Three tourists at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

What is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and what's on

It’s August, which means we’re nearing the end of festival season. By now, most of us will already have staggered through fields more muddy than the Somme circa 1917, have paid exuberant prices to sleep in a tent in the same clothes for a long weekend, and will have seen our favourite musicians live in a state of such inebriation that most can barely recall what happened in the first place. But there’s one festival out there that’s still to be held, one that trades damp quagmire for cobbled Georgian streets, and music for comedy, theatre and street performances. Yes, I’m talking about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, an event which, as a native Scot, I’m particularly proud of myself.

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Credit: Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

For those of you who have never heard of it before, allow me to enlighten you. The Edinburgh Fringe is renowned for showcasing new talent to the public, who perform in a number of small venues dotted throughout Scotland’s capital city. A number of now-acclaimed showbiz personalities made their humble debut at the Fringe, including the Monty Python Troupe, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Steve Coogan, Emma Thompson, and other acts such as The League of Gentlemen and Flight of the Concords.

The Fringe Festival was first intended as a way of promoting peace and unity among the shattered European powers in the aftermath of World War Two. The festival’s organisers made the decision to host the event in Edinburgh not only because of its abundance of theatre space and picturesque scenery, but because Edinburgh, unlike London, Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool, had managed to escape serious bombing by the Luftwaffe.

Now the Fringe has now grown to eclipse the original festival it was intended to live in the shadow of. First formed back in 1947 by those theatre companies who were not formally invited to the Edinburgh Festival, the Fringe IS the festival these days, and hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Royal Mile, George Street, the Grassmarket and beyond to see the acts on offer. Such is the sheer magnitude of the events and performers, that it can be pretty daunting for newcomers to decide what acts they want to see. So without further ado, we’re going to take you through the unmissable shows and best events coming up this year.

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1. Comedy

The comedy looks to be as enticing as ever. Dave Johns, star of the award-winning movie I, Daniel Blake is returning for a few laughs with a show self-deprecatingly called I, Fillum Star. There’s a live version of the improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway? scheduled, to hosted by Clive Anderson. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, (rumoured to be the 13th Doctor Who before Jodie Whittaker was announced) will be doing a live show of her TV series Fleabag for one week. Comedian Sara Pascoe is also taking her show Ladsladslads to Edinburgh this year, and renowned alternative comedian Alexei Sayle (whom most Brits will remember from the sitcom The Young Ones) is returning to the Fringe after a long absence.

A number of other famous Scots will also be performing on the home front. Daniel Sloss has his new show, entitled NOW, and talk show host Craig Ferguson is also making a return to the Fringe after 24 years. Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, is premiering a pop-opera called Creatives and Performers. Alex Salmond - Scotland’s former First Minister, will also be performing a show - one which has already sold out.

A crowd applauding at a performance. Credit: Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

2. Venues 

Navigating Edinburgh can be a pretty daunting task for any visiting tourists - especially when a good portion of the city is perched upon a dormant volcano! So it’s a good idea to get a feel for what the best venues are before you arrive. Perhaps the largest and most stately is the Usher Hall, a grand domed concert hall and auditorium situated on Lothian Road, adjacent to Princes Street - but this is mostly used for majestic music. If you’re out for comedy, then be prepared to frequent Udderbelly at the Cowgate, The King’s Theatre and the Playhouse, as well as The Royal Lyceum Theatre on the right and The Traverse. The Assembly, Gilded Balloon, and Pleasance Square are also busy places. Don’t worry if you get lost though. Every pub and bar with room for a mic and a row of folding chairs will be hosting something.

A group of audience members laughing. Credit: Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

The Fringe Festival isn’t just a place for laughs - it’s also an opportunity for theatre aficionados to peruse new plays for the stage. Woke, an activist play covering the current state of the civil rights movement, has been picking up rave reviews by exploring social justice issues via gospel and blues. If you like satire then you’ll have to see Trumpageddon! a play written to satirise Trump’s presidency and UK visit. If gender issues are your bag then check out You’ve Changed, at Summerhall, an autobiographical performance about Kate O’Donnell’s transition from male to female. If you’re a Smiths fan then you’ll have to see Gary McNair’s play Letters to Morrissey, and if musicals are your bag then be sure to see the long-overdue Brexit the Musical by Chris Bryant.

A dance performance. Credit: Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society

4. Music 

There’s a diverse array of music gigs to choose from as well. If you want something with a local flavour, try some contemporary music from Scottish artists Withered Hand, Iklan and Savage Mansion, at Summerhall. Britain’s Got Talent 2017 winner Tokio Myers will be playing at The Biscuit Factory, and former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker will be performing a show entitled Room 29 at the King’s Theatre. If you like opera then make sure to see the Festival Theatre’s production of Macbeth - The very first opera performed at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947.

If you want more information about the upcoming festival then you’d do well to check out the Edinburgh Fringe festival’s official homepage for further updates, maps, timetables and other useful information.