The Edinburgh Festival (s)
Across about 200 venues city wide, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
The Edinburgh Festival (s) Reviews
One of the largest arts events in the world. Aug 11, 2011
The Edinburgh International Festival, Festival Fringe (of which the Comedy Festival is a cleverly branded fraction), Art Festival and Book Festival run at the same time in Edinburgh. With around 200 venues showing back to back shows, ranging from Comedy, Cabaret, Visual Arts, Author Talks, Opera and serious theatre, over the whole month of August, this is still one of the world’s largest festivals.
There is nowhere in the world where the range and quality of arts events is as diverse or as high. It can be an utterly bewildering experience, but it is something that every serious fan of comedy or theatre should do at least once. Of course, the quality is also very variable, and you are likely to see some bad shows as well as life-changingly good shows. Here is a survival guide.
Picking your shows
Almost any commedian worth the name starts their career at the fringe, and the comedy is a major draw for most people. As well as big names and people from the radio and TV, there will be up and coming acts you've never heard of, and people that are, for example, huge in Australia but not the UK. There are also lots of acts who really don't seem to want to be famous, but love the thrill of the festival and play here year after year, including some amazing cabaret acts. It can be hard to choose.
As the festival progresses, acts will post up stars from their reviews on their posters, which can give you a clue. All the local and national papers send reviewers. But it’s also good to get chatting to people in queues, as word of mouth spreads fast. And some of the most hyped acts can be rubbish – I hated the one act that we pre-booked as a “festival legend.”
Try to see something new. The Cabaret acts like Vive Cabaret often have a range of acts that you wouldn’t necessarily choose to see normally – I absolutely loved the acrobat at one, and I would never pay to see an acrobat normally, and I also saw a musical comedy about some Zombats (that’s right, Zombie Wombats) taking over a caravan park, which was brilliant, and a surprisingly good hour long one man opera starring Marc Almond as a man surviving the plague. In any other context, I would have dismissed that as clearly pretentious nonsense, but it was raining, and as it happened, it was good.
There are very, very few places in the world where you cannot get a room if you turn up unplanned. Edinburgh in August is one of them. Book, and book early.
Edinburgh is a tiny city, and you can probably walk everywhere. But venues, even venues that share a name (e.g. Pleasance and Pleasance Kingdome), can be a serious walk away from each other, so if one show finishes at 7pm and the next starts at 7.30pm you might be cutting it fine for getting a seat.
Getting a seat
Almost no gigs allocate seating. If you are late, you are going to end up in a bad seat. And if you walk in late, then the act will see you. There is a certain kind of comedian who takes the view that you are now going to be the butt of every joke all night. Just sayin’.
It is very easy to spend a small fortune on Edinburgh. Gig tickets range from free to £25 ish.
The free ones tend to be new comedians learning their trade, so they often make a loss on coming up. Gigs like that often pass a bucket around at the end – if they were at all funny, try to offer them a bit of financial encouragement. After all, if they are the next big thing, you can be seriously smug about seeing them in a basement in a pub at 3 in the afternoon.
One way to save money is to gamble on the review shows. Not reviews in the sense of critics, but in the sense of shorter sets by more performers. At the late night comedy they often doesn’t publish who is playing, but charges £5 ish and you just take a chance on whether the comedians are any good.
Although the beers at the gigs are often at inflated prices, the beers in the pubs are not, so drinking in pubs helps. This cuts into your festival time and if you buy beer at gigs, you can take it in with you, so swings and roundabouts.
if you have heard of someone, they will be more expensive – take a chance on some random acts and you might get a great gig for far cheaper.
Remember to eat. . The food stalls near the venues are expensive, so you are better off eating somewhere else when you happen to have a spare hour, even if it is at a funny time of day. But, if you are up at George Square, you are lucky. The legendary Mosque Kitchen (yes, that is the kitchen attached to the Mosque) has just upgraded to a proper little café where you can get vast portions of great curry on plastic plates for £5.
You are in Edinburgh. I don’t care how sunny it is now, bring a raincoat and a fleece. Give it an hour and there is no guarantee it won’t be hailing. And girls, you are going to regret it if you wear high heels.
See Camille O’Sullivan
Amazing singer. She sang a Nick Cave song and had almost all the men in the audience in tears. Possibly the best singer I have ever, ever seen and regular readers know I go to a lot of gigs. Honestly. Just go.
Part of the 2011 - UK Hometowns travel blog
Part of the list Edinburgh with Sarah Elaine
Part of the list Things I have done in Scotland
Part of the list Art in the UK
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