Playbill Pick: Max Norman: A Pirate's Life For Me at the Edinburgh Fringe | Playbill

Playbill Goes Fringe Playbill Pick: Max Norman: A Pirate's Life For Me at the Edinburgh Fringe

Yo ho, yo ho, it's a pirate show to bring out your inner child.

Max Norman, Max Norman, and Max Norman in A Pirate's Life For Me

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.

Ahoy there, mateys! Gather round 'n I'll tell ye a tale about a Fringe show mighty worth seein': Max Norman: A Pirate's Life For Me. Based on that title, ye may nah be surprised t' hear 'tis a show about…pirates!

There are some shows at the Fringe that you book because they're starring a famous comedian. Or because it's a parody of one of your favorite TV shows. Or maybe you read a glowing "Playbill Pick" review, and the writer was so enthusiastic, you just had to see it. 

And then there are other shows you see because you have an empty hole in your Fringe schedule, and so you scroll through 46 pages of listings, only to discover the one you decided on has just sold out, and so you decide to randomly pick the one with a goofy looking pirate on the poster, and hope for the best. The thing about the Fringe is that with 3,500-plus shows to choose from, there are some special, heartfelt, and fun little shows that fly under the radar. And sometimes you get lucky and fall into one.

To get to the theatre where A Pirate's Life For Me is playing, you have to climb two (yes, two) steep spiral staircases, which lead you to a musty hallway, with some mysterious, colorfully lit vaults on one side, and two black doors set into an archway on the other. Have we entered the belly of a pirate ship? 

Nope, just the Belly Laugh venue at Underbelly Cowgate. As we're let into the theatre, a rather unenthusiastic usher points to a bag filled with fluffy white balls, and gives us the instructions, “Please take a cannon ball. The captain will tell you when to launch them.” 

What have I gotten myself into? Did I miss the helpful note in the "Warnings" section of the Fringe app that says "Audience Participation"? Yes, yes I did.... 

It's immediately apparent that this is not one of the Fringe shows with an enormous budget, so the curtain is a white bed sheet on a clothesline. The show starts and we’re treated to the 20th Century Fox fanfare, as played on the kazoo, followed the same man coming out from behind the curtain with a white cone around his neck and a lightbulb in his mouth. It takes a moment, and then it clicks—he's the Pixar lamp. And you know what? This show may not have a huge budget, but what it does have is a huge heart.

I don't want to spoil the many surprises of the show, because part of the joy is discovering the show as it goes along. But you can look forward to many very bad puns and plenty of piratey words like "argh" and "matey." In fact, in the spirit of the show, I am going to run the next paragraph through a pirate translator.

The tale o' the show be that a pirate cap'n has found a loot map, 'n since he's in need o' a crew, we, the audience are drafted t' the cause. Wha' follows be Max Norman single-handedly playin' multiple pirates 'n sea creatures, supported wit' charmin' ('n hilarious) handmade props, 'n somehow ropin' in a skeptical-lookin' audience o' adults, teenagers, 'n one or two children into his antics. Thar be only so long even the grumpiest o' adults can resist the charms o' a scallywag in a pirate outfit 'n a cardboard Cap'n's hat, makin' pun aft pun aft pun. It's a children's show, but 'tisn't jus' fer children. It's a show t' bring out everyone's inner child. By the end o' the show, that silly scallywag dressed as a pirate, genuinely brought a few happy tears t' me eye. Thar be more t' this show than ye would reckon at first.

I haven't mentioned the details of the audience participation, but I'll say even for a participation hater as myself, it wasn't... that bad. Especially since the audience gets a bit of revenge at the end. 

Remember those "cannon balls" we were all handed at the beginning of the show? Well, I don’t know if this happens at every performance, or we were just very naughty (I like to think the latter), but that aforementioned disinterested usher left the bag of balls on a seat in the back of the theatre, and when it came time to launch our attack, we all repeatedly refilled our “ammo,” pelting the very confused looking pirate with many more balls than he was expecting, emptying the entire bag. 

I genuinely can't remember the last time I had so much fun in a theatre. Yo ho!

Max Norman: A Pirate's Life For Me is running at the Underbelly, Cowgate through August 27. For tickets, click here. To learn about more Playbill-recommended shows at this venue, click here.

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