If the idea of being descended upon by thousands of angsty flyerers seems a bit overwhelming, a good place to start in choosing which shows to see is with ones that have had successful previews back at home. Fortunately, Oxfordshire's theatre scene is bustling year-round so our reviewers have sampled many of the shows and singled out the best ones!
Oxford-based theatre company Kuumba Nia Arts combine theatre, dance and music to bring to life the untold story of Mary Prince, a freed slave who was pivotal in the abolition movement. The show, a co-production with the Oxford Playhouse, previewed at the North Wall Arts Centre in June. Our reviewer said:
'A pair of awesomely talented performers combine with clever direction and inspired creative decisions to produce a piece of theatre at its powerful best.'
A&E Comedy caused a splash with Enter The Dragons last year and are set to pull off a similar feat with Witch Hunt, a surreal comedy show which presents fairytales woven through with feminism and eye-catching costume changes. Our reviewer caught a preview of the show as part of Offbeat and called it a 'darkly funny sketch show about how outsiders and the preyed upon can reverse their fortunes by embracing their fears and fighting back'.
Homegrown talent Poltergeist Theatre hold an annual festival here in Oxford which includes a preview of their flagship production. This year, the show is Art Heist, a sketch-comedy-theatre piece which sees three thieves independently attempt to steal a painting, to farcical effect. Our reviewer deemed the show 'utterly flawless' - what more persuasion do you need?
Simone Belshaw: Goblin and Fiends
If you want to truly feel like you're discovering something undiscovered, for the complete Fringe experience, head to Simone Belshaw's alternative work-in-progress show. There's a special guest at each performance to maintain the experimental flavour, and when it previewed with the Oxford Comedy Festival, our reviewer enjoyed 'a big squirt of comedy, topped with an interesting life story, with sprinkles of surrealism, served on a big a plate of sex education!'
Sophie Duker: Venus
In this debut show from rising star (and former Oxford Imp) Duker, you'll witness hilarious stand up exploring the idea of being a goddess (or not) and a modern, personal, biting critique of right-wing politics. The show previewed as part of Offbeat and the Oxford Comedy Festival, and our reviewer says:
'I doubt she'll be an underdog on the circuit for much longer. Her command of the room was excellent and her politically-infused observational stand up was sharp - so get a ticket while you still can!'
This New Zealand-based company are presenting no fewer than three shows at this year's fringe. They recently toured their smash-hit The Basement Tapes, landing at the Old Fire Station in early July, and our reviewer loved it:
'The play was just under an hour, but the ideas and imagery that Reid, Yonge, and company have found within a handful of well-placed boxes would fill at least a dozen longer plays.'
If this was anything to go by, expect big things from Night Moves, My Best Dead Friend and Aunty.
Comedy Club 4 Kids
Specially designed with a junior audience in mind, this is not to be missed if you're at the fringe with little ones in tow. Suitable for ages 5+ and with a different lineup every day, there's bound to be something your kids will giggle at. When the show came to Pegasus, our reviewer found that it 'appealed both to the childishness of children and their intuitive intelligence, achieving a difficult balance indeed.'
SK Shlomo: Surrender
And for something completely different... World-renowned beatboxer Shlomo has reinvented his musical style and renamed himself SK with the release of a new, self-produced album exploring deeply personal issues. Taking on a highly versatile range of musical styles and influences, the Oxford preview of this part-gig part- storytelling show was one where, according to our reviewer, 'by the end I had a vision of watching an artist joining seemingly unconnected brush strokes until suddenly a face appears.'