Hacking the Fringe

I’ve spent many hours combing (ha!) the Edinburgh Fringe online brochure this year, in search of comedic inspiration.

It’s hard to conceive of more than 30,000 performances of more than 2,000 shows – and that’s not counting the Free Fringe and other diversions.
The show's only got three hours to go. I'll be fine.
But how do you take advantage of such a cultural banquet, without breaking the bank or going bonkers?

Accommodation costs are fierce, so I went back to our old favourite holiday mode, the house exchange. Initially, I was sceptical that any Edinburgh resident would willingly miss out, but I was wrong. Twice, in fact, for we have arranged two exchanges for a double Fringe binge this season. Not central, but hey? How hard can it be?

I was born in Edinburgh, although I’ve never lived there, so I thought I’d be pretty au fait with getting around.Things have changed – and are changing – and I’ve had to learn fast. It turned out that buying the tickets was the easy bit and I’m proud to say I managed not to double book anything, or book two shows with insufficient time to get from A to B.

A good start, but Edinburgh is pretty intense and, perversely, having fun can be quite stressful. However, after a few days, I’ve been acquiring a few Fringe hacks (ha! again):

  1. Get the Lothian Transport bus app so you don’t get caught out, especially on Sundays or late night.
  2. Fill your pockets with enough loose change to sink a battle ship.
  3. Try not to spend all this lovely change when you stop between shows for a quick gargle of mood-enhancing giggle juice. (Pay with notes.)
  4. If you’re of a certain age, stick to halves to avoid trekking to busy loos.
  5. Use the Edinburgh Fringe venue map, not Google, to locate the venue precisely. Assembly George Square Studies are NOT in the middle of George Square, thanks very much.
  6. Have a printed street map as well, just in case you get your phone stolen, or it packs up. Always handy, too, for when the bus gets diverted and drops you somewhere unexpected.
  7. Four seasons in one day? More like in one hour. I needed a hat, waterproof, thick jumper and various layers including both long- and short-sleeved T-shirts, for venues can get HOT.
  8. Bulky clothing also doubles as a cushion to raise you in your seat to help you see past the folks in front, such as girl who’s just put up her hair, or the six-foot-six guy with a man bun
  9. Talking of clothing, flip flops are just daft. Many streets are cobbled, OK?
  10. Be happy to accept lots of flyers for they make good fans. And leafleting is hard work.
  11. Go retro and pack your own lunch/supper/breakfast, according to schedule. It also helps to pass the time in a queue. Avoid boiled eggs, salmon and tuna. Just saying.
  12. While waiting for a show, don’t get stuck next to boring people who like to SPEAK LOUDLY TO SHOW HOW INTERESTING THEY ARE. Or the dull ones.

OMG. I've double booked. Footlights or Newsrevue?
Wait. I have it. The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy. Something about the hair ...

Sidebar. We were waiting in line to see Thrones! The Musical, a thought-provoking piece of contemporary opera exploring the subtle effects of trauma on the human psyche. Not. Anyway, there we were, munching on our ham and roasted red pepper hummus on multi-seed rolls like the experienced Fringers that we’ve become, when the woman next to us started to regale her friend with a story about how her nan was going to have her leg amputated. “Oh, poor nan,” said the friend. “Just as well the doctor’s an expert in prosthetics,” the woman continued.

Mercifully, their partners turned up and we waited for the conversation to change to a lighter topic, such as how the show was going to tackle the Red Wedding, when said woman drained her cider and uttered the following word I dreaded: “Anyway ...”

I left, taking my ham and hummus sandwich with me, until I got the all-clear. GOT is one thing, but this. Eurgh.

Well, I’ve actually run out of hacks. Enjoying the Edinburgh Fringe doesn’t actually have to be a military operation. Sorry to sound like your Mum, but just wrap up, don’t lose your phone and enjoy the show.

And when you get off the bus, say thanks to the bus drivers, for although they aren’t in the spotlight, they are true stars.

Images: Peter Cook in Beyond the Fringe, 1962; Violet Romer in a flapper dress, circa 1910-1915


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