The “Fringe”. Just to clarify ‘m referring to the Edinburgh Fringe also known as the largest arts festival in the world and not the kind of fringe that window dresses your forehead.
Being a big fan of comedy, festivals and general merriment, visiting the month-long festival has definitely been on the bucket list for a while and I finally made it up there this weekend. A bumpy four hour train journey transported me from London to Edinburgh at what felt like lightning speed. The journey whizzed by thanks to the free red wine courtesy of my first class ticket – kudos to luxury train travel!
No sooner had I left the train I was almost instantaneously sitting in a darkened but quirky Fringe venue sipping on a cocktail named”the zen garden” which was quite the antithesis considering I had to shout over electro pop music on the deafening end-of-scale to have a conversation. I was busy catching up with my friend who was filling me in on the weekend plans – five shows were on the cards for the weekend and the majority were either part of the free fringe festival or had been pre-booked courtesy of my lovely and extremely organized friend who, fortunately for me, spends the month of Aug every year scouting out the very best shows.
For those of you that may not know the way the free fringe works is that you just show up to the venue early (if you want a good seat) and give a donation at the end of the show typically of between £5-10. I wasn’t previously aware of this fact but many of the artists pay a lot of money to the venues and can sometimes end up £5-6K or more out of pocket as a result of putting on their own show so the donation part is really important if you want to support the artists!
First up at 10pm on the Friday was a show called ‘Victory Flaps’ by sister duo Flo & Joan. They delivered a hysterical hour of musical comedy, the backing track provided by a keyboard and various make-shift percussion instruments such as a drum made out of several tapped-together Pringle pots and an egg shaker. The duo took us on a jovial journey through the world of the archetypal millennial existence covering topics ranging from the obvious – the search for love and brunch to the more obscure, a plight to save the bees and a song about a finger buffet. My personal favorite – a song dedicated to wanderlust inspired by their many peers who had gone traveling after university to discover their true selves of course “because we all know that our true self is hiding in another country”. Wink wink 😉
Tomorrow Maybe was our Saturday afternoon show. An upbeat performance set in Mariana’s cafe which serves as the point at which several characters paths cross. Playing on the awkwardness of daily interactions with strangers intertwined with city life it is subtle but familiar. The stories were captivating if a bit cliche at times. The highlight for me was the set up – a small room with only 20 seats where the seating amalgamated with the props to create an immersive experience. The singing was phenomenal and the actors did a good job of playing authentic characters. What was bad? Reinforcement of typical gender stereotypes – come on guys it’s 2016 you don’t have to dress a woman up as an air hostess and a man up as a pilot – mix it up! Despite the few platitudes it was certainly an enjoyable hour.
Next up our first Saturday evening comedy performance was Sophie Hagen’s Bubblewrap. I had heard about her show on a BBC podcast ‘Funny from the Fringe’ and had laughed at her description of how critics had tried to analyze the ‘deeper meaning’ behind her chosen show name – “no” she responds “that’s not it, I just like popping bubble wrap!”The Danish comedian also previously won the best newcomer award in 2015 so there was probably a weight of expectation from the audience about this year’s show. The performance took us through a story of her childhood which she merged with more recent narratives. Although for me I had nothing to compare it to it delivered a steady stream of laughs. I very much enjoyed her ability to talk about challenging subjects such as depression and social anxiety in such a captivating way whilst keeping it lighthearted. She is definitely here waving the flag for the introverts! The anecdote of how she married a piece of wood and her epic 25- hour break up with her boyfriend (a key star of the show) were utterly hillarious. Dragons don’t exist Toby!!!
Immediately following this we tried to go see Richard Gadd’s Monkey See Monkey do show, however upon arrival at the venue we learnt that despite being free it was a ticketed event and alas there were no tickets left. So not wishing to be defeated enter stage right – our ‘spontaneous’ show of the weekend Tiny Horse comedy. This event showcased 5 different acts of 10 mins each and was basically a way for comedians to promote their larger shows. The host Andrea was quite the hoot but unfortunately I didn’t catch the other four (male) comedian names. One was hillarious, two were mediocre and one was actually terribly unfunny – I could almost start to feel myself nodding off! The definite highlight was a lively young Scotsman’s thoroughly enjoyable story of how he managed to cut a deal while being mugged with S club 7 blasting out his headphones.
Last but not least Sunday’s show was Life according to Saki which had been highly rated by multiple sources. Let’s start with the very good: quality of acting – outstanding, production – incredible, originality of use of props to create sound – fantastic. What I found challenging were the stories themselves – they felt at times a little disjointed and I couldn’t see where they fitted into the bigger picture of the overall narrative. I found myself zoning out several times though this could be due to my lack of familiarity with the story of Saki himself and general lacklustre attitude towards theatre in the first place rather than the quality of production. Whilst I like the odd bit of theatre I’m definitely more of a comedy gal so that was definitely going to be a hard sell in the first place.
Also worth mentioning there are a whole host of really fun things to do aside from see the show, there are multiple pop up bars, street performers and food trucks to visit all over the city during the festival.
My favourite non-artsy activity was hiking up Arthur’s Seat for a good workout and also great views over the city – just remember to bring proper boots!
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable trip I can’t wait to go back next year and bring the troops with me!
Have you ever been to the Fringe? What’s been the best or worst performance you’ve seen?