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.
It's the 1980s. Spandex, big hair, and jazzercise are in. So are hard drugs, but don't worry—Police Cops are on the case.
Police Cops: The Musical is one of the dumbest shows I've ever seen, but that's actually the point. Campy and ridiculous from beginning to end, it's low on plot and anything for a laugh at this new show, playing Assembly George Square Studios at Edinburgh Festival Fringe ahead of a London debut at Southwark Playhouse set to begin September 8.
Now, if you're not such a big fan of state-funded violence, I know what you're thinking: Is it possible to make the police funny? Show creators (and stars) Zachary Hunt, Nathan Parkinson, and Tom Roe have wisely crafted their story around not actual police, but the titular Police Cops. In their telling, this group starts out as the real deal but soon go rogue and morph into a vigilante group more akin to The Avengers—but way stupider. This motley crew beats the bad guys via acrobatic '80s dancing and babies on bungee cords.
The actual police, on the other hand are even stupider, and also corrupt, mean, and overtly racist. If Police Cops are our heroes, the police are basically the bad guys. Nothing gets too serious in Police Cops: The Musical, but the point of view is pretty clear—this is not a pro-police force show. They also ingeniously use leather gloves to indicate guns rather than realistic props that can make laughing at these plot points a lot more difficult. Whether that was an artistic or budgetary choice remains unclear, but it's a novel solution to telling a story that involves guns without actually including them.
The musical is the latest offering from Hunt, Parkinson, and Roe's comedy troupe, also named Police Cops. Earlier Police Cops shows have been Fringe sell-outs for years, and have even played London's West End. This new musical iteration of their off-the-wall comedy has been selling out shows at this year's Fringe. It also features a score by Ben Adams, one of the co-writers of Off-West-End cult favorite Eugenius!. To give you an idea of the score's humor, the biggest bop in Police Cops: The Musical sees its characters wondering if they're "an American or an American't."
The show harkens back to over-dramatic '80s crime dramas like Miami Vice and Magnum P.I.. Like both of those series, Police Cops: The Musical tracks a two-man team, here Harrison and Johnson. The latter is inspired to become "the best damn Police Cop ever" after his sister is killed in a seemingly random street crime. The former is already off the squad when Johnson finds him, but has some loose ends to tie up.
Their primary foe ends up being Hernandez, a drug dealer that keeps our crime-fighting duo on their toes throughout the evening. On the journey to finally nab him, there are secrets revealed, asses kicked, and dances danced—along with a passionate bromance and a not small amount of gratuitous male shirtlessness.
The laughs are fast in Police Cops: The Musical, and usually they come out of the cast—which also includes Melinda Orengo and Natassia Bustamante—being as dumb as possible. That can mean a silly punchline, but it can also mean breaking character as stage business doesn't go as planned. At the performance I attended, the actors repeatedly struggled to elegantly get one character's shirt back on him, leaving it askew or making it become a cape if there wasn't time to correct it. And the audience loved it.
Production values are higher here than at most Fringe shows, which is to say it actually has a set, costumes, and fully orchestrated accompaniment. Police Cops is ready for its Off-West End debut thanks to set and lighting designer Andrew Exeter and sound designer Charlie Smith (Rich Morris is music supervisor and provided arrangements and orchestrations).
But it's not fully slick, nor is it meant to be. Their Fringe venue, even while being one of the Festival's larger spaces, has the company performing with just two incredibly small, disconnected wings in which to store the entirety of their costumes and props. This means depending on where you're sitting, you can often fully see actors' backstage costume changes and struggles to find a prop from a chaotic pile of objects. But that's all part of the fun.
And Police Cops: The Musical is fun. If you can fully turn off your brain, the 90-minute show will keep you in stitches throughout. Don't feel pressured to follow along with the plot. That's hardly necessary to enjoy what this musical has to offer.