I am not going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, alas. Having been up to Scotland in July for a wedding, I couldn’t really justify another trip so soon, especially since I couldn’t find another £9 train ticket like I got last year – truly the bargain of my life. Up until this year, I seemed to have led quite a charmed life with Edinburgh trains – as well as the crazy cheap ticket in 2008, in 2005 I bought my ticket through The Trainline and discovered that they’d put me in First Class. It’s a long, long journey up to Edinburgh and having complimentary coffee and snacks, a large seat, and no-one nearby with music bleeding from their iPod was bliss. Not so good were the daggers looks I got from the people crammed into the corridors as the rest of the train was full – I could sense them thinking, “what’s she doing in there? She doesn’t look rich enough for First…”
Anyway, as I sit here reading the reviews and getting severe festival envy, I was thinking about the pearls of wisdom I’ve managed to accumulate over five years of Fringe-going, and what I now know is vital to get through a week up there. In the spirit of sharing, even though I’m gnashing my teeth in jealousy of anyone lucky enough to be going, I hereby present you with my list of “things you need to survive the Fringe”.
1. Comfy shoes. It sounds obvious, but so, so many people totter around Edinburgh’s cobbled streets in high heels, and then wonder why they’re crippled by six o’clock. Edinburgh is very hilly, very steep, and venues are very far away from each other. I can guarantee that you will be running between shows at least once, so trainers or flats are vital if you want to catch that 5 star show everyone’s raving about.
2. A bag with lots of space. The Fringe brochure is large and the day is long. You will need water and snacks as you dash from show to show with no time to stop for lunch. To cope with the vagaries of the Scottish weather, you will also definitely need to carry the following items: an umbrella, a scarf, a raincoat, sunscreen and sunglasses. Also deodorant, most likely, in reference to point 1. Lipgloss and mascara are optional, but there are a lot of good looking thespians around.
3. Patience. Thirty thousand people WILL try and stuff their flyer into your hand, and you WILL have thirty thousand people try and convince you that their show is the best thing since sliced bread. Be nice, remember that most of them aren’t getting paid, and smile lots as you listen to their spiel, even if you do dump their leaflet in the nearest bin.
4. A notebook and pen. Although you think you’ll never forget the sheer awfulness of a piece, or the actor who’s performance was mindblowingly amazing, after a week at the festival everything starts to blur into a huge drama monster. Jotting down the title of the show, and what you liked/were appalled by, will make the post festival pub chat a lot easier. This is especially important if you are being paid by your day job to see shows (my lucky state last year) and they want some concrete recommendations. Imagine the horror if, in the blurry mess of twenty nine shows in five days, you inadvertently told the programmer to book the god-awful Slovakian physical theatre ensemble over the exquisite Slovenian mime troupe? Your head would be on the block, my friend.
5. A stiff drink. You will reach the stage where you cannot see ANY MORE theatre or ANY MORE comedy, and oh my god, if I see one more show where a lone performer weeps on stage I will go MAD. At this point, the only thing for it is a gin and tonic/red wine/pint of Thatcher’s*
*Please insert drink of choice
6. Realism. You will not be able to see everything you want; your purse will explode and your brain will melt. Be sensible, remember that seeing a smaller range of shows means you’ll be able to enjoy them all, rather than worrying that if this one overruns then we won’t be able to make the next one at the Traverse, and then that will bugger up the evening’s schedule… Also a lot of the bigger comedians will be touring the same show in the Autumn when you’ll probably be able to appreciate it better.
7. A reservation at Monster Mash. Comfort food at its best – their onion gravy is to die for.
8. The ability to survive on no sleep. With the bars being open very late, and comedy shows on until 3 or 4am, Edinburgh becomes the city that doesn’t sleep. Ever. If there’s no show to see, there’s always the alternative of climbing Arthur’s Seat to watch the dawn break. Be prepared to run on coffee and Mars Bars alone.
9. The capacity to watch a god-awful show without a) laughing hysterically in the wrong places, b) making pointed and cutting comments to your companion/random stranger in the seat next to you, c) falling asleep or d) walking out. There is a lot of crap at the Fringe, and despite your best efforts you will end up seeing some shows that you resent for stealing away an hour of your life. Chin up, it could be worse – there’s always a more awful show that you managed to avoid.