I know it’s been eight months but I thought it really was about time I did a post of some kind about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
I like stand-up comedy and because I am ridiculous, I keep a spreadsheet of what I’ve seen, which tells me that since November 2009, I’ve seen 237 shows, encompassing 201 individual comedians, in destinations ranging from Mayrhofen in Austria to Kirkwall in Orkney. But it took until 2013 for me to get up the courage to go to Edinburgh. I had the bank holiday weekend at the end of August planned and then Twitter made me feel so left out that I flew up there one weekend at very short notice.
In 2015, I went up for a week. I took the overnight train up from London one Thursday night and went home on it again the following Thursday. I managed to squish twenty-two shows into that time, which actually sounds like a lot more than I think it was. I thought I spent most of my time being lazy, feeling like “ah, I’ve got a week, I can do comedy another day”. But in fact, on my quietest day I saw two shows and on my busiest, five, which isn’t bad going, really when I also managed to squeeze in a morning in the pool, a bus trip to the beach, a bus trip to Britannia, a tourist bus circuit of the city, a trip to Dynamic Earth and an ascent of Arthur’s Seat.
I… like the Fringe? I think? It’s just that there’s so much going on. I didn’t have to stay up much past ten or eleven at night to be too exhausted to get up the next morning, though. I stayed in student flats off Cowgate, which was wonderfully central and cheap compared to the Premier Inn at Haymarket in 2013. I liked the theory of having access to a kitchen but in practice, I only went in there once. I didn’t enjoy so much the pub outside my window, because they threw out their empty glass bottles at 5am every single day but I could endure that for the price and the proximity to just about everything except the EICC.
It’s all so colourful and so chaotic. After about 11am, you can hardly move on the Royal Mile. Quite apart from the poor residents, there are hundreds of thousands of visitors. There are people flyering for their shows. There are street performers. There are wasps – I got stung for the first time since I was about eight. Plenty of people are either in costume or they’ve dressed up in the way people do for festivals – I wished I’d at least thought to bring my flower crown.
What did I enjoy? One stand-out memory was Get Your Own Back Live – the idea was that kids would love it and the reality was that people in their mid 20s to mid 30s were the ones who loved it, the ones who actually remembered it from TV. Poor comedians can spend months crafting a perfect stand-up show but you can’t quite beat seeing them get gunged while Dave Benson Phillips laughs maniacally.
I really liked Comedy in the Dark – just straightforward stand-up with four acts on the stage, but with the lights turned out. I don’t think it added anything but it was a novelty and I liked that.
I like to go along to Shakespeare for Breakfast – you get a drink and a croissant while watching an hour-long Shakespeare play. In 2013 it was The Taming of the Shrew recast as the modern British royal family and in 2015 it was Hamlet 3D, with Hamlet as a drama and media student. It’s an earlier start than I really like but it’s worth it just once a Fringe.
What didn’t I enjoy? One stand-up show in particular, with only about eight people in the audience, which shall remain anonymous. It got reasonably good reviews for being inventive and surreal and playfully silly and imaginative – but it just didn’t work for me. It came across, on my first day, after next to no sleep on the train, as someone making it up as s/he went along, like a five-year-old putting on a show for its long-suffering parents. And there was one show about cancer that got just a bit too graphic for my tastes.
I also didn’t enjoy my pink shoes – a pair of white plimsolls I customised specially for the Fringe with epic amounts of pink glitter and Modge Podge, which subsequently became so stiff that they sawed holes in my feet within two minutes of getting outside. They had some major surgery one afternoon and are still only wearable with huge ugly leather cushions hanging out the back. But they look great and I felt like the most powerful person on Earth wearing them with my normal wardrobe of very-much-not-pink-and-sparkly clothes.
Oh, and the hills. There were definitely times when I could have done without the hills.
I still think I could, and maybe should, have squeezed in more shows but everything I wanted to see was on between about eight and ten at night, which meant I literally had to pick one per night and let some of them go. I got five important ones crossed off, though – including Adam Hills, who I’ve tried and failed to catch for nearly six years.
I probably won’t be going back this year – if I’m unemployed, I won’t have the money and if I’m employed (at least, in the job I interviewed for on Thursday) I won’t have the time. But I’ll be back – oh, I’ll be back!