Like a Virgin: My First Experience of the Edinburgh Fringe Festivities
Sofia Gallucci-Giles reveals what was hot, what was not, and all things at the Fringe this year.
What would life as a first year English Literature and Drama student even be without my first ever trip to Edinburgh’s world-famous Fringe festival? Featuring some of the world’s best (and worst) theatre, comedy, dance, music and circus; this year’s festival sold over 3 million tickets. The 4000 different shows across 25 days compromises some of the most exciting performances in the calendar on, not just the British, but international theatre scene. This year was my first ever fringe and I’m sure it won’t be my last.
I went to the Fringe with a show, so my experience was very authentic. Having worked as assistant director on Shotgun Theatre and Theatre With Teeth’s collaboration ‘The Remarkables’, my days were scheduled with flyering along the mile, the show itself happening, more flyering and seeing lots of shows (as well as visiting every pub in Edinburgh). Though I’m biased, I had an amazing time, and our show was really successful with its audiences. Along the royal mile, performers are shoving flyers into people’s faces for all hours of the day, attracting audiences to their show. My flyering technique, though arguably quite aggressive, was fairly successful. We managed to shift 4000 flyers for ‘The Remarkables’across a week! I was in a delirious state of exhaustion for the majority of the week, which in an odd way, made it all the more fun. Living in a house with 30 people low-key made it feel like I was in a big brother house and when we were all on less than 6-hours sleep and a diet of junk food, beer or coffee; the delirium was real.
Of course, Edinburgh Fringe is all about amazing entertainment. Some stand out shows for critics included Canada Hub’s production ‘Sea Sick’, about ocean acidity, National Youth Theatre’s production ‘F Off’ at Underbelly Cowgate and the Wardrobe Ensemble’s production of ‘The Last of the Pelican Daughters’. Some personal favourites of mine included ‘Trainspotting’ staged in the downstairs cellar tunnels of one of the Pleasance venues. If you’re familiar with Irvine Welsh’s novel, or the 1996 film version directed by Danny Boyle, then you’ll have some understanding of how outrageous Trainspotting is. This production was beyond what I expected and has genuinely changed the way I watch theatre.
The great thing about Edinburgh is how different everything you see is. I think the weirdest show I came across was an immersive experience called ‘Coma’. I call it an immersive experience, because the idea was that you are laying down in a bed in a pitch-black room with headphones on. Essentially, it makes you feel as if you are in a coma, hearing everything around you and being trapped. The darkness, clever use of sound and the pill that the voice in the headphones asks you to take just as the ‘experience’ begins, made ‘Coma’ a fairly popular choice at the Fringe this year. After being persuaded to go with a big group of my friends, as soon as I lay flat in one of the bunk beds and being told it was my last chance to leave before it went entirely pitch black, I regrettably chickened out. The darkness, claustrophobia and entrapment undeniably freaked me out. Call me stupid, but I just couldn’t hack it. Other shows that were really popular in Edinburgh are those that are performed ‘s***faced’, with S***faced Shakespeare being a popular choice with a full-time run of the show in London too. I saw a ‘S*** faced’ Alice in Wonderland, which after having quite a bit to drink myself, made for excellent entertainment after a long day and before a night out.
“Edinburgh is amazing. I completely fell in love with the city.”
Of course, not everything you see in Edinburgh is award-winning. I lost an hour of my life watching a comedy set that the absurd poster which covered the street lamps of Edinburgh lured us into seeing. It was quite possibly the worst stand up comedy I have ever seen. The comedian’s entire set revolved around damning her husband’s decision to quit his job as an accountant and begin a dog grooming business or flirting with whoever was unlucky enough to be sitting in the front row. In the case that I saw the show, it was a group of 16-year-old boys whose dads sat in the back. As you can imagine, it didn’t quite go to plan. However, I also saw some incredibly moving theatre. Rise Strong’s production of ‘Unknown’ is an Exeter student written, produced and performed piece about one girl’s recovery from a brain injury after a plane crash during her year abroad. Though I knew a lot of people involved in the show and had heard lots about its development across the year, I first saw the show in Edinburgh and found it so beautifully moving. The theatrical elements used to tell this story in such a moving way was brilliant, and fully deserved its high praise from Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke.
Edinburgh is amazing. I completely fell in love with the city. The weather is insanely temperamental. The food was more often than not, very overpriced but delicious anyhow. It was a few weeks of craziness that had over a year’s worth of planning going into it. Since my time at the Fringe, and now, I have been given my own show to direct by Exeter University Theatre Company for Edinburgh Fringe 2020. EUTCo will be taking an immersive production of Ella Hickson’s ‘Boys’ and I can’t wait to get started working on the show and going up to Edinburgh again. Though I had the best time in Edinburgh, it is undoubtedly the passion for theatre, that everyone was teeming with, that made the whole experience so magical. Bring on Fringe 2020!