Heading out of London in search of culture may seem like a crazy idea for those who’ve never been to the Edinburgh Fringe. But this counter-cultural smackdown is not to be missed, even if it does mean heading “oop north ‘cross t’ border” (yes, you will have to cross the M25). But newbies need not be intimidated; we went up recently and survived to tell the tale. So here are 10 things to remember to ensure your Fringe isn’t too, um, hairy:
1. It’s not that far! We assumed our train out of King’s Cross would have bunk beds and little red velvet ladders, but in fact it can take as little as four hours to transfer from the English to Scottish capital. That’s not even enough time to get half-way through the official Fringe program (spoiler alert: there are some 4,000 acts on this year’s bill).
2. There’s no need to pretend you’re Scottish so you don’t get your head kicked in. Forget what you saw on that documentary Trainspotting, the city is actually both welcoming and cosmopolitan. If you really do want to fit in with the majority though we suggest you adopt an Australian accent.
3. Everyone complains about the lack of accommodation. But since you’re used to the game of human Jenga we play in London as a result of the housing crisis, the squeeze (and the prices) in Edinburgh shouldn't make you blink. And come on, you usually get a nice old lady bringing you deep fried black pudding in the morning for breakfast. So yes, sharing the room under the stairs with the troupe of Maori mime artists will not be a problem.
4. For some obscure historical reason, the city is built on a hill. Now for most Londoners, wheezing up High Holborn on a Boris bike is about as steep as it gets – so we can only say how confused we were that in Edinburgh we were always going uphill. Yes, the cobbled streets and honey coloured architecture are very gorgeous, but how can we appreciate all that if we can barely breathe. No wonder the aged William Wallace kept crying out for his bus pass.
5. Fringe venues vary from the sublime to the subterranean. Since every inch of interior space has been requisitioned for the month, you could find yourself in the resplendent majesty of the Georgian Assembly Rooms — complete with crystal chandeliers — or languishing in the leaky, heroin squat chic of some of the free fringe venues. Be fully prepared to wear your cagoule inside.
6. The outpouring of creativity will make you jealous. London may have plenty of cultural events but the sheer fizz of the Fringe somehow means that every single performer puts in the effort of their lives.
7. It may be a Scottish festival but there’s plenty of talent from London: the Weirdos Collective, Nish Kumar, Sajeela Kershi and Dane Baptiste are all well worth a listen, while veteran Arthur Smith from Balham is up celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Gilded Balloon.
8. No-one gets through town without being flyered to within an inch of their lives. The centre of Edinburgh resembles a ticker tape parade as men, women, children and predators come together with the sole aim of chucking as much multi-coloured cardboard in your face as is conceivably possible. It’s either a recyclist’s wet dream or possibly their nightmare, we’re not sure — what show was this flyer for again?
9. Women are having a good year. According to Phill Jupitus female acts are doing “all the best stuff” this year. Beth Vyse, Aisling Bea, Sarah Kendall and Diane Spencer (with her beautifully catty slap down of Nancy Dell'Ollio) all stand out.
10. Other strong acts we like this year include: Daniel Kitson, whose polyphony sees him interacting with a dozen or so uppity iPods; Brett Goldstein who talks about the joys of drugs, coprophilia and the Burning Man festival; Max and Ivan who conjure up an English version of Springfield before blowing the whole place up. Glenn Wool, Sofie Hagen and Trygve Wakenshaw are also great; as is Richard Gadd, whose batshit brilliant Waiting For Gaddot is our pick of the fringe.
By Stu Black and Ben Venables (Comedy Editor of Edinburgh’s The Skinny)