As you read this chances are I’m either, watching a show, drinking cider, or crying with laughter. Or if I’m really lucky, I’ll be doing all three, because today I head up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015.
For those of you who have heard of the fringe but never really paid any attention to it, the fringe festival is the biggest arts festival of it’s kind in the WHOLE WORLD. It combines theatre, dance, drama, comedy, circus, kids shows, poetry, storytelling and music, into a 3 week long cultural haven that over takes the whole of the city centre. If you think music festivals are big, this is much bigger! This years fringe brochure has over 3000 shows for you to choose from, and if you’ve never visited the festival before this fact alone can be a bit overwhelming, without then trying to factor in finding accomodation, venues which are often hidden away in the back room of a shop, or the basement of a church, and just the whole atmosphere of the city itself. Which at this time of year is ELECTRIC.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a seasoned pro. I’ve been going to the fringe for 6 years now, to work in a venue, as just an audience member and this year as a programmer. One year I WILL go up as a performer, but that will be one very big and very expensive adventure.
This year, as part of my job, I’m heading up to the fringe to find and see some of the best shows happening in the UK right now and hopefully then bring them back to Lancashire. I’m not bragging, I’m aware of just how lucky this makes me. I’m also aware that because of this, and because of my history with the festival, I’m privy to alot more information, tips and tricks than most people visiting will be. As sharing is caring, I thought I’d put together a post of my top 5 tips for anyone visiting the festival, and the top 5 shows I’m looking forward to seeing.
- It can be bit of a military operation…
Going to Edinburgh and getting the most out of your time there can feel like a bit of a military operation, but the planning and researching of what to see where and when is half of the fun! As I mentioned before, there are A LOT of shows happening all at once, and they are all of varying quality. The fringe is an open access festival meaning that if they have the money literally anyone and everyone can take a show and perform at the festival. Everyone from youth groups, university drama societies, internationally acclaimed acrobats, and the best new writers and comedians in the world descend on Edinburgh in August, meaning you could close your eyes and walk into the best show ever, or you could find yourself sitting in a dark room, with a very numb bum and a bored brain for an hour and a half. Doing a little bit of research before hand, into what shows you want to see and who they are by is the best way to make sure you don’t end up filling your trip with terrible shows! A quick glance at a companies website, or a look into one of the many ‘top picks of the fringe lists’ (including mine below) is a pretty safe bet to finding a whole trips worth of good shows. Plus now the festival has begun, reviews come out daily, if not hourly thanks to twitter so you never need to go into a show entirely blind if you don’t want to.
2. Take a risk…
Having said that, Edinburgh Fringe is all about taking a risk and trying something new, or giving something a chance. If you’ve never seen physical theatre piece put one at the top of the list. Shows at Edinburgh are infamous for pushing boundaries. One of the best things I’ve ever seen was an overnight, 6 hour long version of Medea, which included having a nap, hot chocolates, gin, and breakfast with the cast when it was all done.
If that all sounds a bit too out there for you, and the whole arts thing is new to you, then you can take a risk in other ways. Keep some of your trip completely unscheduled and walk into a free fringe show, without having to risk spending money on something you might hate. Walk down the royal mile, pick your favourite leaflet and go and see it without checking out the reviews first. Or just take up a promoter on their free ticket offers.
The people performing there, have taken a huge risk too, so lets support that! It might be that the best thing you see is by a completely unheard company performing in the smallest room, for free, and part of the beauty of it is, that you feel that you’ve stumbled upon the fringe’s best kept secret!
3. Wear sensible shoes & other pieces of advice your mother would give you…
Ok, so I’m cheating with this one a little bit, but when you go to Edinburgh it will almost definitely rain, and you’ll no doubt be out from lunchtime at the latest, until the wee hours of the next morning (at the earliest). Wear sensible shoes, there’s a LOT of walking involved in a visit to Edinburgh, between venues, up hill, and depending on how adventurous you are sometimes with the shows you see too.
With all that walking, you’ll want a good stock of snacks with you, to keep you going! You’re out all day and not only is it tiring, it’s also expensive, a bunch of bananas can go a long way.
Other essentials include, something warm, something waterproof, and something to get you through the hangovers!
4. Somewhere to rest your head…
Now if you’re reading this, chances are your trip is already planned, and you’ll have seen just how expensive accommodation can be! Edinburgh is a beautiful city with expensive hotel rooms all year round, come festival time, these prices soar. Luckily you don’t have to rely on the hotels, lots of locals clear out for the month and rent out their home to festival goers, but the supply is there because the demand is there, so finding cheap digs is like finding a golden ticket.
My top tip for accommodation is either the Caledonian Hostel in the city centre, which keeps their beds and rooms reasonably priced, and you can sometimes find a bed for the night last minute. Or my trusty digs are up at Queen Margarets University out in Mussleburgh, which is about 5 minutes out on the train and a 20 minute taxi ride at night. It isn’t the most convenient location, in that generally once you’re out, you’re out for the whole day, but what you pay in sleepiness and taxi fares, you more than save on the cost of the rooms – which are also en-suite and come with access to a kitchen! Plus they often still have rooms available throughout the festival (my friend decided on Tuesday he would join us this weekend and managed to nab a double room). You can’t book through their website, but give them a call, they are lovely and incredibly helpful people!
5. Don’t just sit in the theatre…
It can be tempting when you’re at the festival to try and cram in as many shows as humanly possible, but put some time aside to explore Edinburgh itself, whether that’s climbing Arthur’s Seat, wandering around the castle or just sitting in a cafe enjoying a coffee and watching the city buzz! Enjoy the company you’re with, meeting new people and letting it all sink in.
Production shot from The Soaking of Vera Shrimp, taken from The List Edinburgh website.
Ok, if you’re all packed and ready to go but still have a few spots on your itinerary that need to be filled, here are the five things that I’m really looking forward to seeing over the next 4 days. I’ve pre-booked to see 13 shows, and that is leaving my evenings and Monday free to watch things I hear about while I’m there. I will attempt to post mini reviews on everything I’m getting up to over on twitter, and hope that these shows live up to my expectations!
- The Soaking of Vera Shrimp by Rosie+Me at Pleasance Courtyard
As a solo story telling performer, obviously, I’m interested in seeing shows from other solo storytelling performers. The Soaking of Vera Shrimp is described as ‘part science lesson, part story-telling, this is a poignant and playful solo-show about love, grief and never giving up’ This show appears on a lot of industry ‘must see’ lists. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a ‘one woman show’ this isn’t an autobiographical rant, but the story 14 year old girl who finds she has the superpower to read raindrops.
2. Foil, Arms & Hog: Skiddlywup at Underbelly Cowgate
If you read my post about holidaying at home, you might remember I mentioned going to see this incredibly funny and attractive Irish trio back in may. Watching Foil, Arms & Hog is a little bit of an Edinburgh tradition for Lucy and I. Silly and clever, this is a sketch group that changed my mind on not liking sketch comedy! There’s a lot of comedy at the fringe, but these guys consistently sell out venues. There so popular, on Friday’s and Saturday’s they are doing two shows a night! So don’t leave it till last minute to buy your tickets!
3. Ross + Rachel by James Fritz, produced by MOTOR at Assembly George Square Theatre
You’ll find a lot of shows at Edinburgh Fringe playing with pop culture references but this show isn’t so much the story of Ross & Rachel but all the romantic hopes and dreams the ultimate lobster couple represent. Another solo show and again very popular with the industry lists – which is rare for a show with such a poppy title! “Ross & Rachel tells the mind-bending, heartbreaking story of what happens when a couple that was always meant to be together, gets together” and is performed by Olivier Award nominated James Fritz.
4. Little Thing, Big Thing by Fishamble: The New Play Company at Assembly George Square Theatre
Fishamble are an Irish company that I’ve never seen before, which again is a brilliant thing about the fringe, getting to see shows from all over the world. Little Thing, Big Thing, is set to be a ‘darkly comic thriller’ which isn’t something I would normally go for! Even people who work in theatre, have their comfort zones, mine, paradoxically is the more contemporary experimental stuff, and I tend to err away from the more traditional work but this show sounds like it combines the too. Plus who can resist a story about a Nun on the run?
5. Fable by The Flanagan Collective at Summerhall
The Flanagan Collective are a company I’ve been aware of for a while but never had the chance to see or work with, so when I heard they had a new show coming up to the Fringe I made room in my schedule for it. Thy’re known for mixing, theatre, folk and music together and creating a bit of a party feel for the audience, and it sounds like Fable will be a continuation of this. Plus they are performing over at Summerhall which has really come out as one of the top venues for new exciting work over the last couple of years. If you want to see more contemporary work, that the critics rave about, I’d recommend booking a whole afternoon of shows just in this one venue!
So there you have it, my guide to this years Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Check out the official Fringe website for all shows, and more information on planning your trip. I’d love to hear from you! Are you heading up the fringe this year, or have you been before and have your own top tips to share with me? Like I said, I still have time in my trip, so any reviews or recommendations please throw them my way! You can catch me all weekend over on twitter.
Live life & What The Fringe?! x
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