarah Southern, the former David Cameron aide and Matt Forde – but he has also inspired several entire works.
Boris the Third, at the Pleasance Courtyard, imagines an 18-year-old Johnson, unprepared, playing Richard III. The comedy, written and directed by Adam Meggido, stars Harry Kershaw as Johnson.
Meanwhile, at the Pleasance Dome, Nadine Dorries Productions presents the one-woman show My Dad and Other Lies by “Charlotte Johnson”, who describes herself as “Boris Johnson’s illegitimate daughter”.
The improv show Boris Live at Five, at the Gilded Balloon at the museum, invites the audience to ask the Prime Minister “anything you like”.
Comedy website Chortle recently said Johnson is playing a big part in this year’s festival with several shows “trying to make sense of the shitshow that has been Westminster politics of late”.
“He’s a comic figure, a tragic figure too, and all of that is great for comedy,” said Steve Bennett, Chortle’s editor, adding that Johnson is “a product of our times”. “The mythic story of his rise and fall. What made him popular is what brought him down.”
Like in society, there’s a lot of anger in comedy right now, Bennett said. “Comedy driven by anger, satire driven by anger and the tragicomic of Boris himself are probably the driving things.”
Southern, whose show Scandalous! opens at the Voodoo Rooms on Saturday, promises to take audiences behind the scenes at Westminster. Amid Partygate, Beergate, resignations and former health secretary Matt Hancock’s affair, she said: “I don’t think there’s been a better time to write a show about scandal. Those are the things that have united us as a nation post-Covid.”
She added: “One thing that Boris has provided is a lot of content for us.”
Combining political influences from both sides of the Atlantic, in Boorish Trumpson at the Assembly Rooms, Claire Parry promises to “#MakeMusicGreatAgain” with an “interactive, music and clown-filled interrogation of power and those who wield it”.
Other politically themed productions include Bloody Difficult Women, a comedy play by columnist Tim Walker about Gina Miller’s trial against Theresa May’s government; Michael Spicer’s The Room Next Door; Extinction Rebellion activist Kate Smurthwaite’s Humanity’s Last Hope; and model Eunice Olumide’s AfroPolitiCool.
“It’s a great time for political comedy,” said Forde, whose show Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right runs on Pleasance Beyond all month and will interview Gordon Brown on Sunday.
The appetite for political comedy is increasing every year, he said. But as British politics become “more and more chaotic”, it is on a dangerous course, he warned. “Unfortunately, I think things will continue to get worse. The plus side of that is that it gives me plenty of material to write about.”