If you’ve been following me on Twitter, it will have been hard to avoid the fact that I spent all of last week up in Edinburgh to experience the Fringe Festival for the first time ever. Now I’m back and have had time to gather my thoughts on an amazong week, here’s what I thought of 2011’s festival.
The first thing to mention is the sheer scale of the festival itself. It’s the largest arts festival in the entire world and there truly is something for everyone. My group spent most of the time enjoying the comedy on offer, but there’s so much more including dance, theatre, music, children’s shows, sensory experiences and the downright weird. With almost 300 venues, the festival spans the whole city and there’s an amazing atmosphere on every street (and admittedly quite a lot of crude graffiti…)
Onto the shows then, the main part. On the whole, I was very impressed with the quality of them with really only one dud show out of the 30 I saw during the week. The prices also come in very competitively, averaging at around £7/£8 per show. That’s not bad for an hour long performance (many of which are available on 2 for 1 offers at certain times too). And if that’s still too much for you, there’s around 600 free shows ready to entice you over the festival.
The venues differ from show-to-show. Some performances were in grand halls as you are perhaps accustomed to, whereas others are in pubs or venues no bigger than my front room. This really adds to the special feeling of the Fringe, the idea of cramming as many people in as possible to experience as much entertainment as possible. There’s a very friendly and buoyant spirit to the whole production (even from those who have to work through the night to make it happen).
Although you’ll see several big names performing at the Fringe (the likes of Rich Hall, Dave Gorman, Al Murray, Richard Herring, Milton Jones, Sarah Millican, Stewart Lee and ‘Barry and Stuart’ all have shows this year) the Fringe is really more about discovering new acts. I hadn’t heard of the majority of performers I saw, but I really enjoyed their performance and appreciated the chance to see this talent which surely deserves to be nurtured and moved up to bigger places.
As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed all (but one) of the shows I saw, but I do of course have my highlights and here they are…
ShowStopper – As a fan of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’, I was thrilled to see so much improv at the festival. ShowStopper is and improvised musical of epic proportions. The audience give suggestions to story themes/titles/song styles at the start and then the ensemble cast of around 10 bring it to life in a hilarious fashion. One of the best improve shows I have ever seen, they really knew how to do it.
Axis of Awesome – Move over Flight of the Conchords, these Aussies know how to rock, parody style! You may have heard of them due their rather large YouTube following, but the live show was extremely funny and very much a headbanger. Great show.
Michael Winslow – This is the guy from Police Academy, Sgt Motor Mouth! His stand up is essentially full of sound effects, all entirely made by the mans voice. I could hardly believe my ears as Winslow dubbed an entire action clip of Star Wars with his own sound effects. Oh and don’t visit the toilet during the show, Winslow has a great mock for that!
Richard Herring – Richard Herring has been a well known comedian for a while, but never quite seems to reach the big time, which is a shame because he was arguably the best ‘traditional’ standup show I saw. With his twisted sense of humour and efforts to offend, he’s not for all, but is a very entertaining comedian and has a great Fringe show.
Idiots of Ants – Sketch was also very well represented at the Fringe, but I would say my favourite sketch group was Idiots of Ants. Their performance seemed to take into account their surroundings the best, involving the audience and making use of the fact this wasn’t TV and was live. Sketch comedy is hard to do live (look at how many takes the pros need on TV) and these guys seemed to pitch it just right. They should have their own TV sketch series (would beat so many others!)
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – Not strictly part of the Fringe, but still worth doing. With the backdrop of the dazzlingly illuminated Edinburgh castle, the tattoo parades military bands as well as adding some humour and a fair bit of assailing. Oh and of course some pretty special fireworks at the end. It rained for the whole two-hours that I saw the Tattoo, yet I would still heartily recommend it to anyone, brilliant experience.
There are several others worthy of mention – Mitch Benn, WitTank, Thom Tuck, Jimeoin, Tiffany Stevenson, School of Night, Shakespeare for Breakfast, Dave Callan – all fantastic laughs.
I did get to see a bit of Edinburgh while I was there in between the many shows. The city is very different to most in the UK, very hilly and traditional with several interesting looking buildings. It’s traditionally Scottish and that was great to see (especially as I’d never even visited the country before). Make sure you visit the newly refurbished museum and the castle while there, both are fascinating experiences.
And that brings me to the end of this whistle stop guide. There’s so much more to Edinburgh than what I have mentioned and several more notable performers. I would recommend the festival to anyone, because it really is for anyone, more so than any other festival I know of. Such as fantastic mix, celebrating everything thats great about the world of arts and entertainment – what more could you ask for?
Long live the Fringe!