EDINBURGH FRINGE- A Survival Guide
It’s the time of year when pals are jetting off to sunnier climes (not hard given the STATE of this British Summer) and despite them coming back armed with a golden glow and a cut price bottle of ouzo, there’s only one place I’m fantasizing about, and it’s full of cobbles, wellies and flyers.
That’s right folks, the Edinburgh Fringe festival is fast approaching. This will be my seventh jaunt to the ‘Burgh. I have been a performer, a spectator and above all, a reveller, so I feel I am, these days, somewhat of a veteran. THEREBY I thought I would bestow on you the wisdom I have collated over my years of gallavanting through the Fringe guide. Here’s how to survive the Edinburgh Fringe.
- Right, let’s get this out of the way okay? It rains. But it’s also hot, especially in the venues, as shows are performed all day so lights make venues often INCREDIBLY toasty. You’ll need a rucksack big enough to pack a decent lightweight mac in it, that you can whip out when the wet stuff decides to get involved. Edinburgh is also a real fan of cobbles- heels will look ridiculous. Flat comfortable shoes are literally your best friend. I have travelled to both extremes of this spectrum- once I only took wellies, which do not make for the best nightclubbing shoe, and another (naive) year, only took flip-flops, and I nearly got trenchfoot.
- Edfringe is no place to be shy. Everyone LOVES a chat. People want to talk about what they’re doing, what they’ve seen, what they’re trying to get tickets for, what they’ve heard is good, and it’s a jolly good way to get a gist of great stuff and fringe gossip. Just open your gob and say hi to people, it’s not like London. Most of the time you’ll be half-cut anyway which makes it easier. Which brings me on to…
- STAMINA. It’s an incredibly boozy place, Edfringe. You will be drinking all day, so PACE YASELF. Gentle pints of lager top are your friends; (for once) gin is not (until about 1am). Most bars and venues stay open very late, lots until 5am, so I’d start training now if I were you.
- Leave the house in the morning prepared to stay out all day and night. This is where I failed with the welly clubbing incident.
- It ain’t the cheapest jaunt in the world. Shows seem cheap compared to London prices, but remember you’re seeing much much more so it all adds up. Take advantage of the half-price hut, 2 for 1 offers and the free fringe. And before you ask, no, just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s shit. Lots of acts (especially comedians) go on the free fringe and pass round a bucket at the end because it works out much cheaper for them to put on the show in the first place. Also, some of the most fun days I’ve had are diving in and out of venues to watch bits and bobs on the free fringe. YA MIGHT AS WELL, IT’S FREE!
- Food and drink isn’t that much cheaper than London prices, so I’d recommend doing a little food shop if you can to stock up on breakfast items and a few bits that could pass as a packed lunch (pack a tupperware). You’ll soon get sick of haggis and complex carbohydrates. (ALTHOUGH WILL I EVER BE SICK OF HAGGIS I DOUBT IT VERY MUCH)
- Though saying that, I find the following to be excellent eateries: Piemaker (they make bloody good pies), Mum’s Great Comfort Food (if you have anything other than Sausage and Mash you’re a fool), the Baked Potato shop on the Mile (huge tatties filled to the brim with salt, butter, beans and cheese and left open to eat en route. SIMPLE and the BEST), Black Medicine Coffee Company (strong espresso and nice cake), Loopy Lorna’s (a bit of a walk out, but worth it for the gorgeous tea cosies), Bedlam Cafe (studenty toasties served with a smile), Maison Bleu (pricey but very GREAT French fodder), Oink! (fresh hog roast every day) and the Mosque Kitchen (the best curry for PENNIES).
- Take a notebook to make a schedule for yourself everyday. All the shows have running times so you can work out a plan without realising you have five minutes to dash across town. Especially when you’ve just ordered a round. Heartbreaker.
- The fringe book is your friend. But also the fringe app is really really handy, well worth downloading to check show times, see what’s on near you, and for booking tickets.
- Booking tickets- the queue for the fringe box office on the Royal Mile is always well long, so I’d recommend booking online first, then going to pick up the tickets from one of the snazzy machines they have there. SO much quicker. And you can avoid getting flyered in the queue. Students will stop at nothing to snare people for their acapella version of ‘Sweeney Todd’.
- Flyering- the main way people advertise their shows, is by flyering on the Royal Mile. Do not expect to walk down the mile without ending up at the other end with one bazillion flyers in your hand. So if you’re in a hurry, I’d find an alternative route, but do walk down there a few times, it’s a great way to soak up the atmosphere, see street theatre, and gawp at some of the ridiculous ways theatre companies try and get people to pay attention to them (walking in slow-motion is really popular, as is freezing in a tableau as a big group holding flyers out to passers by. We did ‘The Last Five Years’ by Jason Robert Brown one year, and our way of making people look at us was to make a big heart on the floor out of our flyers and lie down in the middle of it. Particularly brilliant flyering shift on a vicious EdFringe C-Venue hangover.)
- If you are performing, and have to do flyering shifts, pick your spot on the mile carefully. If you get stuck next to an annoying group, it will drive you MAD. We once were stuck next to a group doing a musical set in Roman times who were all wearing togas, and playing pop songs, but changing key words to the word ‘Toga’. Hearing ‘Ta-ta-ta-toga face ta-ta-toga face’ was funny the first time; not so much the 756th. And don’t get me started on the Japanese Manga Comedy guys…
- If you’re performing, befriend the fuck out of the staff at your venue. Seriously. They can either help you out or they can make your life hell.
- If you get chatting to someone in a bar who is making out like they’re an industry big deal, they’re almost definitely lying. Similarly to anyone who is acting like a big shot in Brooks Bar.
- The term, “I’m a reviewer” is outrageously vague.
- In terms of reviews- do read them, you’ll quickly get a sense of what the good shit is. I can thoroughly reccommend @fringebiscuit on twitter, who tweet their reviews in 140 characters for bitesize, snappy reviews to match the pace of the festival.
- Try and wangle your way into the Halfway Party at the Pleasance Dome. I had the most fun there one year, it was Christmas themed, and everyone passed round Santa hats, tinsel was everywhere, we danced like loons and then sang Auld Lang Syne and saw in the New Year at 2am. Bizarrely brill.
- If you have never been, go to a ceilidh. I laughed until I ached as I stripped the FUCK out of the willow. Scottish country dancing accompanied by good pals and pints. I mean, you just can’t go wrong there.
- If you’re there for a week, go hard and sleep when you get home. If you’re there for a month, you’ll need to sleep. A good sleep and some time spent on your own will act like a big glug of lucozade in the marathon that is EdFringe.
- Places I like to hang are: C Venue (stays open late, all the tables are pushed aside to make for a dirty, makeshift dancefloor), Armstrongs Vintage Emporiums (an Aladdins cave of vintage finds), Any of the pubs along the Grassmarket (less manic than the mile, but you still see a bunch of street music and theatre), Spiegelgarden (outdoors garden bar, brilliantly decorated with venues in cabins and huts and wooden marquees), The Three Sisters (BUT ONLY OUTSIDE. Inside smells like vomit. Seriously), Udderbelly garden (big purple cow pasture- has become synonymous with the fringe), Pleasance Courtyard (labyrinth of venues and bars in what is normally a big carpark).
- If you’re going on a night out, avoid the weekend. Everything is much much MUCH busier. For a big gay night out (my fave)- CC Blooms is where you need to be. Cheesy tunes and dirty dancing.
- You’ll see some utterly brilliant shit. You’ll also see some utter shit. That’s the beauty of it! This year, I’m well game for:
‘La Clique’ (10pm, The Famous Spiegeltent)- Sexy, breathtaking circus
‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ (3pm Scottish Storytelling Centre)- Heartwarming, hilarious storytelling for all ages
‘The Play That Went Wrong’ (5pm Pleasance Courtyard)- Side-splitting, fucking funny farce by a razor sharp young team
‘Ballad of the Burning Star’ (5.15pm Pleasance Dome)- New show from award-winning Theatre Ad Infinitum, after the inCREDible tear-jerking ‘Translunar Paradise’ this is a must-see
‘Showstoppers’ (10.30pm Gilded Balloon)- simply the best musical improv group around.
‘Family Tree’ (4.30pm Pleasance Courtyard)- Absurdist, emotional comedy, with a gorgeous young actor playing the family cat. Gotta love a bit of new writing.
‘The Horne Section’ (10.10pm Underbelly)- Musical Comedy Chat Show. Always excellent and the line up changes daily, so worth seeing a few times.
‘Story Shakespeare: Pericles’ (10.15am C Too)- Yes it’s early, but MAN UP because this young company are always worth seeing. Fringe stalwarts, they tackle Shakespeare with humour, energy and music. Always a treat to start a jam-packed fringe day.
‘Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs’ (3pm Underbelly)- PIRATE DINOSAURS. GUYS. PIRATE DINOSAURS!!!!! I don’t think I need to say more.
‘West End at the Fringe’ (12pm/1pm theSpace at Symposium hall)- Just in case I miss London too much and want to hear some brill voices belt out some tunes.
‘The Appalling Carly Smallman‘ (7.30pm Gilded Balloon)- this chick is funny, honest and outrageous. JUST HOW I LIKE MY CHICKS.
‘The Road to Qtar’ (7.20 C Too)- New musical theatre from one of the hottest producing teams in town, with a great team and cast on board.
‘Sincerely Mr Toad’ (3.30 Pleasance Dome) As above. I hope it’s got dancing toads in it.
‘Sam Rose in the Shadows’ (12pm/1.30 Bedlam Theatre) Beautiful, intricate puppetry. Ages 0-100.
You’ll have the best time. I promise. I go back every year because it’s like a drug (but like a nice one, not like crack.) I leave bruised and battered, hoarse and skint, and I count the days until I return once more every year. Be brave, see stuff you have never tried before, you might find something that will blow your mind. Go forth team, enjoy and feel free to post your EdFringe tips and must-sees below! SEE YA THERE FOR A BEER AND A HIT FRINGE SHOW! Last one to Piemaker is a rotten egg.