Wed 05

The Unknown Soldier

If you think you never want to see another play about World War One, then you want to see this play about World War One.  A powerful one-man performance set in the aftermath of the conflict, it's earned universal acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe, including a five-star review from Fringe Guru.  While there are moments of humour, it’s most notable for capturing the visceral reality of close-quarter combat – and for conveying the true horror of life in the trenches on a comprehensible, individual scale.

Rotunda

5 Jul 6pm to 7pm, 6 Jul 3pm to 4pm, 6pm to 7pm, 7 & 16 Jul 6pm to 7pm

Thu 06

Mrs. Oscar Wilde

The fact there even was a Mrs Oscar Wilde may surprise some, and this play seeks to redress that balance by telling the story of Wilde's life entirely through his wife Constance's eyes. It's a nicely nuanced production, celebrating Constance's independent spirit while recognising the constraints of her era – and, because we know how Wilde's story will end, there's a pleasing sense of portent too. Our four-star review from last year's Fringe highlighted both a subtle script and compelling acting.

Arts Centre Studio

6 Jul 8pm to 9pm, 11 Jul 4:30pm to 5:30pm, 19 Jul 8pm to 9pm

Fri 07

The Buxton Festival Fridge

Today's your first chance to experience the most intriguing and talked-about offering of 2017... the pun-tastic Buxton Festival Fridge. Set in a genuine industrial fridge (we assume it's not plugged in), down in the basement of the Old Clubhouse pub, we're promised three-minute shows for audiences of just three people – in exchange for a charitable donation of three pounds. The whole thing's running on a drop-in basis for four hours every day, which even the ever-reliable Underground Venues must find a formidable logistical challenge. We've no idea what to expect, but we certainly won't miss the chance to find out.

Underground Venues at The Old Clubhouse

7-22 Jul 3pm to 7pm

Sat 08

Alfie Moore: Getting Away With Murder

Policeman-turned-comedian Alfie Moore has hit the big time now, with that ultimate symbol of establishment acceptance: his very own show on Radio 4. But he's highly likeable in person too, and we enjoyed this informative and sometimes thought-provoking show when we saw it here in Buxton last year. Based, as usual, around Moore's real-life experiences as a Detective Sergeant, it's a tongue-in-cheek practical guide to committing the perfect crime.

Arts Centre Studio

8 Jul 8:15pm to 9:15pm

Sun 09

The Empress and Me

Grist To The Mill are best known for The Unknown Soldier (featured above), but they also have a long-standing heritage bringing East Asian stories to the British stage. This one-woman show tells the story of Lizzie Yu, the daughter of a Chinese diplomat, who was raised in nineteenth-century France but suddenly found herself returned to the Forbidden City. When we reviewed its debut run in Brighton, it had a little room still to grow – but it's an interesting and atmospheric historical memoir, which will fit in well alongside the Festival's literary strand.

Rotunda

9 Jul 6pm to 7pm, 12-14 Jul 1:30pm to 2:30pm, 19 Jul 6pm to 7pm, 20 Jul 3pm to 4pm, 6pm to 7pm, 21 Jul 6pm to 7pm

Mon 10

Play Time

This inspired, hilarious, occasionally poignant play was a lot of fun at the Vault Festival back in March, and we hear it went down a storm in Brighton too. A two-handed whodunit set in a primary school, the central joke is that the characters are nine years old – yet they speak in precociously grown-up language. With a smattering of nostalgic references, a few unexpected diversions and a plot that's sensitive enough to make you care, this funny play with heart is recommended to all.

Underground Venues at The Old Clubhouse

5 & 10 Jul 7pm to 7:55pm, 11 Jul 5:30pm to 6:25pm

Tue 11

Labels

We haven't reviewed Worklight Theatre's Labels ourselves, but we've heard it recommended enough times to make it today's choice. It's a solo performance exploring identity, heritage, and the labels we apply to each other – all inspired by writer-performer Joe Sellman-Leava's true life story and multi-cultural family background. Reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe highlight its relevance and resonance, as well as an engaging delivery and striking visual style.

Arts Centre Studio

11 Jul 9:30pm to 10:30pm, 14 Jul 1pm to 2pm, 16 Jul 9:30pm to 10:30pm

Wed 12

Alice in Wonderland Underground

Butterfly have made a reputation for putting on good-quality, creatively-staged theatre in Buxton’s landmark Poole's Cavern. Past highlights included an award-winning Macbeth and an excellent Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this year they're stepping away from Shakespeare, turning the show cave into a rabbit-hole hosting a mix of Lewis Carroll's most popular characters. These shows sell out, so be sure to book ahead – and wrap up warm, because it's a constant 7 degrees Celsius in the cavern.

Poole's Cavern

11-13 Jul 5:30pm to 6:30pm, 7:15pm to 8:15pm, 14 Jul 5:30pm to 6:30pm, 7:15pm to 8:15pm, 8:45pm to 9:45pm, 15 Jul 5:30pm to 6:30pm, 7:15pm to 8:15pm

Thu 13

Kate Butch in Kate If You Wanna Go Butcher

This can't, surely, be the first-ever drag act to use the "Kate Butch" moniker, but it's certainly the first to be home-grown in Buxton. The alter ego of an Underground Venues staff regular, Kate enjoys strong local support – and as she sings, lip-synchs and PowerPoints her way through an hour-long confessional, she gives the crowd plenty both to laugh and cry about. There's a genuine buzz developing around this show, and reports from the premiere last week suggest it's one of the highlights of this year's Fringe.

Underground Venues at The Old Clubhouse

6, 13 & 20 Jul 10pm to 10:55pm

Fri 14

We Lost Elijah

Youth theatre company Shadow Syndicate are a well-known fixture at the Buxton Fringe, and invariably impress us with their elegant and energetic ensemble work - usually defined by clever, well-worked details.  It's a true pleasure to see the future of small-scale theatre in such safe hands, so let's hope for more of the same in their latest outing, which tells the story of a young man going missing during the London riots of 2011.

Underground Venues at The Old Clubhouse

14 Jul 2:30pm to 3:25pm, 17 Jul 7pm to 7:55pm, 18 Jul 1pm to 1:55pm

Sat 15

Nonsense and Sensibility

Playwright Tom Crawshaw earned national attention for his political pastiche Boris World King, but here he's turned his trademark brand of farcical parody to the genteel world of Jane Austen.  A comic mash-up of bonnets, corsets and - less predictably - dinosaurs, it's clever and knowing, but above all a whole load of silly fun. It went down a storm at the Buxton Fringe last year and it's sure to prove a highlight once again.

Underground Venues at The Old Clubhouse

15 Jul 4:15pm to 5:05pm, 16 Jul 7pm

Sun 16

Bethnal Green

This is a story that's been waiting to be told: the disaster at Bethnal Green underground station, the worst loss of British civilian life in the whole of World War Two. 173 people were crushed to death on a stairway, fleeing an air-raid warning which turned out to be a false alarm. Lucky Dog Productions' play tells the story in uncompromising terms, using a clever and unexpected storytelling style - a defining surprise which we aren't going to spoil, but which brings the reality of East End wartime life firmly home to the audience.

Underground Venues at The Old Clubhouse

15, 16 Jul 2:30pm to 3:30pm

Mon 17

And The Rope Still Tugging Her Feet

This powerful one-woman show re-tells a shocking real-life story from 1980's rural Ireland, which saw a young mother – falsely accused of murdering her newborn baby – victimised by the misogyny and religious doctrine of both society and state. Its uncompromising, sometimes brutal approach earned it a slew of top-rated reviews last year, including a 5* from us at the Brighton Fringe. But it's nuanced, too, resisting falling back on stereotyped heroes and villains, instead helping us understand the social pressures which somehow led well-meaning people so terribly astray.

Underground Venues at The Old Clubhouse

17 Jul 5:30pm to 6:30pm, 18, 19 Jul 4pm to 5pm

Tue 18

Waiting for Gandalf

This dark-as-hell one-man play, which we saw at the Buxton Fringe a couple of years ago, makes uncomfortable but rewarding viewing.  Telling the life story of an obsessive and socially-awkward Lord Of The Rings fan, the script slowly turns from gentle humour to something far more disturbing – as the reasons for the man’s introspection are gradually revealed.  Actor (and theatre blogger) Chris Neville-Smith delivered a hauntingly convincing performance last time round. The show is free, with a collection for charity at the end.

United Reformed Church - Blue Room

18, 19 Jul 8:30pm to 9:30pm

Fri 21

Barrel of Laughs

It would be a travesty to compile any list of Buxton Fringe must-sees which omits this firmest of fixtures, the Friday-night comedy club hosted at Underground Venues. This year it has a new home - moving away from the Barrel Room which gave it its name - but it's still the perfect opportunity to enjoy a varied programme of sets from some of the Fringe's best comedians.  It's a popular event and consistently sells out, so pre-booking is all but essential.

Underground Venues at The Old Clubhouse

7, 14 & 21 Jul 8:30pm to 10pm

Sat 22

Twonkey's Christmas in the Jungle

Any attempt to categorise “Mr Twonkey” is doomed to failure. Nonsense poet? Stand-up comedian? Fanciful story-teller? He’s all of those. If you’re a Twonkey first-timer, there’s a definite risk you just won’t get the point at all, but a growing number of fans are drawn back each year for a mind-bending fix of patter, puppetry and song. This latest show, set in (I quote) the "Hallucinogenic Jungle", features a weak lion, a chicken church and a troubled duck; you get the idea.

Underground Venues at The Old Clubhouse

21 Jul 7pm to 8pm, 22 Jul 5:30pm to 6:30pm

Sun 23

Quilter and the Ghost

It's a welcome return to Buxton Fringe for Arletty Theatre, and for their character Quilter – who earned them a 5* review from us way back in 2013. Last time round they delivered a rewarding, multi-faceted play; set in a fantastical world full of tangible memories, it was built very much around the real-life stories of strong and inspiring women. This year's show sounds like an evolution of the same compelling concept, using speech and song to tell a powerful story of resilience in the face of loss.

United Reformed Church - Purple Room

21-23 Jul 8pm to 10pm