The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
As part of our Edinburgh Fringe coverage, Playbill is seeing a whole lotta shows—and we're sharing which ones you absolutely must see if you're only at the Fringe for a short amount of time. Consider these Playbill Picks a friendly, opinionated guide as you try to choose a show at the festival.
I grew up in California. Within the state's public school system, we were taught the history of California—most importantly the Gold Rush, where James W. Marshall found gold one day which then led to courageous settlers from all over coming to try and make their fortune. I always imagined it as something akin to Isaac Newton discovering gravity: one day he was in the river and he sees something gleaming in the water. He reaches down and then Lo! It’s gold!
Imagine my surprise when I saw that exact scenario play out in the show Dark Noon, a perceptive skewering of American myth-making. The show makes it clear exactly what the stories told in American films and taught in history classes are: a delusion that left out the lawlessness of the frontier, the genocide of Native Americans, the oppression of Black people and Asian people, and America's sick obsession with the gun. All of that is brilliantly told by a group of mostly Black South African actors (who are acknowledged in the play in a gut-punch of an epilogue which I will not spoil here).
Dark Noon is from the theatre company fix + foxy and created by Tue Biering and co-director Nhlanhla Mahlangu. It has impressive producers behind it: Glynis Henderson Productions (which also produced Life of Pi, David Byrne's American Utopia, and Immersive Great Gatsby) and Alchemation (the producers behind Six: The Musical and The Play That Goes Wrong).
That means compared to other shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, the production value is high. The show is staged with audiences on three sides of it. When the audience enters, the stage is bare, just a large expanse of red dirt. Then little by little, as the actors go through 200-plus years of American history, they go from shooting each other on the dirt to building houses and railways (and shooting each other afterwards). Meanwhile, narration is provided via a live camera feed.
But this isn't just a straightforward retelling of American history. The Black actors paint themselves white to portray the settlers who they describe as "wild animals" whose "primary form of communication was violence." Having a group of Black actors (the group normally portrayed in American media as violent) pretending to be white people (the group who was actually the one instigating violence throughout American history)—the multilayered resonances, the irony, are heady. And every scene ends with a gunshot.
Some of the creative choices are incoherent (during the Gold Rush scene, one of the actors sings the chorus of the song "Fever" over and over again). The entire play can feel at times unwieldy and a sensory overload. But where Dark Noon truly succeeds is when it pulls back from the absurdist presentation and focuses in on the individuals. In one moving monologue, a Chinese railway worker says, "I dream of a time I will be respected as a Chinese man in America." The show never forgets who it needs to humanize and who it needs to lampoon.
The ample producing support for Dark Noon points to a desired life for the show beyond the Edinburgh Fringe—I can easily see it playing New York in a space like St. Ann's Warehouse or Park Avenue Armory, somewhere that understands large-scale innovative work. It's not an easy work to digest—a number of people in my show walked out. But those who stayed gave Dark Noon a standing ovation at the end. But in a time when American society has gotten only more polarized, a show like Dark Noon that encourages mixed feelings isn't just welcomed, it's necessary.
Dark Noon runs at Pleasance, at EICC until August 27. Read about the other shows that Playbill recommends in this venue.