Posted in Travel

Edinburgh Festival “Fringe Benefits”

If you’re in the UK (or anywhere, really) and looking to escape the Olympics or you just aren’t that into sport, check out the Edinburgh Festival Fringe aka Fringe. The 65-year old arts festival kicks off tomorrow, Friday, August 3rd, and runs through August 27th in the Scottish city. With its origins stemming from eight renegade theatre groups refusing to take no for an answer, Fringe is now the largest arts festival in the world. Groups from all over the world enter to perform theatre, opera, dance, and comedy, just to name a few.

What may be a draw for some and a caveat emptor for others is the constitutionally-written rule that the organizing group shall not vet any of the performers. Seasoned veterans mixed in with new up-and-comers. Anything and everything could be a flop or be the next big thing. I found this added an air of excitement as I walked up and down the Royal Mile and down into the West Princes Street Gardens below the Castle.

There were street performs every few meters and tons of people passing out adverts for their performances. Jugglers, acrobats, break dancers, classical musicians, drum circles, and people on stilts as far as the eye could see. The overload of sights and sounds were in stark contrast to the old, dark stone buildings lining the narrow roads. The oddity was a spectacle itself.

If you aren’t sure what you want to see often those on the street are giving you a free preview of their shows. See something you like – ask one of the group members for information on their show. There are also a number of free shows to check out if you aren’t sure or you’ve spent all your pounds on accommodations.

I’ve been fortunate enough to do Fringe twice (so far). The first time was with my parents. We attended a Sherlock Holmes performance which took us around to different locales near the castle where new pieces of the story were played out. It was sort of like a haunted night walking tour but less creepy and with more actors.

The second time was while I was doing my Masters in London. A friend and I met up, toured the town, and took in some shows. The diversity of acts catered to our differing tastes. There was something for him and something completely different for me.

As there were just so many to choose from, I sought acts that dealt with my interests in hip hop and murder mysteries. Fitting the bill well were The Rap Canterbury Tales and Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound. The Rap was a funny, modern, one-man and one-turntablist performance by Canadian Baba Brinkman. Brinkman took three of the stories told by the pilgrims in Chaucer’s work and turned the situation from a storytelling contest to past the time into a rap battle – so up my alley.

The Real Inspector Hound perfectly suited my love of dramatized armchair detective novels (Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot on Masterpiece Mystery, anyone?). Written in the early 1960s, this parody of the genre allowed me to laugh at myself and my obsession all the while still guessing whodunit.

From my experience, Fringe is a very user-friendly festival. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, at the festival, and even the day of a show if not sold out. I purchased my tickets in advance and picked them up at the ticket and information office when I arrived in town.

So come on. What have you got to lose? Head to Edinburgh this August (or any August) to experience a multitude of arts, tour an enchanting city, and have a lot of fun at Fringe.