It’s the 40th year of Buxton Fringe, and there’s a fittingly strong line-up for this jubilee season. Guy Masterton’s name is the first to jump out from the programme; his celebrated Under Milk Wood is also marking an anniversary, 25 years on from its first performance in Edinburgh. It’s a one-man adaptation of Dylan Thomas’s famed drama, but Masterson conjures a vast population of characters, as they live and dream in the fictional Welsh village of Llareggub. This “semi-skimmed” version is trimmed to an hour, but reviews from past runs suggest it’s lost nothing of its magic. (Rotunda. 6 Jul 7:30pm to 8:35pm.)
A handful of memorable shows from last year’s Fringe are making a welcome return this time round. My personal favourite from Buxton 2018 was Green Knight, a stripped-down retelling of an Arthurian legend, which beguiled me with its eloquence and its occasional melancholy. Solo performer Debbie Cannon paints a vivid picture of a colourful world, filled with knights, giants and earthy passion. (Green Man Gallery. 7, 9, 11 Jul 2pm to 3pm; 8, 10 Jul 8:30pm to 9:30pm; 12 Jul 6:30pm to 7:30pm.)
Also returning is Old Bones, a tightly-woven tale of a reckless gamble - which seems at first to pay off, yet slowly and inexorably goes hideously wrong. Last year’s performance was personable and engaging, but there’s an undertone of horror to it which grows harder and harder to ignore. The result is poignant and clever, an intriguing new angle on a superficially hackneyed story. (Green Man Gallery. 4-7 & 13 Jul 8:30pm to 9:30pm.)
I didn’t catch Woman on Fire last year, but by all accounts I missed out. Another solo show, it tells the real-life story of suffragette Edith Rigby, whose unquestioned commitment to a worthy cause was matched by a more controversial willingness to resort to bombings and arson. Reviews from previous runs praise the telling of a personal tale, within the wider story of human rights campaigning. (7 Jul 8:45pm to 10pm, 8, 9 Jul 7:15pm to 8:30pm.)
There’s more true history in The Riot Act, based around the Lune Street Riot of 1842. Though it’s less well-known than the Peterloo Massacre, the parallels are plain to see; in both cases, authorities confronted downtrodden protesters with tragically fatal results. This is the latest script from the ever-reliable Rob Johnston, whose past work has often proved a Fringe highlight. (Green Man Gallery, 5, 6, 10 & 19 Jul 6pm to 6:50pm.)
Also catching my eye this week: Autopsy, which promises (or threatens) immersive Lovecraftian horror enabled by 3D audio (Underground at the Old Clubhouse, 3 Jul 2:30pm to 3pm, 3pm to 3:30pm, then many dates later in the month); Sheridan Shacklethwaite’s Stalactites Secrets, a parody tour of Poole’s Cavern, always one of the Fringe’s most enchanting venues (3-7 & 10-14 Jul 6pm to 6:45pm, 7pm to 7:45pm, 8pm to 8:45pm); and Contractions, Buxton Drama League’s performance of a well-regarded and disturbing script exploring the sacrifices we make to our workplace (Underground at the Arts Centre Studio, 6 & 13 Jul 8:45pm to 9:40pm, 20 Jul 5:45pm to 6:40pm).
And finally… if you’re of a certain age you might remember Monkey, the cult-classic import TV show tracing the story of a peach-stealing simian and his posse of spiritual adventurers. The series was actually based on a sixteenth-century Chinese novel, and Monkey and the White Bone Demon - a new adaptation of the text - promises to be nostalgic and educational at the same time. It’s from Red Dragonfly Productions, whose accessible versions of other Chinese classics have impressed me in the past. (Rotunda. 5 Jul 7:30pm to 8:45pm, 6 Jul 3pm to 4:15pm, 8 Jul 7:30pm to 8:45pm.)