Friday, 22 August 2014

Ten Edinburgh Fringe Festival Hacks

Quick-fire Fringe tips

There will be nothing ground-breaking about these, but I feel like the Edinburgh Fringe requires some serious hacks, otherwise your dollar flies out of the tube relatively quickly.

Pay attention to well-reviewed comedy... And little attention to all other reviews. Everyone is a reviewer, almost no-one is a critic. At most, glance over a few if you wish, but sometimes there is just no way of telling how good something is, or it divides opinions: the disparity is huge. Reviews for one show can range from 2 stars from one publication and 5 from another.

Two things that will make your decision-making life easier are:

Listening to your friends - i.e. if a certain show name comes up repeatedly in conversation, it's worth checking out. That said, being a sheep helps not, so only listen to friends who have good judgements. 


The Half Price Hut next to the Scottish National Gallery on Princes Street. Pretty self-explanatory - lets you buy half price tickets for shows. You are more likely to get tickets for a show you want to see for another day, but booking ahead is good - or just try your luck. The selection of shows changes daily, if not more than that, so make the Hut a regular stopping-point when you're in town.

If a show is sold out and you are near the venue, try going anyway - there might be tickets on the door. Or if you show up between an hour and half an hour early, venues sometimes release extra tickets, or press tickets that haven't been collected. Make sure that you call up the venue beforehand to check though, as all of them have different rules about this.

If a show is really, really sold out, check social media channels for floating spare tickets. Simply type in "[name of show] ticket/s" into Twitter - someone might well be giving one away, maybe even gratis!

Enormous Fringe brochure that is free: it's there for a reason. Use it. If you don't fancy lugging it around, spend an evening going through with a fine-toothed comb and pick/tear out pages that look interesting. Pay particular attention to the 'Events' section - this year, it included some extremely interesting talks with famous people (sometimes for free), and more obscure stuff like 1-day taxidermy workshops. The brochure can be found everywhere: if you haven't got one, cafes are a good place to look, or ask any venue for a spare or pilfer from a friend.

Enormous breakfast (and/or packed lunch) - eating becomes an annoying necessity and is expensive. My solution to this was eating as much food as I could physically stomach in the morning. I lasted until around 8pm each day, and even then my dinner was tiny. You might need to alter this diet to include a packed lunch, though - no fainting on unsuspecting flyerers, please, their job is hard enough as it is.

Speaking of flyerers:

Don't ignore them some of the time. If something they say grabs your attention, let it. Stop and have a chat (even if just to make their day), if you have time. You can quickly tell who is doing it to get extra cash and who genuinely cares about getting people to see a good show. Remember that most shows are more or less in the same boat marketing-wise, regardless of quality. Few people pre-book tickets, so each day performers face the challenge of getting a decently-sized audience afresh. Unless it's someone well-known who has sold out months in advance like Caitlin Moran last year, in which case you won't get flyered at anyway.

Be one? Finding work at the festival is a great way to experience the Fringe on the cheap. You can flyer, work at a venue, be a reviewer (if you're good), photograph shows in exchange for tickets, etc etc - the BBC and the Fringe website are good places to check for vacancies. 

Yes, cheap accommodation means emailing half of Gumtree: a must if you're stuck for a place to stay. You will find your "almost perfect" home if you stay up that little bit later and email everyone. Search for "short term let" and "festival let". Look out for university students letting out rooms in flats. They will all be doing exams/dissertations. They will be nice and quiet and chances are you will not see them (or you'll become BFFs over instant porridge). My room last year cost £75 for a week. Or go friends' floor cruising, because it's shameless and fun.

I don't have many recommendations this year, partly because I was so busy and spent a lot of time in various other places in Scotland, which you'll hear about very soon. This, however, is a wee list of things I've either seen or heard good things about:

Pioneer  (Zoo Southside)
No Strings (The Caves, Cowgate)
Out of the Blue (Assembly George Square) 

Bianco Circus (this one is 2hrs long, but apparently worth it)

If you've never been before, the box-tickers:

Shit-faced Shakespeare
The Red Bastard

If all else fails, escape. I am updating my Edinburgh guide from last year, but for now, this post should give you an idea or two.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Edinburgh's best kept secret


"Edinburgh's best kept secret"
[ed-n-bur-uh, -buhr-uh or, esp. British, -bruh]
In order: noun, adjective, verb, noun/adjective

1. The most-protected secret within the city of Edinburgh
2. A statement claiming that the city of Edinburgh is best kept a secret from everyone else

If you've arrived at that second definition before you've even read it, chances are you've been to Edinburgh in the middle of August, ignoring the advice of disenchanted-but-wise locals on Tripadvisor telling you to come in September, "when it's quieter". You end up on the Mile, taking leaflet after leaflet and following the crowds to another stand-up comedy show you really must see because it was given a 5 star review in the Guardian. 

Which is all fine, because you love crowds and you love the Fringe. But sometimes, enough is enough and your heart utters a little wheezy cry like a trod-on snail and you have to run somewhere other than a cafe that turns out to be a free gig venue 5 minutes into your "sigh-of-relief coffee", the only thing you've had time to ingest that day. Arthur's Seat is too far and too much of a climb. 

Where, oh where must you go?

It takes a ride on the free hourly bus from the Scottish National Gallery next to the Half-Price Hut (the second best kept secret in Edinburgh during the Fringe, which I'll talk about separately in another post), or a 20 minute walk out of town via Princes Street. Your destination? The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, surrounded by parkland, the Water of Leith walkway - where you'll mistake Antony Gormley's figures for russet naturists -, or this gated garden. The gallery is split into two buildings, one just across the road - be sure to visit them both (both are free!) for unlimited helpings of Henry Moore, Dali, Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti et al, including Eduardo Paolozzi's stunningly reconstructed studio.

The reason I'm calling it a "secret" is because, if you are visiting for the first time, it is easy to miss (in fact, it is easy to miss a lot of great things about Edinburgh if you restrict yourself to the central three streets). Will talk Fringe advice later, but the main thing is to not be afraid to take breaks from seeing theatre - and your friends (which doesn't mean ditching them). Much more than the art, it is the resident calm tinctured with melancholy that makes the galleries a must-visit.

Shirt and crochet square vest, thrifted
Jumper, Zara, thrifted
Cords, TU, thrifted
2976 Chelsea boots, c/o Dr Martens