It’s quickly coming up to my favourite time of the year again. A time when the great, the good, and the downright awful of the theatrical world descend on one place – Edinburgh.
From the 4th to the 28th of August, the population of Scotland’s Capital will double, over 3000 performances will take place, and every tapas bar and broom closet will play host to a comedian or two. It’s beautifully chaotic, a force of nature. However, it’s also incredibly overwhelming, even for seasoned campaigners. So, the question is, what can you do to get the most out of the Edinburgh Fringe? To dive into the sheer madness of it, and come out sane on the other side?
The Ed Fringe Programme is your Bible
Forget Great Expectations or any other summertime reading you had planned. The Fringe Programme is the only book you need. You can order one to your home, or download a copy from the fringe website, but you will be lost without it. Containing every act at the Fringe – with a blurb, a picture, and a little more info – it is invaluable in your quest for Fringe satisfaction.
Know the Terrain
When you think of Edinburgh you may think of tartan, shortbread and rolling hills, but in reality, Edinburgh is a labyrinth of hidden cobbled pathways and winding streets. It’s very easy to get lost, and very difficult to find your way back again, especially in the Old Town. Luckily, a quick glance at google maps or in the back of the Fringe programme will arm you with the clues to decipher the puzzle that is Edinburgh.
It also helps to be familiar with the hubs of activity in Edinburgh. The goliath venues that have the big names, but the slightly more expensive drinks…
The Gilded Balloon offers comedy and sketches going into the wee hours, and plays host to the celebrated stand-up competition So You Think You’re Funny? Where previous winners include Peter Kay and Lee Mack.
Assembly has venues across the Edinburgh Fringe, from the intimate George Square studios to the grandeur of the Assembly Rooms.
The Pleasance Courtyard and Dome both offer a brilliant mix of theatre and comedy. Big acts perform beside up and coming creatives in these diverse venues.
The BBC also have a presence at the Fringe, with a line-up of free TV and Radio shows throughout the day.
The Underbelly too has venues all across the city and do a great job championing new writers and performers. The main base, in George square, has its flagship venue The Udderbelly – an upside down inflatable purple cow.
Bring Appropriate Provisions
Edinburgh is known for a rare natural occurrence known only as ‘4 seasons in 1 day’. In the time it takes you to walk up the Royal Mile, you will have probably have braved a thunderstorm, a drought, and 400 mph winds, so it’s important that you’re practical with your clothing. Take a nice cosy jumper but also shorts, throw your umbrella in with the sunglasses, because when the weather changes drastically, you need to be ready to change with it.
Keeping yourself hydrated and well fed is very important too. You’ll be running all around the city from 9am til 12am, so always have a bottle of water and a snack handy. I wouldn’t suggest experiencing the ‘Fringe Diet’, where you do so much unintentional exercise and eat so little that you drop 17 pounds. Stay happy and healthy – or treat yourself to a deep fried mars bar!
Pick your Targets Well
With over 300 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, it can be difficult to pick what to see. The Guardian and The Stage offer excellent reviews and advice on theatrical productions, and a host of Live at the Apollo regulars are venturing to the Fringe this year, so see what takes your fancy. Tickets for big name comedians such as Frankie Boyle and Sara Pascoe will sell quickly so book them as soon as you can to avoid disappointment.
It’s a wise move to buy tickets for the shows you know you want to see well in advance. If you think it’s good, the chances are everyone else will realise that quickly too. Try to have one or two shows booked for each day, this means you’ll be soaking up the Fringe atmosphere but also have some wiggle room in case anything else pops up. The spirit of the Fringe is to see world class theatre, as well as taking some chances on lesser known acts, you may see some brilliant stuff, and you will definitely see some bad stuff, but the gamble half the fun!
A number of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe are also part of the PBH Free Fringe, a fantastic model whereby acts don’t pay to hire the venue or pay for entry, but instead ask for a donation at the end of the show. Some of the best comedians have started off at the Free Fringe, and I would recommend you add some free fringe shows to your calendar.
Take a Break
There is a point though, when you’ve drank too much and slept too little, that you just want to take a break from it all. A visit to the beautiful quiet of The National Gallery of Scotland or the vastness of Arthurs Seat is bound to rejuvenate the senses. Find a park or a coffee shop, and take it all in, but beware… immobile targets make easy prey for flyerers…