Nothing quite prepares you for how mad and brilliant the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is. Or how many cereal bars you end up getting through. Yes, there are shows that are fantastic and some that are so awful they become spectacular. More than that, it’s largely like-minded people from around the world coming together for a month every year, to a festival where there is something for everyone. If you want an unauthorized musical based on Doctor Who, or an early evening look at the history of alcohol (complete with free drinks), you can see both of those things. In one day. Since was my first trip to Scotland, let alone the festival, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Here’s an amateur’s guide…
1. The Royal Mile
Some actors doing some acting.
Throughout the Edinburgh Festival, the city’s high street becomes a compulsory visit for performers and punters alike. If you head down there any time during August, within 5 minutes you will have been accosted by an interpretive dance troupe, a jaded comedian, a duo of magicians and/or an overly earnest student drama group. Guaranteed. The Royal Mile is shitty if you’re not in a welcoming mood, but brilliant if you want to get a feel for the so-called “spirit of the Fringe,” aka sheer variety and mild insanity.
2. Double takes
The League of Gentlemen are a sketch group that are both famous and beloved, so they are actually a bad example. It was a joyfully geeky moment for me finding their plaque.
Celebrity is an odd notion during the Edinburgh Festival. Performers whose name would elicit a shrug or a mild murmur of recognition in the “real world” become stars for the month. Conversely, big name comedians get their posters scribbled over by annoyed comedy fans seeking revenge on said smug comedians and the commercialization of the Fringe. Or fellow comics seeking revenge on anyone playing a bigger room than them, you never can tell.
Comedian Russell Kane. Not beloved by the Edinburgh crowd. And NSFW.
For the record, I ended up queuing in front of properly famous actor and comic Steve Coogan, exchanging a weird ‘sup’ head-nod with comedian Simon Amstell, chatting about the misspelling of names beginning with S with Stewart Lee, one of the greatest stand-ups of all time, and having breakfast opposite broadcaster and former politician Gyles Brandreth. Which may or may not be only impressive to me.
3. Running from venue to venue
A stunning view over a large cannon.
No offense, everywhere else, but Edinburgh is the most gorgeous city in the world. And you can run across it in less than an hour. From the winding side streets of Old Town to the open spaces and gorgeous views of New Town, the city is beautiful, even when every surface is plastered with comedians’ faces. Not leaving enough time between shows to take a moment and have a look around is a mistake you only make once. The parade of shops along Grassmarket and the walk down The News Steps were my favorites. Pro-tip: run along Princes Street muttering the opening monologue from Trainspotting. No one will have a clue.
4. Late nights, early mornings
The Pleasance Dome, where all of the cool kids hang out. Including what looks like comedian/poet Tim Key…
Forgetting to sleep and eat at the Fringe is not only normal but also encouraged. I emailed another writer telling him about my “cereal bar on the run” diet and he messaged back telling me that was miles healthier than anything he’d consumed during his trip. When the day starts and ends at 7 AM, the party (read: heavy drinking) goes on into, well, forever. Despite that, there is nothing better than getting up early the next day (week?) and walking to Starbucks with your iPod when the air is fresh and the streets are quiet. Which brings me neatly onto…
5. The Meadows
Look at the silhouettes! Look at the spire! Gorgeous.
I was very lucky in that where I stayed for the week required a stroll over The Meadows to reach the main Fringe action. And Starbucks. It was about a fifteen minute walk every day, during which I saw small school children practicing karate, teenagers playing football, and everyone else enjoying the sunshine. The Meadows is a massive public park, and one of the most beautiful spots in Edinburgh for, say, a picnic. Or a power nap. Not that I would know…
6. Works in progress (Also known as Big Comedians Performing New Shit in Tiny Venues.)
This is an unintentionally Tim Key-centric post. Can’t complain. Work-In-Slutgress.
Tim Key, Stewart Lee and Simon Amstell were the three work in progress shows I saw, and they provided some of the best comedy of my week in Edinburgh. There are three kinds of WIP shows, which is clearly the perfect excuse for a theatrical analogy. First, there’s the open reading, where the comedian is still on script and making notes in the margins. Then there’s the tech rehearsal, where the comedian knows the material well, but is doing long-ish sections that may not necessarily be connected. Finally, there’s the public dress rehearsal, where the comedian pretty much knows what they’re doing and you’re there as a guinea pig. Never be put off by a work in progress. They are fantastic and unique.
7. Fuck yeah feminism!
You’ve got to wake up early to screw the patriarchy.
This year, loads of acts on the Fringe were taking on misogyny in their own individual ways. Bryony Kimmings’ autobiographical show on the sexualization of young girls, Credible Likeable Superstar Rolemodel, performed with her nine-year-old niece Taylor, was angry and moving in equal measure. Adrienne Truscott performed her set about rape naked from the waist down. Nadia Kamil’s feminist burlesque ended with a degree certificate rather than a strip. Tony Law talked about the ridiculousness of gendered toys, and fighting everyday sexism. Brilliant comedian Bridget Christie won the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award for her fantastic show about chauvinistic former racing car driver Stirling Moss, the unfortunate ubiquity of lads’ mags, and Bic’s pen specifically designed “for the female hand.” Clearly not a good time to be a misogynist.
8. The venues
I shouldn’t promote venues, but The Stand is awesome.
From the sprawling Assembly Rooms, to the old and beautiful C Nova, venues can pop up anywhere in Edinburgh. I had friends performing in a pizza restaurant, and I took a coach to see a play on the beach.
Some of the spaces are huge, and some are quite literally garden sheds. (No, really. There was a shed. I think it seated 5). Some of the venues have history behind them, while some spring up purely for the festival, and can be deflated straight afterwards (Underbelly, a giant purple blow-up cow, is a case in point). The spaces themselves add to the incredibly variety of the Festival, and if I learnt anything this year it’s that the Pleasance Dome and the Pleasance Courtyard are not next door to one another. Cue some frantic running across intersections.
About half of the collection.
The unsung heroes of the Fringe – eternally peppy or overly dramatic, they fly around the city, leaping out of doorways and hugging pillars. Some of them are promoting their own shows; still more have been hired to promote others. I was chatted up by a leather puppet wanting to do shots, gently offered a flyer by adorable cult comedian Ben Moor, and befriended by a guy giving me tips on how to get into shows that I was too young to see (Read: Go during the week, there’s no one on the door). Frequent Fringe-goers probably become annoyed with their incessant pawing, but I found their persistence charming, and if the flyerer was good, I made the effort to try and see the show. Plus, they sometimes have free tickets – it pays to be nice.
10. Small Scottish children.
Until you’ve seen an 11 year old standing in the middle of a road and laughing hysterically as he yells to his friend “Oh aye you cunt!” you have not felt pure joy.
1, 2, 6, 7, 8b, 9: Sophie Gangsta
3, 4, 5, 8a: Jenna Rand
2b (Russell Kane): justonetruething.tumblr.com