The largest festival anywhere in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival just seems to go from strength to strength. Famous around the globe for the quality of its street theatre and comedy, ‘The Fringe’ now boasts more than 250 venues, more than 2,000 separate shows, and more than 31,000 different performances during its run in August.
The Fringe began at the same time as the official Edinburgh International Festival – 1947 – when several theatre groups arrived in Edinburgh to perform, even though they had not been invited. This became such a regular occurrence that, in 1958, the Festival Fringe Society was established to co-ordinate the growing number of activities. Now, as then, simply anybody can apply to perform at the Fringe – this is a completely open festival so, each summer, festival-goers can see some of the most famous names in contemporary entertainment perform just a street away from groups from schools, colleges and overseas.
There is an Official Fringe Programme published at the beginning of June each summer and this contains all the details of every show but you will also find daily programmes of events – in addition to the hundreds of people giving out ‘flyers’ everywhere you go. There is really no excuse for missing out on anything! Full details of the programme and availability of tickets can be found at on the Fringe Festival Website.
The entertainment ranges from theatre, musicals, comedy, dance, children’s theatre, exhibitions and staggeringly varied street entertainment – I vividly recall seeing a very young Eddie Izzard performing an hilarious ‘escape artist’ routine in front of the Scottish Portrait Gallery many years ago. The Perrier Comedy Awards – now known as the if.comeddies, awarded at the Fringe each year, have become one some of the most prestigious prizes for contemporary comedians. Between 1990 and 1993, for example, Sean Hughes, Frank Skinner, Steve Coogan and Lee Evans took the main awards – with others such as Jack Dee, Eddie Izzard, Lily Savage, Jo Brand, Mark Thomas, Harry Hill, Phil Kay and Greg Proops also being nominated. It is little wonder, then, that now over 1.5 million people come to the Fringe annually – many of them seeming able to squeeze an inordinate number of events into every single day they attend – and all searching for the next big star who has come to the festival to be discovered.
One recent development, which has been enthusiastically received, has been an increase in the number of Fringe shows that have free admittance; now around the 400 mark. Admission prices at the other shows vary considerably. With the Box Office opening in June, the major venues, such as the Assembly Rooms, Pleasance and the Gilded Balloon tend to sell out very quickly so tickets for these need to be booked in advance. One of the great joys, though, is to be able to stumble across something in a church hall somewhere that is absolutely original and groundbreaking.
With so many people attending the Fringe, and the other festivals in the city during August, the population of Edinburgh doubles in size – and this puts a premium on accommodation of all types. You do need to book well in advance – even some of the camp sites can be fully booked. However, transport links with towns outside the city centre are excellent – even Glasgow is less than an hour on the train – so it is possible to find suitable places outside Edinburgh at perhaps a more reasonable price.
The Edinburgh Fringe is not simply the Chelsea ‘set’ migrating to Scotland for a few weeks in August. It is a cosmopolitan experience with performers and spectators from all over, meeting up in one of the world’s most beautiful and friendly cities.
It really is unique – if a little exhausting!