Rounding off my backpacking trip through Europe, I spent the final week of my travels in cloudy Edinburgh, the cultural Scottish capital. Having explored the city in 2012, I was specific about how I wanted to spend the week, it being my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The first difference to my previous visit was arriving via a plane from Paris, where I’d set off early yet casually (my final luxury expense of a taxi to the airport), and then trying out the tram system, an overdue project completed in the last year. At the moment, the trams are still very clean so get on them sooner rather than later!
Arriving at the apartment I’d be sharing with my family, a new sort of calm came over me where I knew I didn’t have to take so much care of myself as I had others to rely on. This calm resulted in succumbing to the tiredness I’d been ignoring for a couple of weeks, but I still made the most of my time here.
Indeed, lucky enough to have a week to get over it, I was excited to see some comedy. The atmosphere in the city centre was electric and a bit chaotic as tourists lingered on the streets to watch artists such as mimes and musicians perform as show promoters handed out leaflets for free and paid shows. For once, a street gauntlet of this sort was enjoyable as everyone was in a goodhearted mood!
During the week, we went to see five comedy shows, all at different venues, with three paid for and donations given for the other free gigs. Included in this line-up was Hari Sriskantha, a BBC Radio New Comedy Award finalist (2014), whom I recommend for constant laughs where the material flows really well throughout, and Ian Smith, who had a rather low turnout, in some part due to the dire weather on the day. However, it was during his show that I cried with laughter as he described a young woman continuing the family tradition of getting stuck in a child-sized swing (you had to be there)! He was also brilliant at maintaining control and attention when audience members got up for the loo, where his ad-libbing felt like a surprise bonus on top of his planned material.
In addition we saw Gavin Webster (props for fitting in that many swear words), Tom Stade and Adam Hess, who was oddly enough performing energetically in a repurposed nightclub, one of the 313 venues on offer for 2015. The latter artist was 26 and the way he bounced on the stage reminded me of Michael McIntyre, which may or may not be a bad thing for his career moving forward.
My advice for visiting the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time would be to go with someone who knows their comedy and can point you in the right direction. Failing this, as we all can’t have a comedian in our extended families, research online before you go and pre-book where you can to avoid disappointment. The same is true for restaurants and eating out, as the city is enjoying three weeks of international attention where it’s bound to be a lot busier than usual. In light of this, be careful of price hikes and ‘fringe menus’.
There’s actually an app for the Fringe available in advance on Apple and Android that gives you instant access to the programme, ticket availability and ticket booking. It’s handier than riffling through the massive paper guidebook that’s rather more overwhelming.
In between shows, take a break! The event also hosts a rather more quiet book festival where cakes, tea and literature all congregate under huge marquees. Book signings occur and when you’ve made your choice, there’s a lovely scenic area to enjoy a quick read in the sunshine (not guaranteed), or to plan your next show.
As gigs go on into the night, I’d recommend spending at least one evening out as Edinburgh is lovely in the fading twilight, bagpipes playing, fireworks echoing from the palace and the castle beautifully lit up above the main shopping district.
Finally, I’d say don’t put pressure on yourself to see a certain amount of shows as comedy is actually sort of tiring to watch and it’s best to go for quality over quantity, especially when there’s so much quality to choose from.
My experience was that it’s actually very hit and miss, because it’s so subjective, so there’s a little bit of trial and error. In this respect, take advantage of the variety of free shows where you can pay what you think it was worth, if you can afford the expense. This way, if you go to a show that’s a miss for you, it’s not a big deal and you’ll soon be able to find something more up your street without being out of pocket.
Oh, and don’t leave without a visit to The Fudge House – so many flavours to pick from, there’s probably one for each comedian at the Fringe…