“It’s so cool to be at the Fringe with a show that I’m not embarrassed about,” explained a vivacious, young college student as he ‘fliered’ me on the ‘Royal Mile’ during the opening weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Edinburgh is chaos right now. I can’t imagine being a local resident, attempting to go about a daily routine. Forget it! The ‘Royal Mile’ (which is actually a series of seven streets that connect the Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood House) is swarming with enthusiastic performers and tourists at all hours of the day. Look left, and there’s a group of buskers, clowning to a semi circle of families; listen right, and it’s a booming chorus of actors, belting catchy show tunes; stand still, and three producers will simultaneously attempt to shove fliers in your face about X show, with X Y and Z special effects, which is going to have rave reviews— really, they promise!
There are hundreds of shows of all genres—from morning Shakespeare to midnight stand up—playing in venues across Edinburgh throughout the month of August. Lots of rubbish, but also, some fabulous gems. How to sift through the madness? How to know which is the best of the 3 versions of Little Shop of Horrors? Or which of the 2 performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has the best ‘Puck’? How to gauge whether the musicals with the most off-putting, controversial titles (examples: Kiddy-Fiddler On The Roof and The Great American Trailer Park Musical) are as well-written and composed as their eager participants claim?
I wish I could offer you a full-proof formula.
The truth is, even if you research the reviews thoroughly, you are still bound to encounter some time waster shows. The best way to find some performances that will suit your tastes is really to ask around once you’ve arrived. If you, like me, loathe the idea of plodding down a jam packed pedestrian street full of makeshift stages, noisy kids, irritated parents, and over-excited marketing reps, I suggest pre-booking a few shows online—ones that you are pretty much certain you will enjoy—before heading up (exs: stand up by a well-known comedian, performance of a play by your favourite writer, a street dance show with rave reviews, etc.). Book two or three shows for your first day, leaving plenty of time in between each show. This will allow you time to investigate…i.e. ask fellow audience members what they’ve seen, loved and hated. Find out whether Kiddy-Fiddler on the Roof is suitable for your 10 year old son (- no!) or is as hilarious as the adverts claim (-yes!). Stumble across a young writer, who claims that his new drama—playing at a nearby venue in 30 minutes—is even better than his 2007 sell-out production, and take a chance.
And lastly, if you’ve got the energy, hit up the local bars for a few late night (…and early morning) pints. Everything stays open until 5am, and you are bound to find out about some great shows (and creperies…and kebab stands…). But whatever you do, avoid the Royal Mile!