40 Hours at the Fringe

Posted on August 14, 2011

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Okay, so it turns out that where I was staying was a totally wi-fi free zone, meaning that instead of regular short updates you’ll get a slightly longer post summing up the 40 hours I’ve just spent in the Scottish capital at the Fringe.

I know that the Scots have a word for how the festival’s been so far – dreich – but from Saturday morning (bar a bad shower at about 2.30pm) it’s been warm and if not sunny, then acceptably clear. In fact, the temperature’s so warm that even if you end up being caught out in a downpour and can’t find your way into an indoor venue, you’re likely to dry out within half an hour anyway.

This was my first Fringe. I was expecting a train full of luvvies congratulating each other, so was disappointed by the journey up being populated with Glasgwegian families with a DS for each child but not enough money for train fares. Still, once you hit Edinburgh itself – and Waverley station – you realise just how all-encompassing the festival is to the city for the month or so it takes over.

A sad off-duty unicyclist in a Sgt. Pepper’s-era jacket sitting on the pavement (tired or just trying to take a break from being in performance mode) was a pretty good way to start the festival experience. The Royal Mile has a collection of rotating street acts which are all very entertaining but – as a personal plea, and on behalf of the street team staffers I’ve met over the weekend – please keep clearly posted gangways clear. It just pisses people off otherwise.

The first show on Friday night that I managed to see was a smorgasbord of stand-up in the staff building (which annoyingly means that I can’t really say “go there!” because if you turn up at venue 2 without a staff pass, or someone with one, then you’re not going to see it). However, the show was headlined with a short set by wunderkid Daniel Sloss, who proved through his polish and timely jokes about the state of our Facebook lives why he’s had a pretty meteoric rise to the top – via BBC3. If you can, go and see his show at Assembly George Square (that’s venue 3) – if you manage to find the massive yurt village that is the BBC’s Fringe set-up, then you’re within spitting distance.

Other recommendations at Assembly from people who spent far more time than my 40 hours at the Fringe include Hot Tub With Kurt and Kristen (she of Flight of the Conchords fame) and Dave Gorman’s Powerpoint Presentation. All three of these are on at Assembly at basically the same time (7.35-7.40pm) so either pick wisely or try and spread your trip out over many days.

Saturday morning would’ve been spent at Shakespeare for Breakfast (C Venue, 10am – venue 34) but for an inopportune night out on the Friday and the need to sleep in. Reviews are very good though, and you get free food and drink for your £7.50 so you should go anyway.

Carl Sagan is my God, Oh and Richard Feynman Too (12.10pm, Canons’ Gait, venue 78) was my next stop but annoyingly Robin Ince is too popular to be able to turn up half an hour early and still be able to get in to the limited-seating space for free, so turn up very early and get yourself a queueing token behind the bar or be disappointed (as I was). Ince walked past me as I sulked in the square behind the venue, wondering what to do next.

Luckily there’s plenty to do because it’s Edinburgh and it’s Fringe time. A trip back to the flat I was staying at – avoiding the increasing crowds – meant a reconnoitre and a £14 ticket for The Phill Jupitus Quartet in Made up (Gilded Balloon Teviot Debating Hall, 3.30pm, venue 13). Obviously, the show’s different every day because it’s improv, but Jupitus’ roster of friends to come play comedy with him is deep and strong. It was definitely the best hour of the 40 I had at the Fringe.

Sadly, Monsters: A History of Villainy (Fingers Piano Bar, 5.30pm, venue 221) wasn’t. Alternatively named ‘A History of Villainly’ on their own promo material, this reminded me of a time in year 8 where a group of my friends and I got cocky because we’d put on a pretty passable comedy revue the previous year and decided to do it again, without preparation. Slapdash, amateurish and worst of all, not funny, I lasted 15 minutes of the hour-long show before I quietly snuck out the back.

It was free, though, and there are an awful lot of good shows as part of the free Fringe, so check them out.

One show which most of the people I was around for the weekend wanted to see but ended up always being too late for was Debbie Does My Dad (Bedlam Theatre, 11pm, venue 49) which is supposedly a humorous lecture from the son of a famous porn star. Annoyingly, given it was recommended at precisely hour 2 of my 40 hours in Edinburgh and I had the following 27 hours to plan to see it, I never got round to it (instead, a staff night out took us to the altogether too cramped teats of Udderbelly).

The Fringe, though, is a tremendous thing to take in, and with the sheer number of shows you’re bound to miss things. Next year I’d probably be more aware of buying tickets ahead of time for the popular shows (Robin Ince being someone who has a significantly larger following than I’d envisaged). Plus I’d probably spend more than just 40 hours trying to tear round the city.

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