Kim Noble
Kim Noble

There was a moment in Kim Noble's new show You're Not Alone which beautifully echoed Men in the Cities, the Chris Goode piece which has also been playing in the Traverse over the last month. Noble reels off a list of the men he has observed throughout the process of making the show, all of them boxed in and restricted in various ways. Just like the male characters of Goode's play and the artwork that gives it its title, they are contorted by modern masculinity.

You're Not Alone, which I saw towards the end of my Fringe experience, united several of the strands that I have traced through the best of this year's work. As well as masculinity, Noble's work included an implicit consideration of feminism, which was discussed in compelling but very different terms by two shows at Summerhall: Ontroerend Goed's Sirens and Sister by Rosana and Amy Cade. The former tackles everyday sexism and the experience of being a woman in the modern world, while the latter asks questions about sexuality, gender and choice.

Mental health, also touched upon by Noble, felt like another recurring theme this year – if it's even possible to discuss themes in the context of a festival so sprawling and disparate. Every Brilliant Thing managed to be both joyous and devastating in its look at depression, while the intimate and heart-wrenching Mental used deeply personal experiences to challenge the workings of psychiatric care, policing and surveillance. Meanwhile Ridiculusmus's The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland and Ellie Stamp's Are You Lonesome Tonight? implicitly advocated different ways of understanding mental health and our treatment of it.

Like the shows just mentioned, many of the highlights of this year's festival left me emotional. Hurtling and Hug, both small but perfectly formed experiences included in the Forest Fringe programme, felt oddly cathartic, leaving me with tears in my eyes. There was no keeping the tears in during Spine, which just about resisted sentimentality but made me weep nonetheless. Then there's A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts, which sent me out onto the streets of Edinburgh with my heart singing.

As an antidote to all that crying, silliness was a quality I valued in several of this year's best shows. Figs in Wigs delighted me once again with their puns, songs and dances in Show Off, a new piece about narcissism and social media, while Sh!t Theatre took a silly route to serious subject matter in Guinea Pigs on Trial. He Had Hairy Hands had me laughing more than perhaps anything else this Fringe, while a brief dip into the comedy programme to see Josie Long reliably got me grinning.

Other highlights included Selina Thompson's Chewing the Fat and Chris Thorpe's Confirmation in the Northern Stage programme, which found a beautiful new home at King's Hall. Another venue I enjoyed spending time at over the last month was Summerhall, which played host to productions including Barrel Organ's assured debut show Nothing, Ross Sutherland's brain-twisting Standby for Tape Back-Up, and the wonderfully wacky Looking for Paul.

And a final few mentions for some more of the work that really stood out for me this year: the bleak but beautiful Lippy, Curious Directive's sci-fi epic Pioneer, Song of the Goat's choral masterpiece Return to the Voice, and Sleepwalk Collective's oddly trippy KARAOKE.

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