Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011

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I have just got back from three nights and two days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I would have to say they have been the funniest days of my life – thus far, as I may go again. With over 40,000 performances this festival is continuing to grow year after year with the visitors and talent increasing respectively. Saying this, as a first timer to the fest and living in Canada, I have been a bit slack at following the British comedy scene. When looking through the brochure online I was a little overwhelmed at the amount of things available and I kept putting it at the bottom of my ‘to do’ list. Luckily my sister, and YouTube, got me back up to date and I managed a few nods of agreement about who to see.

Here are a few tips about heading to the Fringe;

  • It’s busy – book your accommodation early. The further out you are the cheaper it is and there are trains and buses running regularly to certain places. You can even book a room at the University and stay in the dorms, and if there’s a group of you look at the self-catering options available to you. Having said this, it’s great being in the hub of it all and being close means you can make impromptu decisions on extra shows, and extra drinks!
  • Book tickets for the people you want to see. The Fringe can be a little overwhelming with so many acts to choose from, my suggestion would be to pick your top performers and then build the rest in around them.
  • Location, location, location  – with 258 venues make sure when you’re booking shows that you look at where they are. Edinburgh is a big city and unless you’ve got some good walking shoes you need to pick places relatively close together. There are a lot of crowds so sometimes it’s hard to get where you want to go in a rush. They do not appreciate late comers and if you have ever been witness to a late comer to a comedy show then you may want to think twice.
  • Food and Drink – Edinburgh has some amazing bars, pubs and restaurants, but they do get busy. Book a table ahead of time and with plenty of wiggle room before your next show. Most of the venues have their own bars, and the numerous  beer gardens also sell a great range of quick and tasty food.
  • Take a break – back to back shows are great, but the Fringe isn’t a race. Slow the pace and take in the amazing city around you. If you’re staying for longer a trip to the castle is well worth it. In between shows grab a pint and work out what’s next.
  • Don’t be afraid to go alone – if you’re in a large group don’t be afraid to break off and go and see a show by yourself. There are loads of people doing it! Not all your tastes will align and it’s easy to meet up after and regale each other with the run downs.
  • Free stuff – Tickets range from £5 – £12 depending on the show, so things can add up quickly. However, there is a lot of free comedy available. You will be bombarded with flyers the entire time you’re there so take a moment to look through and pick out which ones look good. There are often review boards set up at the larger venue sites and obviously the newspapers and online sites are a great way to see what’s hot. If it’s free, remember to stick a couple of quid in at the end as these performers are literally paying to make you laugh.

Notable performances;

We were at the Fringe to celebrate my Dad’s 60th. Him and his wife had been before so they were a dab hand at negotiating timing, but things change year after year  – and that’s the fun of it! As we all poured over the brochure, that was as big as a Dickens novel, we agreed that variety would be the key to our success. We ended us watching stand alone comedians, cabaret, comedy troupes, puppets and magicians – I’m sure I’m forgetting another genre, but you get the gist. All the venues are relatively small, which makes for great interaction with the performers – if you’re not the “join in” type the front two rows and end seats are probably ones to avoid.

We pre-booked Paul Foot and Tim Key, and we were not disappointed. Paul Foot’s (3.5/5) manic stage presence was only heightened by the fact there was only about 30ppl in the room. He spent about 20 minutes introducing the show, and then another ten performing it from someones sternum. His interaction with the room was excruciatingly funny, if not slightly worrying at times – one of those “please not me” moments. This was our first show, and as we left the dark, little room we were gagging for more.

Paul Foot – YouTube

Tim Key (5/5) was next. As we filed in, he was already on stage looking amused as the ushers made us shuffle up on our seats so they could fit in the sell-out audience. There was a bath in the middle of the stage, which we would soon come to realize was one of the focal points of the performance. Key’s comedy style is a lot about timing, leaving us dangling on an eyebrow lift, and giggling at his cheeky half-smile. No comment is left uncontemplated, no action thrown to the wind. He was adept at including the audience in his random one-liner poetry, and bringing them in on the longer, story style, monologues. In the famous game of, “If you had a dinner party, who would you invite?” he’s on my list.

Tim Key – YouTube

Jon Richardson (4.5/5) was another lone male comedian we’d pre-booked. He read to us from his new book, “It’s not me, it’s you” which I am now dying to get my hands on. He is a self proclaimed OCD sufferer, which oddly I could relate to in my own small, manically tidy way; he likes cutlery draws to be well organized, I like rows of shoes in size ascending order. It was great to be let in on the inner workings of this mans mind; he’d written down all those everyday things that are actually extremely funny when told in a dead pan Lancashire accent. If you ever go and see him, look out for the high pitched squeaky sounds he makes when he slips up – even these are comic genius. There’s an underlying sadness to his writing, and this reflective style is actually really refreshing and down to earth.

“I haven’t woken up with a cup of tea by the bed for seven years. It seems such a small thing but it’s one of a thousand things I miss about having someone around to take care of me. I have spent my entire adult life getting things the way I want them and all I want now is someone to give it all up for.” Jon Richardson

Jon Richardson – YouTube

Other amazing shows that stood out include; Comedy in the Dark – on at midnight they turn out the lights as a range of different comedians take to the stage. The Dog Eared Collective – a four person strong comedy troupe with inventive sketches that made me cry with laughter. The Girl with the Iron Claws – a little bit of theater that was simply magical, amazing use of character, voice, and puppetry that take you to another world.

The festival has a carnival feel to it, with buskers and stalls lining Edinburgh’s cobbled streets. I loved every moment of my experience there and would encourage anyone who likes to laugh to head there at some point in their lives!

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