A Very Humanist Festival

Festival mayhem is well and truly underway in Edinburgh, but with over 2,000 shows featuring in the Fringe alone, deciding what to watch isn’t always easy.

That’s why we’ve put together this Humanist Guide to the Festivals with our top picks from the Fringe, Book Festival, and the Free Festival. If you’re based in Edinburgh, or are planning to come through for a day or two, you might be interested in a few of these…


Comedy and Stand Up


Shappi Khorsandi: Oh My Country! From Morris Dancing to Morrissey (Aug 10th-28th)

How could we not recommend this show? Not only does it promise a fresh, interesting, and hilarious commentary on modern patriotism, it’s also bought to you by Patron and President of the British Humanist Association, Shappi Khorsandi!


Josie Long and Martin Williams: Investigations (Aug 16th-28th)

‘Cult optimist’ is certainly a fitting way to describe Josie Long’s uplifting and cathartic stand up. In this show she teams up with investigative journalist Martin Williams to create a topical mix of reportage and gags, featuring exposed truths, investigations, politics, and silly fun.

Smurthwaite On Masculinity

Smurthwaite On Masculinity


Kate Smurthwaite: Smurthwaite on Masculinity (Aug 10th-28th)

We can hardly wait to see Kate as our official Gala Dinner Speaker, so this show seems like just the thing to see us through until September. Already well known as an activist, feminist, and atheist, Kate sizes up the patriarchy and 21st century male culture in this ambitious stand up as part of PBH’s Free Fringe Festival.


Mitch Benn: Don’t Fear The Reaper (Aug 10th-14th, 16th-28th)

A show that focuses on living the one life that we have, through good times and bad, sounds right up our street. It’s been a morbid year for ‘the country’s leading musical satirist’ (Times), he’s turned 46 – over the hill by anyone’s standards – his personal life is in turmoil and his childhood heroes are dropping like flies. At times like these, a man feels the Reaper creeping up on him… But is death anything to fear? And is it really the end? (Yes. Yes it is, sorry!) Mitch confronts his – and your – mortality with hilarious (and tuneful) consequences. Join him! It’s an hour of your life you’re not getting back!




Leftover (Aug 11th-12th, 15th-16th, 18th, 20th, 22nd, 24th-25th, 27th)

This look at the human cost of war has certainly piqued our interest. Fleeing conflict in Western Europe, the women – soldiers, survivors, refugees, mothers, daughters, sisters – are all that remains. Leftover is a moving look at the human debris left behind. Inspired by stories of real women and created and performed by full time students of the Professional Diploma in Stage and Screen Performance at Acting Coach Scotland.


Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (Aug 10th-15th, 17th-22nd, 24th-28th)

Having focused much of our energy on the importance of freedom of speech, this is a unique show that we really don’t want to miss. ‘Let’s just talk until it goes.’ The average person will speak 123,205,750 words in a lifetime. But what if there were a limit? Oliver and Bernadette are about to find out. This two-person show imagines a world where we’re forced to say less. It’s about what we say and how we say it; about the things we can only hear in the silence; about dead cats, activism, eye contact and lemons, lemons, lemons, lemons, lemons.


Five Out of Ten Men

Five Out of Ten Men

5 Out of 10 Men (Aug 10th-13th, 15th-27th)

Focusing on one of the most difficult issues within our society, this certainly sounds like one of the more important plays on offer at this year’s Fringe. On average, 12 men take their own life every single day. Rooted in true experiences and deep exploration of mental health, 5 Out of 10 Men invites men to be open – to journey unabashedly into themselves. With a fun, interactive style and a penetrating dark humour, a mixed ensemble leads a wounded man as he weaves a confessional hymn to his dead brother, torn between the man he is and a man he strives to be.


Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful (Aug 10th-14th, 16th-28th)

A story of one man’s determination to make the most of the one life he has is clearly a story that we want to hear. Malachy’s been alive for 43 years. But he’s never lived. Not like on the telly anyway. He has no family, no girlfriend and certainly no career. So it’s no surprise that death isn’t like on TV either. But Malachy won’t let the pink disease kill the one thing he does have – hope. Every Day I Wake Up Hopeful is a darkly funny examination of a desperate attempt to take control of life before death does.


Scorch (Aug 10th-15th, 17th-22nd, 24th-28th)

This look at love, identity, and the importance of feeling accepted is something we’re very excited about. For those who don’t feel like they’re in the right life the web is a place to be yourself. ‘Happiness. Aching, constant, consuming – on there it’s more real than real life. I’m honest on there. I’m being honest. That’s important.’ Out in the real world though, things can be very different. A story of first love through the eyes of a gender-curious teen, Scorch examines how the human story often gets lost amidst the headlines.


Spoken Word, Music, and Poetry


The London Humanist Choir: Glory Hallelujah – There is No God! (Aug 13th-14th)

Here for two days only as part of PBH’s Free Fringe Festival we’re really looking forward to seeing The London Humanist Choir perform. They’ll be singing a programme of songs from their recent One Life concert, celebrating the one life we have, including: Hozier, Take me to Church; Toto, Africa; and Frank Turner’s, Glory Hallelujah.


Liz Lochhead: A Show of Two Halves

Liz Lochhead: A Show of Two Halves

Liz Lochhead: A Show of Two Halves (Somethings Old, Somethings New) (Aug 15th)

Ok, we may be a little biased, but our distinguished supporter, Liz Lochhead is certainly not a poet to be missed. Ranging from the bittersweet to the rude and raunchy, Scotland’s former Makar and recent recipient of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry weaves a spellbinding and beguiling show, mixing poems and monologues and accompanied by the witty, soulful saxophone of Steve Kettley. If you can’t make this show, make sure to get along to see Liz perform with The Hazey Janes at the Book Festival Unbound show on Aug 16th.  If you’d like to hear Liz discuss A Major New Poetry Collection, don’t miss her event at the Book Festival on Aug 14th


Stephen Lingham: This Is Not A Safe Space (Aug 6th-21st)

Edinburgh Sceptics Poet In Residence, and HSS Edinburgh Group member Stephen Lingham is putting on this spoken word show as part of PBH’s Free Fringe. Promising a healthy dose of controversy, Stephen aims to explore free speech in modern times, by discussing everything you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table. We’re big fans of Stephens’s poetry here at HSS, so we’re sure to be front and centre for this one.


Hollie McNish: Poetry for Parental Beginners (Aug 20th)

Hollie McNish is truly a poet for the modern ages, and someone that has been on our ‘one to watch’ list for some time. When she became pregnant, it opened up a world of questions which resulted in Nobody Told Me, her verse book about parenthood. Today she performs from her collection, exploring double standards about the female body, aggressive marketing techniques, and the pain of seeing ice cream disappear from the menu.


Panels and Discussions


Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series (Aug 13th-28th A different panel daily):

We can’t possibly pick just one. These events from Amnesty International will feature work from various writers who have been imprisoned or persecuted around the world. Each event will focus on a different subject, from Freedom From Torture, to the Diaries of Child Refugees. Each event is free, but ticketed, so make sure you get to the box office.


A. C. Grayling Learning from the Age of Genius

A. C. Grayling Learning from the Age of Genius

A.C. Grayling: Learning from the Age of Genius (Aug 20th)

If you’ve listened to our podcast you will have realised that we’re big fans of A. C. Grayling. This event focuses on his latest book The Age of Genius, a detailed exploration of the tumultuous 17th century which heralded ‘the greatest ever change in the mental outlook of humanity.’ Come along to hear Grayling discuss human progress and the birth of the modern mind.


Alex Bell and Dominic Hinde: Can We Make the Planet a Better Place? (Aug 15th)

The title alone shows that this is a conversation we’d like to be a part of. Referendums on Scotland and Europe are bringing people into contact with major political decisions about the future. But is it genuinely possible for the public to shape a better world? Journalist Alex Bell’s The People We Could Be is about how power can be brought closer to the people, while Nordic expert Dominic Hinde has written A Utopia Like Any Other, looking at the myths and reality of the Swedish political model. This event is part of the Scotland We’re Shaping series.


John Hands: Where is the Human Race Heading? (Aug 17th)

Once again, this sort of big question is certainly one that intriques us. John Hands asks just this in his book Cosmosapiens. With the breadth of Bill Bryson, the exploratory powers of Stephen Hawking and the controversial bent of Richard Dawkins, Hands’ decade-long study challenges our understanding of human evolution. This panel is part of the A Changing Society series.


Understanding Pakistan Today: Free Speech, but at What Cost (Aug 21st)

An event focused on the reality of the threat to freedom of expression is something we don’t want to miss. Pakistan has been beset by violence for many years but recently journalists, politicians and activists have found themselves increasingly targeted for the views they express. In a special partnership event with the Lahore Literary Festival, its founding director Razi Ahmed and author Kamila Shamsie lead a panel including acclaimed novelist Mohammed Hanif to explore the importance and limits of free speech.


Margaret A Boden: Robots in Everyday Life (Aug 27th)

We’re definitely intrigued by this one. 60 years since the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was coined, the possibilities and dangers of AI are still being heavily debated, showing what a thorny subject it remains. In discussion with Phil Harding, Sussex University’s Cognitive Science Professor Margaret A Boden wonders exactly what we mean by terms such as ‘intelligence’, ‘creative’ and ‘conscious’ when it comes to humans, animals and machines.


Sara Khan Can Reason Conquer Extremism (Aug 28th)

Human rights campaigner and one of Woman’s Hour Top Ten Influencers of 2015, Sara Khan has spent two decades fighting for tolerance and equal rights within Muslim communities. In The Battle for British Islam, she wrote anout the young men and women who have been radicalised. At this event she will talk about how the cycle of extremism can be broken without further alienating UK Muslims. We’re sure it will be a fascinating discussion. This is part of the A Changing Society series of events.


Jens Harder: All Inhuman Life is Here (Aug 29th)

The word ambitious springs to mind with this one, and it’s certainly piqued our interest. In his book Alpha…Directions, German illustrator Jens Harder embarks on the modest task of squeezing 14 billion years of history into one graphic novel. In this life-affirming compendium of images and ideas, Harder tells the story of evolution from the Big Bang through to genesis of life on Earth and right up to the start of human history. The book is a mind-boggling, meticulous, graphic masterpiece.


Childrens Programme

If you’re attending the festival with children or teenagers, here are a few events that might be of interest:


Dónal Vaughan Science Magic

Dónal Vaughan Science Magic

Dónal Vaughan Science Magic (Aug 1st-28th)

Multi-Award winning Irish comedian and science communicator Dónal Vaughan brings his science magic show to the Edinburgh Fringe. He will show you how to put a skewer through a balloon without popping it, mix potions to create your very own volcano, set paper on fire without burning it, turn water upside-down without spilling it, conjure an invisible force to blow out a candle, make a cola bottle explode in a fountain and more. Always exciting, sometimes messy, learn about magnetism, pressures, density, force, chemical reactions, the fire triangle, acids & bases, static electricity. And laugh your pants off while you do it.


Get Stuck Into Science with the Royal Society (Aug 13th-14th)

Join us where science and reading collide, and take part in exciting drop-in activities inspired by the shortlisted books for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize. Get stuck into surprising science, arts and crafts and help us decide which book should be crowned the winner.


On the Front Line with Michael Grant (Aug 13th)

How different would the Second World War have been if women had been allowed to fight on the front line? In this groundbreaking new series, bestselling author of Gone, Michael Grant imagines the battles of 1940s soldier girls, fighting – not only to survive – but to prove their courage. A thought-provoking event exploring strong heroines and the costs of war.


Inspiring the Shakespeares of the Future (Aug 19th)

Calling all aspiring playwrights! In the year of the 400th anniversary of his death, Shakespeare’s use of language and captivating characters are still inspiring many a budding writer. In this event, Deborah Patterson encourages you to pick up a pen (or quill), use your imagination and get writing, using Shakespeare’s key texts as a launchpad to your own literature.


Write it. Speak it: Spoken Word Workshop (Aug 20th)

Spoken word is everywhere: from TV adverts to Mercury-nominated albums. Whether you want to shout about yourself or kick back at the world, spoken word is direct, accessible and easy to get out there. Two of the UK’s top spoken word stars – Molly Naylor (writer of After Hours, Sky 1) and Deanna Rodger (BBC’s Women Who Spit) – host an inventive workshop to get you writing and performing spoken word like a pro.


Brian Monaghan & William Sutcliffe: Extreme Choices (Aug 24th)

Brian Conaghan’s The Bombs That Brought Us Together and William Sutcliffe’s Concentr8 depict worlds not that far removed from our own, where overlooked and disaffected teenagers come into conflict with hardline state authorities. Both writers create unnerving realities, weaving dark humour and satire into exciting dramas which take the reader from an unnamed country reminiscent of Syria, to the council estate gangs of London.


Juno Dawson & Rosalind Jana: Mindful Teens (Aug 26th)

Juno Dawson’s Mind Your Head is a brilliantly accessible, frank and funny look at issues such as depression, self-harm and anxiety. Blogger and writer Rosalind Jana’s Notes on Being Teenage takes a positive look at building your own identity and coping with family, friendships, online life and love. Be enlightened, informed and reassured in this event exploring the pressing issues affecting young people today.


Challenging Stigmas with Deborah Malcolm (Aug 27th)

Join author-illustrator Deborah Malcolm as she explains why she decided to create Meh, a wordless picture book following one boy’s journey through depression. Hear why she thinks it’s important to talk about mental health from a young age, and how picture books can be used to encourage such discussions. A thought-provoking and important event about challenging stigmas.



Did we miss anything? What are you looking forward to at this years festival? Are you part of a show or event yourself? If there’s anything you think we should check out, do feel free to get in touch.


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