It’s festival season in Edinburgh!
With the Fringe, International Festival, International Book Festival, and Book Fringe upon us, the question of the month is: what to see?
This is my sixth time at the Fringe, and fourth as a local. When I open my calendar and the festival guides, here’s what I’m looking for.
There are thousands of options, and my priority is variety. I want to see new and exciting shows that will inspire in ways I can’t even imagine yet.
^^ Oh I’m getting excited just attempting to describe the magic that’s about to happen here!
So here’s a challenge – a checklist, a Fringe Bingo, if you will – of types of shows to see. How many can you see?
1 – Something at the nearest venue to where you stay
I used to live across the street from a great free fringe venue. I could have walked out my door and into the venue in 20 seconds. But I never went. Why why why?
Take a chance on the venue nearest you, and watch your neighbourhood transform into art.
2 – A performer you’ve heard of, but never seen live
Go to Edfringe.com and search for some of your favourite performers – they might just be here! We’ve seen Axis of Awesome and Reduced Shakespeare Company this way.
- This Year I’m Seeing: Amanda Palmer at Queen’s Hall (not technically Fringe)
3 – Something site-specific
Immersive, preferably, but see something that embraces its venue in a unique way.
- This Year I’m Seeing: There’s a free two-hour talk on the history of immersive theatre which is exactly my idea of fun. I’m hoping to get some ideas for actual theatre to attend from there.
4 – Something with food
5 – Something improvised
My personal preference is literary improv, but you can find every flavour of improv imaginable, so seek out your favourite niche.
- This Year I’m Seeing: Adventures of the Improvised Sherlock Holmes (for the second time) and Austentatious (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen them).
6 – Magic
- This Year I’m Seeing: Colin Cloud (Psycho)Logical (a Fringe fixture for Steve and me) and Kevin Quantum: Vanishing Point.
7 – Children’s Theatre
Some of the most imaginative and fun theatre is family theatre. Half the joy of the experience is the kids’ unabashed awe, a reminder to have a great time myself.
8 – A Musical
Not just an improvised musical, although I suppose that counts.
- This Year I’m Seeing: Vulvarine after enjoying Fat Rascal’s Buzz: A New Musical and Tom and Bunny Save the World.
9 – Your friend’s show
Support your friends!
- This Year I’m Seeing: Bohemians Reimagined!, Laugh Out Loud (Cry Quietly) and The Mould that Changed the World.
10 – A free show
Arrive early to ensure that you get a seat, and plan to go attend early in the festival just in case. I’m sad to say that I missed Dave Chawner’s show last year because I didn’t prioritise it early enough. Bring cash to tip the performer afterwards!
- This Year I’m Seeing: Dave Chawner: Mental
11 – Music
Take a break from theatre and comedy and enjoy music. A few years ago seeing Karine Polwart was the mindful, folk break I needed to refuel mid-festival.
12 – Something at the International Book Festival
Don’t forget about the Book Festival! At the very least, get a sampling at Ten at Ten: free, ten-minute readings every morning (but book your ticket in advance).
- This Year I’m Seeing: Carol Ann Duffy, Keith Hutson & Mark Pajak
13 – Something at the Book Fringe
While you’re at it, check out the Book Fringe at Lighthouse and Golden Hare! Events are free and unticketed, with a lot of author overlap with the International Book festival.
- This Year I’m Seeing: Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die
14 – Something at the International Festival
The Fringe may have surpassed Edinburgh’s original festival in size, but don’t overlook the International programme!
- This Year I’m Seeing: Home
15 – Something from the Korean Season
I adore the enthusiasm and spirit of the Korean Season performers. Every year they are first on the Royal Mile in the morning promoting their shows. This attitude carries through their performances, which are full of zest. And I like to celebrate my heritage :)
- This Year I’m Seeing: Black and White Tea Room – Counsellor
16 – Something at Summerhall
The centre of the festival, in my opinion (and I’m not alone in that), with a thoughtful and diverse programme. If you’re ever overwhelmed by all the festival has to offer, just narrow it down to what’s on at Summerhall.
17 – Something at the Traverse
Edinburgh’s New Writing venue has a particularly exciting lineup this year. Go to their breakfast plays for a double tick!
It’s worth mentioning that shows are not always on at the same time at the Traverse. Check the listings to get the full picture.
18 – Something from a flyer, especially if the performer handed it to you
Dedicate an afternoon to embracing the flyerers. Walk down the Royal Mile shopping for theatre.
Chat with the people handing you the leaflets, especially if it’s the performer flyering for their own shows. This is unbelievably tiring and I like to reward their effort.
19 – Your friend’s choice
Go to something just because a friend is going. Let them introduce you to something they’re excited about. This is how I found out about Josie Long and Chris Gethard.
20 – A genre you’ve never seen before
A new type of dance, physical theatre, circus, spoken word, opera… There must be something completely new and strange that you’ve never seen before!
21 – Something from a country you’ve never been to
Take advantage of how many productions from different countries are here at the same time, and travel the globe via their performances. I’ve never been to Argentina but I’ve seen Un Poyo Rojo. (Thanks Katie for this idea!)
22 – Something recommended by Edinburgh Fringe Review
I wrote for them back in the day, and that’s how I know they’re great ;) They cover lesser known productions and are great for finding hidden gems. I discovered Lucy, Lucy, and Lucy Barfield through them *before* Lyn Gardner wrote about it. Speaking of which…
23 – Something Lyn Gardner said to see
My favourite theatre critic, Lyn Gardner, is a true champion of theatre. Last year half the things I saw were by her recommendation. I’ve bookmarked her profile on The Stage to read every morning. Here’s her guide to the festival this year.
- This Year I’m Seeing: Casus: You & I, Daughter, The Greatest Play in the History of the World… and Underground Railroad Game
24 – Something awful
Don’t try to see something awful, but if you do leave a show going this is terrible, congratulations, you get to check it off this list! It’s all part of the experience.
Anything I’ve missed? How do you decide what shows to see?
P.S. A lot of my favourite performers from 2017 are back!
P.P.S. If you need to get some work done between shows: Best Edinburgh Cafés with WiFi by Neighbourhood