After 10 years of reviewing shows for The British Theatre Guide, I’ve had a bit of experience in sampling the wares of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This of course still means that while I may be slightly more prepared for the quirky weirdness of the shows that pop up during the Fringe, I’m still just as likely to be baffled and enrapt by them.
You see, people often forget that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a massive and sprawling series of overlapping mini-festivals. Even the events in the Fringe Programme itself are divided up into 10 separate sections, varying from Spoken Word and Comedy, to Music and Cabaret. All of which are subject to the whim of the company who booked the show. More than that, you’ve also got a Jazz Festival, an Book Festival and a swathe of other events, performances and general shenanigans all occuring at once.
Scultping your Fringe
It’s quite important then to decide what you actually want to see in advance. If you’re a big fan of comedy stand-up, then you’ll likely not spend much time peering over the theatre and music parts of the guide. However, it is a good idea to wavea cursory glance over those pages when deciding what to see. Just in case something catches your eye.
I’ve found that the best way to decide what to see is to get a couple of copies of the Fringe Programme. Obviously this will be a lot more difficult if you aren’t in central Scotland before the start of the Fringe, but the programmes can be ordered, viewed and downloaded as a PDF document HERE. Once you’ve got your copy of the guide, it’s a complex process of evaluation and decisiveness, as you go through the relevant sections page by page, and highlight anything that looks good.
I use two guides, starting at the front of one, then a week or so later I do the same but working from the back of the programme. Anything I mark on both programmes is a definite, and by the time you’ve done it twice, you’ll find you picked up on a lot of shows you missed the first time through.
If you’re only seeing 10-15 shows, a perfectly respectable number, then this will involve weighing up how much you want to see some particular shows. This is also where people have a tendency to gravitate toward ‘certainties’. As why would you pay to see an unknown quantity when there is a a familiar, tried and tested, TV featured funny-person or a well known play on offer?
This is precisely why I recommend as well as seeing such shows, you make use of the Free Fringe Showlist and Guide I posted earlier in the month. If you are dropping big notes on seeing some of the more well known acts, make a point of seeing a few small ones as well, for example, the Free ones if money is getting stretched too far.
Scheduling your Fun
Once you’ve got it ironed out, and you know the shows you want to see, make sure you plan out the days! It may sound like an obvious point, but if you are only in Auld Reekie for a few days and you want to see five or six shows, visit the castle, and have a nice meal or two, it needs planning.
For the shows I’d recommend you make up a simple list, or if you have a LOT of shows to see, use the Free Fringe Showlist as a template, as it’s the time worn design that I use every year to plan out and execute my review shedules. Of more importance often than time, is ensuring you know the venues.
Looking at the handy map again >
The main centres of the Fringe activity are at the following Locations:
The Pleasance Courtyard: This cluster of venues is in the midst of Edinburgh University’s Campus on The Pleasance, a long hill in the West side of the centre, backing onto Arthur’s Seat. This is one of the busiest Comedy areas, and it’s common to find comedians sitting out here between shows. It’s only short jaunt uphill from here to Zoo, a popular theatre venue.
Pleasance Dome : Another university building, this is filled with numerous venues for both Comedy and Theatre, handily named after playing cards, such as The Queen Dome, and Jack Dome. This is also right beside the UnderBelly: Bristo Square, which is situated across the square from the Pleasance Dome, with only a purple inflatable cow in between (seriously)
UnderBelly Cowgate: is a wee walk away, in a building with entrances on both the Cowgate, and Victoria Street. Both Underbelly venues have a selection of venues within their confines. Of course there are several more venues along the Cowgate, including the Three Sister’s Bar, which plays host to many Free shows.
Summerhall: A Newer venue, in what used to be the University’s Veterinarian Building, now converted into a good local for Arts venues and a few nice bars. Just round the corner and a short walk from here is The Queens Hall, and in the opposite direction Zoo Southside
These are just a few hubs of activity, as there are many many venues dotted around, but it’s likely you’ll find the majority of your Fringe activities take place in and around these places. Of course, it’s always fun to explore off the beaten track! There are so many shows that you can pretty much throw a glance in any direction and you’ll see one. That’s another little helpful bit of advice, and I’ll be back with more tomorrow!
To be continued…