A Tuesday morning and Carmen my 20 year old daughter and I set off for Gatwick at 5am to catch an early flight to Edinburgh.
Everything was effortless on landing – I grabbed a street map off a stall at the airport, we jumped straight onto a tram which took us through the city centre to the last stop, where we had an easy 10 minute walk to our airbnb apartment.
With a quick turnaround we were heading into the city centre – in the sunshine – yes, sunshine, with our events for the day pre-booked using the Edfest app.
So here’s a bit about the fringe taken from the website:
‘Every year thousands of performers take to hundreds of stages all over Edinburgh to present shows for every taste.
From big names in the world of entertainment to unknown artists looking to build their careers, the festival caters for everyone and includes theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events.
In 2015 there were 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues, making it the largest ever arts festival in the world.’
Our tram ride through the city had given us a glimpse – a giant ferris wheel amidst the Edinburgh spires, crowds of people creating a huge buzz.
We walked up to the Royal Mile – the epicentre of fringe activity, and found the street teeming with people and performers, mini stages dotted up the mile with ‘tasters’ of the main shows being showcased.
The first find we stumbled across were some seriously handsome guys singing accapella., They had a certain ‘je ne sais quo’ – that swag, confidence, that meant you couldn’t take your eyes off them. We took a flier and made a mental note to see them the next day. We walked literally two steps and there was yet another male accappella group – it seemed to be the thing this year.
All the while fliers were being thrust into our faces, with heart-rending pleas form actors, playwrights as to why we should see their show and why it was the best thing at the fringe – we started listening, and collecting.
Then to our first performance I had pre-booked – the picture in the advert and the promotional story caught my eye, called ‘Angel’ – the description as below:
‘Kobane, 2014: there’s a siege as fierce as Stalingrad. ISIS, having steam-rollered through Iraq, expect to take the town easily. But the citizens have found a heroine: a crackshot sniper, with 100 kills to her name. And she appears indestructible. She’s the Angel of Kobane.’
We sat in a small dark theatre, with probably 10 rows of seats, and were gripped from the outset as the one woman show took us to a different place. The story began in her childhood, and using her voice and the voice of her father, she acted out how a young girl being raised on a farm ends up becoming a crack sniper fighting ISIS. Her childhood innocence destroyed when her village is taken, she is caught and escapes. Her father taught her to use a gun, she didn’t know why at the time, but his foresight and preparation is what enables her to survive. Finally finding an all-female group of fighters, she has to face up to the realities of survival. Persuaded to fight with the speech from a comrade, ‘If you don’t fight back you facilitate. If you facilitate you collaborate’.
This superb piece of compelling writing was delivered with intensity and was a fantastic start to our fringe experience.
Our second show was of a contrasting nature, a traditionally set production of The Great Gatsby, featuring 4 actors playing all the parts. Using music and dance to convey the mood, and a lit screen at the rear of the stage where shadow silhouettes acted out the darker scenes, this was a stylish piece.
Our early start was catching up with this at this point, so we headed for the burger place to refuel. I was literally so tired I could have put my head on the table and slept, but opted instead to load up with carbs, so huge burger and sweet potato fries it was.
We went back to our airbnb for a chance to meet our hosts and a nap before we ventured out for our ‘late’ show – this one was booked on recommendation from my cousin. A cheeky piece (literally, with bottoms frequently on display), the description read thus: ‘Peter and Bambi Heaven, Australia’s most deluded dancing magicians, and they’re about to explode into Edinburgh. Imagine if David Copperfield and Claudia Schiffer were from Australia’s Gold Coast, now roll them in sequins, set them on fire and you’re almost there.’
This was comedy cabaret at its finest, but not for the faint hearted, and certainly nerve-wracking when you’re sat on the front row…. I’ll say no more on this one as I think you had to be there to get it….
Our next day (after a much-needed lie-in’) we used our app to book more shows for the day based on the fliers we’d been given the day before.
We were able to enjoy breakfast in the sunshine at a fabulous café just 5 minutes from our accommodation, and fuelled up for the day.
First off we saw ‘Playback: Impro’ – one of the free fringe shows. In a bar underneath a pub around 20 of us watched a group of 5 actors act out on the spot improvisations based on audience suggestions. Clever and funny. Carmen was first off to share an anecdote from her year in France (playing wink murder in lectures), another story involved a shark and a speedboat. The finale consisted of a combination of all the stories, coupled with the genre of religious epic to add to the hilarity.
Next up was Techtonics – one of the acapella groups we’d seen on the Royal Mile the day before. This group of 10 guys just blew us away with their spectacular vocals and effortless choreography. Old classics such as ‘I love you baby’ and ‘I saw her standing there’ were punctuated with modern hits like ‘Bang, bang’ (the Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj hit) and Sam Smith’s ‘Lay Me Down’.
When the good-looking lads revealed they were all students at London’s Imperial College, and that they had just won the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA’s) in the US we were even more in awe.
We came out buzzing, and then had to settle down for a sudden change in mood, watching Tennessee William’s 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. The small set allowed for an audience of around 40, and yet again we were on the front row, feet on the small stage, with actors touching distance. The set consisted of a porch swing chair, a few crates and gasoline cans. The 3 actors conveyed the oppressive humidity of 1930s Mississippi – a place where normal rules didn’t apply. As the programme summary said of the piece ‘A dysfunctional relationship centres this disturbing look at abuse and how one woman may find a silver lining in a desperate situation. This play deals with the social and economic climate of a country coming out of recession, and transcends this with the still relevant issues of mental health, domestic abuse and rape.’
Our evening slot was booked with our first comedy act of the fringe, courtesy of Loyis Gola, with his show ‘Dude, where’s my lion?’. As there were only around a dozen of us in the audience, this felt more like a laid-back chat. Loyis drew on his experience growing up in post-apartheid South Africa, and covered racism, poverty, Islamaphobia, terrorism, travel, Brexit and the Olympics in subject matter. Part-comedy, part political and social commentary, this was a great thought-provoking hour spent with a genuinely nice guy.
As it was our last evening we wandered up the Royal Mile taking in the sights, the Royal Tattoo was taking place at the Castle at the top. On the Mile you only had to walk a few paces to see a completely different act – and our highlights that night were a young lad called Morf who was beatboxing and vocal looping – basically creating a full whole sound just using a little black box to record his vocals. He took an audience request and created Bastille’s ‘Close Your Eyes’ which sounded amazing. Further along was a fire-eater. I watched him swallow a 2 foot long balloon, and then breathe flames 20 foot high in the air. I’m still wondering what happened to the balloon – it didn’t reappear…
So – to Friday. Our last day started with a breakfast of note at Café Marlayne – and then we made our only error of the whole trip – we didn’t get to our next event early enough. It was a free comedy show entitled ’10 things I hate about UKIP’. It was popular and we didn’t make it in….so we then tried ‘ Electile dysfunction’ and had the same problem. It seems political comedy is very popular….
Fortunately we ended the day on a high note – with a pre-booked comedy show by Samantha Baines (of ‘Call the Midwife’ fame) entitled ‘1 Woman, 1 Dwarf Planet and 2 Cox’. This was a heart-warming show which used her childhood curiosity about science (and fascination with Professor Brian Cox) as a back-drop for exploring the role of women in science (or lack of them – did you know more dogs than women have gone into space?). The narrative worked well and had us all hooked – serious points were made in a not-so-serious way, but left us all feeling inspired.
Between shows we wandered round the many sights, taking in the market stalls, sampling street food and enjoying the Edinburgh sunshine.
We had our own comedy moment when I spotted 2 of the guys from the Techtonics giving out fliers, including the incredibly tall handsome one that could move and sing like nothing you’ve ever seen – Carmen was doing her ‘no mum, we can’t go and ask them for a picture – that would be SO embarrassing’ routine, when a nearby actor overheard her and amplified….with ‘OH MUM YOU’RE SO EMBARRASSING…’ so everyone nearby heard – we did laugh…..
Carmen’s other comedy moment came at the airport when like the seasoned traveller she is she perched onto her pull along suitcase whilst we were in the queue. Only for it to slip out from under her so she landed flat on her backside in front of everyone…..more laughs.
So all in all an amazing couple of days – I can fully recommend the fringe to anyone – and if you want to check out Techtonics look here 😉