Atomic Saloon Show at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: garish glitterbomb explosion in a cowshed

The queue for Atomic Saloon Show has to be the longest line I’ve ever seen at the Fringe. It snakes through the entire Assembly George Square gardens, up onto the street, right across the street, then straight along the pavement and all the way back across George Square. The people in front of me are actually talking about what they should do if they don’t get in.

When we finally do, we’re greeted by a maelstrom of swirling day-glo lights as performers joke with the audience and guide us to our seats. Behind the stage, there’s a swinging saloon door, and in front of that a table with a man and a woman drinking and throwing bread rolls around the room. One hits the ‘preacher’, who exclaims ‘stop with this nonsense, I’m a man of God’ before throwing it back at the culprit.

What an odd, ecstatic environment it is: an apocalyptic, neon-rainbow saloon filled with sparkling characters in costumes fileable somewhere between ‘strip club’ and ‘children’s birthday party’. Most of the audience are pretty drunk – it’s a bit after 10pm – and lapping up the mayhem. The bar, in the show room itself (a 20’s style French spiegeltent), is open all night. It feels a bit like being in another universe, but then again, that’s probably the point.

Atomic Saloon Show is set to travel to a permanent address on the Las Vegas strip after this Fringe run, and no fucking wonder – this is a completely ridiculous, sexy, ridiculously sexy explosion of colour. It’s excessive and silly, like remaking The Searchers solely to outfit the cast in Barbie pink uniforms and arm them with confetti flamethrowers, and twice as fun.

Our two energetic, supremely likeable hosts for the evening are cantankerous brothel owner Madame Boozy Skunkton (played with aplomb by Petra Massey) and dim-witted but charming and endearing Blue (Colin Cahill). A bisexual preacher played by Damien Warren-Smith also tosses his hat in the ring for a central performance. Together, they weave a number of comedic narratives (mostly involving sex, unsurprisingly) whilst introducing a slate of mind-boggling, titillating acts that range from sleazy (Alina Shypnova’s pole dancing) to classy (Davide Zongoli’s aerial work), to… I’m not quite sure…. Such as Fofo’s… erm…. ping pong ball stunts in a nun outfit.

In just 70 brisk minutes, Cal McCrystal’s blockbuster production manages to squeeze so much content that it’s almost nauseating: hula-hooping, singing, tap dance, aerial work, pole dancing, ballet, rhythm percussion, and… that thing with the ping pong balls. It does all this whilst at least five separate storylines weave around and around each other until we’re dizzy from the energy. And it’s funny – it’s really fucking funny, especially when members of the audience are involved. Don’t worry though, provided you’re sufficiently tipsy and liberated, there’s nothing too extreme. Part of the joy of this show is just how respectful everybody is of everyone else; we have such a great time because it feels like the characters are also having a great time, and because they’re great fun to be with.

Ultimately, though, after seeing Little Death Club (review imminent) the day after, I realised that there’s a little something missing. Atomic Saloon Show may be a riot: a garish glitterbomb explosion in a cowshed, but it all feels a little superficial. As much as we’re in awe at all of the shenanigans on stage, there’s too little genuine emotion to hold it together and to make our hearts truly soar. When it’s revealed that there were audience plants all along and that some of the funniest bits of the show were actually scripted, the reaction isn’t so much awe as disappointment; and in the coming days after the performance, the memory of it fizzles out leaving nothing but a saccharine aftertaste and the vague impression of fruity flavour.

Still, whilst it’s right in your face, Atomic Saloon Show is perfect late-night, blockbuster entertainment for the Fringe crowd. If Walt Disney smoked crack before designing DisneyWorld, this is maybe the kind of thing he’d come up with: a deliriously drunk, technicolour blur of cowboys, prostitutes and sex…. Lots of sex. Talk about John Ford all you like, but this feels like the real American dream.


James is a postgraduate law student at LSE, and London Student's Chief Arts Editor/Film Editor. He wants you to know that Christopher Nolan is overrated.

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