Solo Spplement: Musings on The Fringe - Is it for solos?
That’s the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by the way, not the hair covering my forehead. Even though I’m an experienced solo traveller, I’ve always been daunted by the prospect going solo to the Fringe. But for my first trip EVER I didn’t have to go it alone – because I gate-crashed my friend’s solo trip!
No not really! My request to accompany her was luckily approved by her (and her daughters). My friend is an experienced Fringe-goer and, as I soon discovered, is also an Ace Strategist who had well advanced plans. And by inviting me on board we both benefited, particularly in terms of cost, as Edinburgh during the Festivals is expensive with a capital ‘E’ – especially when it comes to accommodation. For a solo traveller requiring a modest room with en-suite, a tram/bus ride from Fringe-central, think room cost plus single supplement and double it! But 2 of us could share.
My friend knew exactly where she wanted us to stay and set about finding better, shared accommodation there, if we had to pay top dollar anyway. The deluxe 2-bed, centrally located apartment in a converted church was a real find that we snapped up. Paying only £50 more each than for a hotel room as described above, we had a wow-factor apartment within walking distance of major venue sites, saving us pounds in transport costs. Booking for 2 also saved on the cost of shows, being able to take advantage of the various 2-for-1 ticket offers. We had great fun deciding which shows were ‘must sees’ to book in advance, which BBC tickets to apply for, and leaving time to take in free shows and be spontaneous.
I had been to Edinburgh before on business, and knew it was a beautiful city. But Edinburgh in Festival apparel is a stunning spectacle. From the moment I stepped off the tram I was enchanted by the colour and buzz: the ready-made sites with acres of astro-turf covering squares, parks, whole streets - housing bars, fast food outlets and seating areas surrounding performance spaces of every size from grand theatres, to cellars, tents and broom cupboards. All festooned with strings of twinkling lights and coloured up-lighting picking out the trees and the facades of grand buildings. Magical!
And if, like me, you’re not accustomed to the vertiginous slopes and overhead walkways typical of Edinburgh geography – you’d be grateful, as I was, of an experienced guide to find the nearest flight of steps to climb up or down in order to get from venue A to venue B.
So, what about the shows? Over 4 days we saw 13 including 3 plays; 3 stand-up comedy line-ups; 2 musical comedy acts; 2 improvised comedy sketch shows; 2 BBC recordings, including the Live BBC New Comedy Award 2018, and the Oxford University acapella ensemble. We saw big names and TV faces, talented newcomers on the brink of a showbiz career and amateur performers just having a once in a lifetime experience. My highlights were ‘Flo and Joan’, the talented sisters with a deadpan, millennial musical comedy act that wraps quirky tunes around mocking, feminist, satirical lyrics; ‘Entropy,’ a play by a young man called Kai, about love and quantum physics; Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, including 2 from the original TV show line-up, who’ve still got it; and Nina Conti without her monkey.
The Fringe is crammed with young hopefuls looking to put their names on everyone’s lips. Imagine 4 Fringe weeks for the ambitious funny men and women literally standing up to be judged many times a day, and into the early hours. And in between their many gigs they are on the streets, hustling for an audience, watching their flyers being casually discarded. I heard a number of up-and-coming comedians talking about the relentless hard graft and the loneliness of their Fringe experience. Comedy is no laughing matter for those clawing their way towards the limelight. This dark underbelly of the Fringe is unwittingly symbolised by the massive purple Udderbelly cow, marooned on its back with legs and udders pointing upwards.
I’m glad I wasn’t alone. My friend had been happy to go it alone but had the benefit of experience. In my view, the Fringe is best as a shared experience with a friend - in the endless queues, taking it in turns to go to the loo or fetch more Prosecco, without losing our place in line. Go to the Fringe on my own? I’d have to be a comedian!