The Week on Stage at Edinburgh Fringe: Amy Gledhill, Colin Hoult, Vir Das, Age Is a Feeling

·6-min read
Left to right: Amy Gledhill, Haley McGee, Colin Hoult and Vir Das (Matt Crockett/Thea Courtney/Kat Gollock)
Left to right: Amy Gledhill, Haley McGee, Colin Hoult and Vir Das (Matt Crockett/Thea Courtney/Kat Gollock)

Colin Hoult: The Death of Anna Mann – Pleasance Courtyard ★★★★☆

Colin Hoult is waving goodbye to his most famous character, fading actor Anna Mann. The comedian has been performing in a cheap wig and slightly dodgy eye make-up as Anna for years. Now he’s going out with a bang heard across the Edinburgh Fringe.

Anna, an actress, singer and welder – because you’ve “got to have a back-up” – tells us that she was once the “creme de le menthe of society”, and speaks in a luxurious purr as she walks us through her life. There are recollections from her childhood, in which she struggled to fit in among “a sea of drab”, and her not-quite-stardom on the stage and screen.

Colin Hoult as Anna Mann (Kat Gollock)
Colin Hoult as Anna Mann (Kat Gollock)

We drop in and out of her love life and her career – a role as “resident corpse” on Holby City; a starring appearance in a musical version of The Empire Strikes Back. Characters with bizarre, Toast of London-esque names are introduced then discarded, mere supporting parts in the Anna Mann show.

Hoult’s commitment to this surreal role is remarkable, his softly spoken voice somehow totally believable as an ageing woman. But the show excels when Hoult himself begins to tussle out from under his creation. His recent ADHD diagnosis is alluded to, then undercut by coos of “very brave” from Anna. As the show reaches its climax, it’s clear that letting Anna go is an act of self-care for Hoult. He stands before us with his wig removed, without a facade for the very first time. It may be a classic Fringe trope, but this closer makes for a poignant yet fitting tribute to a truly iconic character.

Amy Gledhill: The Girl Before The Girl You Marry – Monkey Barrel Comedy ★★★★★

Amy Gledhill is having one hell of an Edinburgh Fringe. Her comedy duo The Delightful Sausage are up for Best Show, while her solo hour is one of the festival’s buzziest (and also netted her a Best Newcomer nomination). That buzz, I’m glad to say, is well deserved. You’ll struggle to find a better constructed show than The Girl Before The Girl You Marry, and Gledhill herself seems destined for greatness.

On stage, she introduces herself as Amy Christine Stella Gledhill – Stella for her dad’s favourite lager. “Two middle names. Is she fancy? Or is she trash?” she giggles.

Amy Gledhill (Matt Crockett)
Amy Gledhill (Matt Crockett)

In her joyous hour, Gledhill explores her childhood spent as a sickly child “made up of dust and Rennie’s and second-hand smoke” on a council estate in Hull. The youngest of seven kids, she used to drag a rock around on a string to prove that she was emotionally mature enough for her parents to get her a dog. We get more funny stories, with a routine about flashing the Queen a highlight within a stacked set.

The show’s title comes from Gledhill’s history of trying to help emotionally repressed men, only for them to leave her and near-immediately marry someone else. Sometimes it takes 18 months – in one genuinely shocking story teased throughout, it’s just three hours.

Gledhill’s dating mishaps make for hilarious comic material, yet it’s actually her happy, current relationship that delivers the funniest routine of the set. She regales with a story about taking cannabis-infused chocolate that she bought from Google with her boyfriend, and the pair losing their minds in a central London Pizza Express. Sounds funny on paper – in person, it had me doubling over in laughter. Remember Gledhill’s name, because it’s about to be everywhere.

Age Is a Feeling – Summerhall ★★★★☆

You’ve just turned 25. Your brain is fully formed, meaning you can legally hire a car. You realise, for the first time, that death is slowly approaching. Your life is just beginning, yet you think about the end for the first time.

A monologue delivered in the second person, Haley McGee’s Age Is a Feeling is a stunning reflection on the peaks and troughs of growing old. McGee is our narrator, and she’s sat before us on a high, ladder-like white chair. Her feet are bare and her jeans lightly dirty.

Around her stand 12 potted plants, each bearing a different noun: “Hospital”, “inbox”, “dog”. They represent different stories within the play, with the audience picking different ones at random while the others are discarded. Each performance of Age Is a Feeling is its own unique combination of tales. Paths diverge and there are some stories we’re never told. “No one gets to know everything about your life – not even you,” McGee tells us.

‘Age is a Feeling' (Erin Hopkins)
‘Age is a Feeling' (Erin Hopkins)

McGee may be young, but she writes with exquisite depth about experiences at every stage of life – love, death, illness, divorce. She expresses regret at having not used skincare in her youth and vows every decade to eat more vegetables, drink more water and do more exercise. The words “And you will… for a while” always follow. Some things we never learn.

Age Is a Feeling sums up the complex emotions that come with growing older – the devastating losses alongside freedom. There are moments when it feels as though the show is overly engineered to elicit tears, but you can’t deny the beauty in McGee’s writing and performance.

Vir Das: Wanted – Pleasance Courtyard ★★★★☆

Comedy may be plagued with conversations about “cancel culture”, but few comedians have experienced the consequences of controversial routines quite like Vir Das. Last year, the Indian comedian made headlines around the world after giving a speech in Washington about hypocrisies within his home nation. “Do you know how bad you have to f*** up for the BBC to say that you’ve divided India?” he blares.

Quickly, Das became the country’s most wanted man. He was reported to police on grounds of sedition and defaming India on foreign soil. News reporters called him a terrorist on live TV. He and his family were made to turn off their phones to avoid thousands upon thousands of death threats. “Never complain to me about how a ‘mob’ came after you,” he warns his fellow Fringe comedians with a sardonic eye-roll.

Vir Das (Multitude Media)
Vir Das (Multitude Media)

Das’s experience with true cancellation is a fascinating story and one he explores in depth in Wanted. He describes getting on a plane back to India, not sure if he was going to be arrested and whisked off to prison as soon as he landed. A conversation with the Air India steward who supported him when he was public enemy No 1 is moving and sweet. You can feel Das’s frustration when others only defended him once cleared by police.

When Das strays from this central story, though, his material fails to elicit the same emotional response, with more observational material feeling generic. That said, his voice is definitely worth hearing.