I’ll be honest. The thought of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had never really interested me too much. I imagined pretentious improv, awkward silences following comic one liners, and a bunch of amateurs performing overpriced gigs. Since my arrival to Glasgow, however, almost everyone I met had asked me if I was going to the Fringe. “You must”, they said, “it’s unbelievable”, they said. Curiosity finally got the better of me, and I headed to Edinburgh on a surprisingly mild Saturday to see what all the fuss was about.
The first thing to surprise me was the very atmosphere that pervades the Royal Mile during the Fringe. Everyone is excited, the air is thick with street food smells, and flyers are handed out by hopeful performers with warm, welcoming smiles. A different style of music can be heard every few hundred metres or so, with buskers taking full advantage of the crowds that are attracted by the Fringe from all over the world. The abundance of sights, sounds and smells means that you have to stop in your tracks just to take it all in.
Walking up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh castle is literally all you need to do to see some of the best musicians, circus performers, and variety shows that the Fringe offers. Everything on the street is free, though donations are, of course, appreciated, and the programme is impressive. I managed to enjoy; two musicians who both played their guitars in ways I have never seen before; a circus performer, all the way from Australia, hula-hoop whilst on fire; an American stuntman dive to the ground from about 100m with just a leg wrapped around a pole; a magician from Poland; and an impressionist who’s Donald Trump impersonation was uncanny. For all this, I didn’t even have to enter a venue.
Of course, when you do enter a venue, the real fun begins. All of the shows I saw at venues were free of charge (again donations are more than welcome), and all of them exceeded my expectations. I saw 3, and I list them in order of excellence.
In at number 3 is the marvellous Griffin and Jones’ Slapdash Magic. While the tricks were all pretty standard, the delivery and timing was where the real magic was at. Comics as much as magicians, Griffin and Jones put on a show to entertain most tastes, and really are ‘the Ant and Dec of their price range’ as Jones so excellently put it.
In second place is the wonderful Jovial Trauma by Yolav and Graham. The pair consist of an ambiguously Eastern European immigrant and his square British translator. The humour is dark enough to make you feel naughty for laughing, but you really can’t help it as the contrast between the earnest and wacky Yolav and his poor companion Graham serves to bring a ridiculousness to the act that lightens the mood (but only a little – it’s pretty heavy stuff).
My clear winner, however, is Danny McLoughlin’s show, Philip was Right. His comedy is honest and current, and his show was brilliantly structured. Danny is a comic who laughs at himself, and in doing so encourages the audience to laugh at themselves as everything he says is relatable. Fussy eater? So is he. Got man boobs? He’s got your back. There’s some clever poetry thrown in there too, and the overall effect is a show that will put a smile on your face whenever you think about it.
For all my disinterest, the day I spent at the Fringe was one of the best I have spent in Scotland. I am even planning to return next year (for longer) to see some of the things I missed this time, and to soak up some more of its infectious atmosphere. Perhaps the thing that most impressed me about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the way that it brings people together. People travel from all over the world both to see and to perform at the Fringe. One performer said she had been training for it for her entire life, and I can see why. To even be there is a joy, and I can honestly say that I even enjoyed some of the improv.