Politics always plays a big role at the Edinburgh fringe. But with an outgoing prime minister, multiple Westminster scandals and a fast-moving Tory leadership contest, the potential for material is unusually ripe for performers this year.
As well as sit-down interviews with political heavyweights including Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and current and former Labour leadership including Gordon Brown, Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and Jeremy Corbyn, in the satirical arena politics will loom large.
“There’s a real appetite right now for politics everywhere,” said standup, journalist and former Labour adviser Ayesha Hazarika, who has had to leave writing the start of her show until the last minute because of the rapid pace of political events.
“We are just living in this era of a very hyperactive emotional rollercoaster of politics and it’s getting madder and madder,” said Hazarika, whose show, State of the Nation – Power, Politics and Tractors, opens at Gilded Balloon on Monday 8 August.
In the past 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 redirecting funds from deprived urban areas to affluent places like Tunbridge Wells.
“You’re like, ‘OK mate, please stop now because I have a show to write,” she said.
Boris Johnson will no doubt feature strongly across political standup sets – which includes the fringe debut of Sarah Southern, the former David Cameron aide, and Matt Forde – but he has also inspired several entire bodies of work.
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 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 Gilded Balloon at the Museum, invites audiences to ask the prime minister “anything you like”.
Comedy website Chortle recently said Johnson plays an outsized role at this year’s festival with multiple shows “trying to make sense of the shitshow that has been Westminster politics of late”.
“He is a comic figure, a tragic figure as well, and all this stuff is great for comedy,” said Steve Bennett, Chortle’s editor, adding that Johnson is “a product of our time”. “The mythical story of his rise and fall. What made him popular is what brought him down.”
Like in society, there is a lot of anger in comedy at the moment, said Bennett. “Comedy fuelled by anger, satire fuelled 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. They’re the things that have united us as a nation after Covid.”
She added: “One thing that Boris has provided, there’s 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 clowning-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 court case against the government of Theresa May; 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 fantastic time for political comedy,” said Forde, whose show Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right, runs at Pleasance Beyond all month and will interview Gordon Brown on Sunday.
The appetite for political comedy increases with every year, he said. But as British politics becomes “more and more chaotic” it is on a dangerous trajectory, he warned. “Sadly, I think things are going to continue to get worse. The plus side of that is it gives me plenty of material to write about.”