The Best Show We’ve Ever Done At The Edinburgh Fringe is an aspirational title, but an aspiration that’s easy to meet given this is Australian sketch group The Fish Girls‘ international debut.
The trio play a delusional thespian family who haven’t let hammy acting and derivative material dent their self-belief – or at least the self-belief of mother Deborah (Mary-Grace Brunker). Son Julius’s (Caitlin Burke) acting talent is unlikely ever to meet the standards his mother demands, while father Rodney (Felicity Wilson) is a hapless non-entity who can’t get the tech right.
The conceit is that during last year’s Fringe their venue collapsed due to force majeure. We’re now trapped in an underground tomb with them and a collection of other Fringe performers. Food supplies have run out and we’ve started eating each other. Luckily (or unluckily given their shamateurish acting) they’ve prepared a re-run of their greatest hits to keep us entertained.
This convoluted framing device does take a while to kick in and remains awkward in places, particularly when sundry other characters start appearing on stage. We’re never 100% sure who these various committee members are or why they’re interrupting the family’s attempts to entertain us.
Nevertheless, when the family do finally get to perform, their comical badness creates very good spoofs. An opening whodunnit sets the tone, with Burke in particular displaying an impressive range that she maintains throughout. A woman playing a rubbish teenage boy actor – playing a cliched country house maid AND a deadpan detective – while self-consciously checking the lines written on his/her hand is quite a combo to pull off, but she does.
There’s a funny teen vampire romance, a hillbilly love story, and Great Fire of London drama put on before us. Best of all – and this is where some of the other characters come in – is a spoken word happening. Brunker plays a self-conscious, right-on American feminist poet (a well-used stereotype, but done well here) while Burke does a fabulous over-serious French artiste who clashes with her (It’s a highly mannered French pastiche a la Marcel Lucont or Jaques-‘Jaques’ Liverot from The Day Today).
The show suffers a little from its lunchtime time slot and the framing could definitely be a smoother ride for the audience, but when it hits its stride, it’s highly entertaining. Be aware though, for there’s a heap of Fringe in-jokes (a Hannah Gadsby reference being one) which could shoot over some greener audience members’ heads.