Every August, Scotland’s capital city becomes a very different place.
The Royal Mile is flooded with singers, dancers, mime artists, magicians, puppets, circus performers, escapologists, goths, zombies, dinosaurs, monsters and superheroes. You can’t walk for a minute through the Old Town without having a flyer thrust at you. Virtually every available space, from restaurant basement to public park, becomes a venue for stand-up comedy, dance, live music or theatre. Whatever your favourite genre, from bollywood to sci-fi, there’s a show for you. And there’s a good chance that it’ll be free.
Depending on your personality, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe could be your idea of heaven or hell. For me it’s closer to the former, despite how annoying it can become being continuously accosted in the street. The ability to spend an entire day watching show after show after show after show, for barely any money, is an enormous privilege and one I doubt you can get anywhere else. It’s easy to have a great time even on your own.
This year (2015) was my first living in Edinburgh, meaning I had the whole month to experience the world’s largest arts festival. Below are my highlights, all of which were free shows apart from the Gala. My choices probably say a lot about me and my interests…
Kate Smurthwaite: The Wrong Sort of Feminist — possibly my favourite of all the shows I saw. Kate managed to be very funny and charming, while also getting serious and angry about big political issues. Feminism was the main topic but religion, asylum seekers and the Tories also came up. I passionately agreed with her on every point she made and I’m now a big fan.
Chris Coltrane: Left-Wing Propaganda Machine — this is a very close runner-up. The show was so popular that people queueing to get in were turned away; we only just managed to squeeze in, by sitting on the stairs and effectively blocking the exit! Chris’s show was hilarious and light-hearted, but also jam-packed with hard-hitting political messages that had the whole crowd cheering and booing passionately. Like in Kate’s show, there was a lot of (warmly welcomed) Tory-bashing.
Jollyboat: Nerdplay — This similarly packed-out show was an hour of pure joy. It comprised two enigmatic geeks singing very witty songs about their favourite things, which included Game of Thrones, Disney Princesses, Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, Monkey Island and video games in general. When I got the references it was amazing; when I didn’t (I wasn’t quite nerdy enough for all of them!) it was still hugely enjoyable.
Skeptics on the Fringe (SotF): Dude, Where’s My Hoverboard? — This was the introductory show to a month’s worth of free shows put on by SotF, of which I didn’t see enough. It featured five comedians (one of them also a poet, one of them also a singer) performing previews of their science-themed shows. Some were a little more serious and philosophical, but humour was never far away. Graphs-obsessed Steve Mould (who we knew already from Festival of the Spoken Nerd) was particularly funny and likeable.
Gilded Balloon 30th Anniversary Comedy Gala — I can’t really judge this show on the same basis as those I saw for free, as it cost £30 a ticket and included performances from more comedians than I can count. But it was fantastic and, as a special show to mark the famous Gilded Balloon venue’s birthday, felt really special. The highlights for me were Fred MacAulay and Adam Hills as the show’s sparky comperes, Sean Cullen‘s rendition of Corky and the Juice Pigs’ “I’m the Only Gay Eskimo” (which I’d never heard before, but is apparently quite famous), Barry Cryer, Stephen K Amos and Aisling Bea.
End-of-Festival Fireworks Concert — we enjoyed the festival’s spectacular closing ceremony for free in Inverleith Park, where we could see the actual fireworks from a distance, while watching and listening to the orchestral concert on a large screen. It was really like no fireworks display I’d ever seen: not only were the fireworks choreographed to the dramatic classical music, but they also lasted 45 minutes! We got there early, had a picnic, then watched the concert snuggled up together in a blanket.
This list accounts for only a quarter of the shows I saw, and there were still others I wanted to see but didn’t due to running out of time or failing to get tickets. Did you see a great show at the Fringe? Tell me about it in the comments!
Photos (c) Steve McCaul, used with permission.