When I changed my plans to visit Scotland in August instead of March, I realised with excitement that I would be in Edinburgh for the famous Edinburgh Festival, or ‘Fringe Festival’ as its often known.
The Edinburgh Festival is the world’s largest festival. It runs for three straight weeks in August and boasts more than 3000 shows in 313 venues. Even if you stayed for the whole time and “fringed” from dusk till dawn, you’d still only see a small percentage of the shows.
I had five days in Edinburgh altogether. One day before my Haggis Adventures tour of the Scottish Highlands, and four days after my tour. My general plan was to spend half of the time exploring, and the rest of the time experiencing the fringe festival.
So much for plans. When I arrived in Edinburgh I just got so caught up in the whirlwind of the festival that I didn’t really get to any sightseeing. I didn’t visit the Edinburgh Castle, I didn’t climb up to Arthur’s Seat, I didn’t do the Literary Pub Crawl or any of the other things I had planned for Edinburgh.
Instead I fringed- and I fringed a lot. The first couple of days I’d start with a show around lunchtime and wouldn’t get back to the hostel till Midnight. My record for one day was a whooping seven shows. And I managed to see such a huge range of shows; I saw stand-up comedy, sketch comedy, improv comedy, full production plays, one women plays, acapella, circus, clowning/mimeing and some brilliant street performers.
The thing I loved most about the Fringe festival wasn’t just all of the amazing shows but what I like to call ‘fringe culture’. There is just such a good vibe in Edinburgh during the festival. The whole city is dedicated to the fringe- even walking the gauntlet of hundreds of people promoting their shows along the Royal Mile was a fun expedition.
The pubs were full of people sneaking in beers between shows. The street performers were amazing and you could always find people crowded around one or the other. And one of the easiest ways to find brilliant shows was just to get into a conversation with the person beside you at a show and ask them what they had seen that was great.
I’ve decided to write mini reviews on all of the shows I visited during the Fringe Festival, even if the festival finished almost three months ago and there is no way to catch these shows again. The first reason is that a lot of comedians and performers return year after year, so my list will give you some guidance if you are planning on hitting the festival next year or the years to come. Secondly, lots of the comedians on these list tour and it might encourage to catch one of their shows when they come to you. And thirdly, I think it just gives a great indication of the diversity of the Edinburgh Festival!
One of my friends from home was also in Edinburgh for the festival so we decided to catch up to see some shows together!
Ahir Shah: Machines
I started my fringe experience with some free fringe. The Free Festival is dedicated to making the fringe more affordable and accessible. It’s a tip system where you give what you want at the end of the performance, based on how good you thought it was.
Ahir Shah was hilarious! As a millineal I could totally relate to all of his jokes about Brexit, conservatives, politics, the threat of terrorism and Islamaphobia. Like all good comedians he tried to send a message through his standup and it really resonated with me. He tried to show that despite all the bad, terrible and stupid things that occur in our world, there is a positive future to look to.
I loved the mix of serious topics and comedy and I think he did this better than any other comedian I saw during the fringe. He was worth the 5 pounds I threw in his collections bin at the end of the show.
This is Not Culturally Significant (Out of Spite Theatre)
As you’ll discover after reading this post, I enjoyed the majority of the shows I saw at the festival. Most of them were so great that I can’t even think about picking a favourite. Unfortunately ‘This is Not Culturally Significant” was not one of them.
I could admire the skill of the actor in this solo show that played a bunch of different characters and transitioned between them in very creative ways. But I just never really knew where he was going with it. At times it was actually very confronting and disturbing and I felt like maybe the writer had some issues of his own. All of us agreed that it wasn’t a show for us.
Ruby Thomas: Chick
This comedy sketch show was a feminist narrative on women and the expectations and prejudice that occurs at every part of their life. I think it was down super well but a lot of the comedy factor fell a bit short on me. At times it seemed slightly corny . I also felt like Ruby Thomas was trying a little too hard to get the comedy factor into the show, thus the jokes seemed slightly unnatural and the message of the whole sketch fell away towards th end.
It wasn’t a show I hated, but not one I was rushing to recommend to my friends.
Suzi Ruffell: Common
We stumbled upon this show because we had an hour to kill between shows and this one looked good and was on at a nearby venue. It actually ended up being one of my favourite stand-ups from the whole festival.
Suzi Ruffell is incredibly likeable and she is one of those comedies that is hilarious without going anywhere near offensive or crude material. The show was centred around her working class family and also touched on issues such as her homosexuality, her goals as a comedian and the struggles of being a female comedian. I just loved it! It was smart, savvy and bloody hilarious!
It was also ‘Pay What You Want’. The Pay What You Want category is when a show isn’t part of the Free Fringe but you may be able to get in for fringe. You have the option of buying cheap tickets before the show (usually 5 pounds) to guarantee a seat, or you can turn up and hopefully grab a seat once all the ticketholders are seated. If you turn up it works like the free fringe and you can just pop a tip in the bucket on the way out. We never missed out on a seat in a Pay What You Want show, although it was pretty close sometimes.
Harriet Kemsley: Girl on a Train
We finished our day with another female comedian. One of the reasons we ended up at so many female comedians is that I was really for supporting the women that are often overlooked, underpaid and face heaps of prejudice in the comedy industry. By attending the shows of as many female comedians as possible, I was hopping to support my fellow sisters. I also just love female comedians; they are usually funny on a level I can relate with and I usually don’t have to worry about crude or sexist jokes.
I thought Harriet was very intelligent, and she made great use of the audience. But at times I felt like a bit of her show fell short, especially considering how much of it focused on her engagement. I think she could have just taken the show a bit further than she did. But I still enjoyed it and she had me in stitches!
My second day of fringeng wasn’t really a day at all. After that first day in Edinburgh, I had returned from my Haggis Adventures and some of us caught a show the night that we arrived back.
Hayley Ellis: FOMO
I hate to say it but I just didn’t find FOMO that hilarious. The funniest part of the whole show was when she was talking about people using a phone during a show, only for my friend from the tour to pull hers out in the front row. Of course she picked up on it and it was hilarious as she was calling my friend out.
This was the day I caught seven shows!
Cook It How You Like, It’s Still a Potato (Romina Puma)
Romina was the worst comedian I saw at the festival. I hated that I didn’t find her funny, because I really wanted to! I love that she is pursuing her dreams despite having muscular dystrophy but I found some of her jokes a little too self-deprecating.
We’re Sorry (Dylan Gott and Evan Desmarais)
These Canadian duos each have their own shows, but they also do a show together. Except they don’t really do it together. Half the show is Dylan’s standup, and then the other is Evan. I was hoping for a duo act but it was just two people sharing space and costs. I thought Dylan was great, especially his stuff on internet dating, but I didn’t like Evan so much.
The Techtonics: Don’t Push the Button
I love acapella and the Techtonics from Imperial College are as good as it gets. If you love acapella and mostly love it because of Pitch Perfects, the Techtonics are actually the real life version of the Barden Bellas. They won the World Intercollegiate Champions last year and most of their show are songs that they won that performance with.
They were great, the songs were catchy and the mixes were intelligent. They were definitely the best acapella I saw during the festival!
A Little Princess (Foxglove Theatre)
This was one of my favourite books and films growing up so when I caught sight of a ‘A Little Princess’ on the festival program I knew that I had to go. And it didn’t disappoint- it was absolutely incredible and definitely a family friendly show.
The acting was superb and the show had me crying unashamedly in the front row. The one thing I loved about theatre at the festival was that you are usually in a tiny venue with a tiny audience and that made it more intimate. You feel part of the show and a lot more emotionally involved. A Little Princess definitely exploited that fact- it was emotional, personal and I think that is something everyone in the audience felt.
David O’Doherty: Big Time
This Irish comedians was one of the most popular comedians at the festival. Every night he sold out Assembly Hall, one of the biggest venues of the festival. The night I went I had to buy restricted view seating because that was all thar was left. I was pleasantly surprised to find it my view wasn’t restricted.
There is a reason this show is a sell out- David O’Doherty is hilarious! I’d say he is probably the best stand-up comedian I’ve ever seen. He had me, and everyone else in the audience, in stitches for the whole show. It was super random, super not political and just a bit silly. Which is what I think made it so special, especially with David playing his keyboard and singing some random songs of his own creation.
My favourite joke of the whole show? “Steve Jobs- well he died and they tried to bring him back to life by putting him in a bowl of rice”.
I’m a huge fan of slam poetry. I spend hours on youtube listening to performances from my favourite artists, so I couldn’t wait to watch it in real life at the festival. The Lost Poets were a group of four poets who each performed individual poems, as well as a few duos. They also have a special guest poet every night and the one we had was brilliant. All of the poems were great and I loved how slam poetry was so different to everything else I had seen.
Michelle Wolf: So Brave
I went to this show after some recommendations and I still haven’t decided how much I liked it. I thought she was funny, and I loved how she tied older jokes from the start of the show back into ones at the end. I also love when comedians laugh at themselves and Michelle did a lot of that. But her voice- oh god her voice. She had this whiny, very shrill voice. She loved to joke about it but it just killed me!
Day 4 was the day that my Aunt and Grandpa caught the train up to come join me at the fringe festival. They got in at the afternoon so I started the day catching a show by myself before picking them up from the train station.
Jane Eyre (Dyad Productions)
This was one of my favourite shows of the whole festival. Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books- it outshines all the other classics for me. And this one women performance was simply incredible. She managed to tell the story I loved so much with just herself and a couch as a prop. It takes incredible acting to be able to pull off that many characters and make it believable. I cried, I laughed and I rejoiced in the wonder that is Jane Eyre.
The people sitting next to me come back every year to watch this particular performer so make sure to check out what her and her production company is doing at the next Fringe.
Pss Pss (Compagnia Baccala)
Mime or clowning wouldn’t have been my first preference but my Auntie’s mother-in-law came back from the Fringe and dubbed this one of her favourite shows. So my Grandpa, Auntie and I decided to check it out. At first it seemed atrociously silly but I soon found myself in stitches. It’s amazing what people can do without words. It was intelligent acting and writing- they did things like use a ladder as a musical instrument and con someone in the audience into carrying the women on his shoulders
We decided to begin our day with a free fringe show. We lined up for another comedian but unfortunately didn’t make it in the door (the only time I didn’t make it in to a free show the whole time I was at the festival). But it was a blessing in disguise, because we ended up at Elli Taylor’s standup instead. She was by far the best female standup I saw at the fringe. So hilarious!
White Rabbit Red Rabbit
Chances are you’ll be able to see this show at places other than the Fringe Festival. White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a completely unique show and one that I found super interesting. Nassim Soleimanpour refused to do the military service required of anyone in Iran who wants a passport. Thus he couldn’t travel himself so he wrote a play that could travel instead. Every reading of the play is different, as a different actor receives the script right before arriving on stage. It’s been translated to several languages and it’s completely different than anything else I have experienced. It’s one of those that really makes you think on a philosophical level about your choices and the impact they have.
Ten Storey Love Storey
I’m not so sure this was the best show to see with my grandfather. There were a lot of c-bombs being dropped. Ten Storey Love Story follows the plight of low socio-economic characters in an apartment block. The acting by the young cast was incredible and the music and singing that accompanied the show really added to the atmosphere. It got some of the best reviews of the fringe and they definitely deserved all of those five stars.
This was the show that made me laugh the most. As we lined up, we were asked to write a title for a Sherlock film. Then once on stage, the actors picked one from the hat and improvised. They were all seriously hilarious- all of us were in tears of laughter and my tummy hurt from all of the belly laughs. My grandfather particularly loved this one.
Our last day at the fringe! We managed to squeeze in some more shows before catching our train back to Chester.
After how much fun we had at the Improv Sherlock show, we decided to try another one that was also a ‘Pay What You Want’ show. This one wasn’t as good as Sherlock but still gave us some laughs.
In Tents and Purposes
This two person play explored the idea of fate- as two girls had their fortunes read at the festival and those fortunes shaped the rest of their lives together. What was super intelligent and different about this play was that they broke the fourth wall between most of the scenes with funny banter between the two actresses. It was one of the roaring successes of the Fringe and rightfully so.
This was the only physical theatre I saw during the Fringe Festival and I instantly regretted not getting to more. The five Australians performed some incredible circus moves. One of the women defined strong women of the stage by handling the weight of all four people at once. They used ropes, trapeze, hoops and other props to enhance the show. But what I loved the most was how all the moves were accompanied by music that created this beautiful and almost eerie atmosphere.
This acapella group have always been super popular at the Fringe but I didn’t like them as much as the boys from Imperial College. Their vocal skills were incredible but the songs they sang seemed pretty standard, whereas the younger group from Imperial College that I saw earlier in the week were more creative with their mix-ups. It was still a great way to end the Fringe!
I doubt my first Fringe will be my last Fringe- I’m already contemplating when my next trip to Edinburgh in August might be!