I finally manged to get to Edinburgh last week to experience both the beautiful city and the fringe for the first time in my life. I am officially in Love. I feel like I’ve just come back from parting with a holiday romance, convinced that my life has been changed forever by the brief but wonderful moments we shared.
You can read a proper grown up and serious review of my time here on lifestyleplanet.org which puts my experience into much more succinct words but I quite want to just blabber for a bit longer, it was really that tremendous.
Arriving off an early flight I was exhausted but unable to check into my hostel (sadly my pitiful budget meant sleeping in a bunk bed underneath a snoring hippy was inevitable) the only thing to do was to get out there and start exploring. 10 hours later I had got completely lost in Edinburgh’s stunning cobbled streets, seen a gorgeous view of the whole city from the top of Calton Hill and had very quickly found myself in the epicentre of both Edinburgh and the Fringe, Royal Mile.
With something close to 24,000 acts at the festival getting noticed is a huge hurdle to overcome and the whole street is packed to bursting with colourful performers of all shapes and sizes. These perky drama students will literally stop at nothing to shove a flyer in your hand… one girl lay down in the street in front of me … it is mega intimidating! If you’re not careful you will be assaulted by an army of adolescents in period costume enthusiastically chundering ‘so yah its a fresh retelling of Titus Adronicus, we’ve added s+m and hard core punk’…thanks Tarquin I’ll consider it.
Completely overwhelmed by this plethora of choice I didn’t immediately book anything but retreated to the lovely PBH Free Fringe, its brochure being helpfully laid out by time of the day and wondered about getting to know the city. Granted I did see some pretty funk shizzle on that first mad day, but that is the beauty of it really, you never quite know what you’re going to get. Also a lot of performers who are doing paid shows use the free fringe to promote their shows so its a great way to see if you like them before booking a ticket. I kept going to shows in my spare minutes all week and although my enthusiasm for tramping all over the city had started to wear off by Sunday I still loved it for its flexibility. Shawn Hitchins was probably my fav free fringer overall with a comedy show called Ginger Nation about his campaign to repopulate the world with the our Mighty Race! A man after my heart who has actually gone so far as donate his sperm to a lesbian couple!! Amazing story and absolutely freakin hilarious!
Organising myself on a budget was probably the biggest challenge of the week and deciding what to see when was the hardest thing to get my head around at first. The thing was how could I tell what was going to be good and what was going to make me chew my own hand off at the waste of precious money. In the end I was very lucky that I was given the chance to review quite a lot of things for free and everything I did pay for came with a solid recommendation or at least a favourable write up from a major newspaper.
At first I booked up a lot of comedy, its definitely the most high profile art form at the fringe and the most readily accessible. You pretty much know that you’re going to get a man (sometimes a woman but let’s face it mainstream comedy is still VERY much a man’s world…) behind a microphone attempting to make you laugh.
So James Acaster’s critically acclaimed show Lawnmower was one of my first choices. It was actually slightly disappointing, he wasn’t quite as witty as I thought he’d be but definitely a bonus point for being dressed head to toe in M and S and confessing an addiction to percy pigs…v v good move! Also Ginge so you know, inevitable that I fell slightly in love at first sight.
I saw a lot of comedy on the free fringe in the first couple of days and also booked up for Fleabag, The Play that Goes Wrong and Lights, Camera Improvise. I enjoyed all three of these shows massively, they were hilarious and tremendously well acted. Fleabag, written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, was funny but also quite bleak and not all that easy to watch by the end. It was a one woman show that told the story of a girl whose life unravels when her best friend commits suicide and all her relationships start to break down. Darkly comic it revealed the emptiness behind her hedonistic existence and asked searching questions about our human need for intimacy and pleasure.
Solomon and Marion was the first play I saw and an absolute heartbreaker. Set in rural South Africa it was about an old British lady who is coming to terms with the death of her son and thefriendship she develops with a mysterious Xhosa boy who keeps visiting her house. Marion was played by Dame Janet Suzman who was amazing, a performance full of intense emotion which was only occasionally overdone. The story was harrowing but ultimately uplifting and probably the most powerful piece of theatre I saw all week.
I did find it difficult to pick out theatre however. The Royal Mile aside it is so much less visible on billboards and just generally on Edinburgh’s streets than comedy. Every fringe venue that you go to is plastered with flyers but they become like wall paper after a while, you just stop noticing them. In the end meeting up with a friend who was in a play was the best thing to do as she had loads of great recommendations. I saw some stuff I would never have chosen without guidance but was so glad I did. Squally Showers by Little Bulb was a bizarre exploration of physical theatre and expressive movement, charming, hilarious and completely unique. Performance artist Byrony Kimmings‘ piece was performed in collaboration with her 9 year old niece. It was extremely popular and very interesting. She told the story of looking after her niece for the summer and their working together to put on a show. The show combined a unique aesthetic vision with an honest and heartfelt performance where Byrony and her niece lived in a fantasy fairy tale world whilst exploring extremely adult and at times terrifying themes. The show is very difficult to describe accurately…I’m making it sound far more poncy that it was, basically it was extremely entertaining and also explored Bryony’s fears for her nieces future, her need to protect her and her understanding that ultimately this isn’t going to be possible. It was witty, entertaining and just generally a delight to be a part of.
One thing I instantly loved about the Fringe was the diversity of shows on offer. In my week I saw amazing spoken word like Tongue Fu and Solpadeine is my Boyfriend, along with hilarious improv, bizarre cabaret and pant wet-tingly funny stand up. The other thing I loved was the variety of venues. All within walking distance of each other the four main venues are Gilded Balloon, Underbelly, Assembly and Pleasance and each offers their own unique flavour. But the whole of Edinburgh is transformed during the Fringe, everything from restaurants to under ground vaults and huge lofts are turned into performance spaces and you will find yourself in some truly odd places (Banshee Labyrinth is definitely worth a visit simply for the novelty factor of listening to spoken word in a cellar surrounded by plastic limbs masquerading as ornaments).
With such an onslaught of culture at your finger tips I did notice after about the 4th non-stop day that I was both exhausted and getting slightly jaded by the experience. I had one dud day where everything I saw just pissed me off and I just wanted to curl up with a p.g. wodehouse and be done with it. With so much on offer even the good stuff starts to loose impact after all a while and you really have to focus to keep listening and taking it all in, I felt completely saturated at times.
You definitely need to persevere and take your time to get the most out of Edinburgh but overall I was pleased with the choices that I made. I came back exhausted and completely penniless but fired up with so many new ideas for my own writing, inspired by the huge variety of art forms and stories I had heard.
Finally there was only the megabus home to endure…one day I will look back and laugh, confident in the knowledge that I will never have to go through that traumatic experience again. At least I had the memories from an amazing week to get me through…12 hours of hell is a small price to pay for a fab week of entertainment.
Role on next year when I might even be bringing my own show…watch yourself Tarquin you’ve got some competition!
Oh and here are links to my various reviews: