Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

  1. Go to the Edinburgh Fringe
I had given up on it. I was broke and I had left it far too late to get accommodation in Edinburgh. I was recovering (emotionally and financially) from my Summer of Fun when Britbound suddenly posted a registration of interest - would anyone be interested in a weekend trip to Edinburgh on the last week of the Fringe.

I was slightly beside myself. Yes, I did want to go. No, I couldn't afford the deposit. Yes, could you please save me a space?

For those one or two people I didn't speak to at length about this (and for those who have heard it all already, just skip down a couple of paragraphs), I will explain why I was so desperate to attend the Edinburgh Fringe. My little home, little Adelaide, hosts the second biggest Fringe festival in the world. Second to Edinburgh. It is the only time of year that Adelaide can proudly puff out its chest and feel good about itself (before it promptly goes back to sleep for the remaining 11 months of the year). The Adelaide Fringe is a magical time of year, with fairy lights and hidden alley ways, art and artists, plays, theatre and comedy, comedy, comedy.

Being a Fringe aficionado, I wanted to see how Adelaide's big brother did things, and so I was off to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Friday 28 September
The mode of transport for the Britbound trip was via coach. Coach is easily my least favourite form of transport, but beggars can't be choosers and coach was by far the cheapest option at this time of year. I met the rest of the troupe at Victoria Station and we boarded the near-empty bus. Twelve had registered but only 5 joined the tour, with the sixth never showing up (Does she exist? Who is she?). With our intrepid leader Jordan at the helm, we spread ourselves across the bus, a double seat to each of us, and settled in for the 10 hour bus journey ahead.

We passed the time with some hilarious personality tests (I like my men enormous, grey and wrinkly, in case any one was wondering), dozing, complaining about the length of the journey and testing our knowledge at pub quizzes (note to self: enter pub quizzes). As we crossed the Scottish border, passing gorgeous rolling hills and the greenest of green grass, we started having a look at what shows were on that evening. Why not try to grab a show the moment we arrive?

There are two noticeable differences between Adelaide's Fringe and Edinburgh's, both due to demand and sheer volume of people.
  1. The daily show cycle begins at 5pm ends at 4.59pm the following day. That's a 24 hour period, every day. Adelaide's Fringe is closed during the day of most week days, and tends to end around 2-3am each night.
  2. Free shows. In Adelaide, we only get free shows (really) if performers are handing out free tickets. In Edinburgh, there is an entire programme dedicated to free shows, with shows running constantly throughout the day and night. These free shows then ask a small donation which you are at liberty to pay or not (I usually threw some coins in). I was overwhelmed by the free shows, and decided that I would spend most of my time trying these out.
We walked through the streets of Edinburgh to our hostel, The Hostel, got settled, then jumped back out onto the streets to make our way to Cowgate, where the majority of the free shows were being held.

The Free Sisters (renamed for the duration of the Fringe from The Three Sisters) was a multi-level pub with a rabbit warren of rooms, all of different sizes and capacities. This is where I would spend the majority of my time.
Comedy just got nasty.
This was one of my highlights of the Fringe and the first show to be seen, too! BattleActs! consisted of 3 improv actors on stage who took audience suggests for scenes to act out. But to make things more complicated, there were certain rules. For instance, in this scene, no one is allowed to use the letter 'e'. Or every sentence has to begin with the next sequential letter of the alphabet. And who ever does the best, is the funniest or just down-right does an excellent job collects the points. Highly recommend.
As we were all completely exhausted from a long day of doing nothing, we turned in after the show ready for an early start in the morning.

Saturday 29 August
First thing this morning we made our way to Edinburgh Castle to do a spot of sightseeing. On the way, Ann mentioned that she was going to do a whiskey tasting after the tour and I wholeheartedly agreed to join. I don't even like whiskey, but when in Rome, eh? Er..Edinburgh..

We arrived at the castle early, meaning we managed to bypass most of the queue. There was an incredible view from up here, and we all split up so we could peruse at our various paces. Anna and I made our way through the prisoners latrines, and rooms dedicated to medals, war and bagpipes.

We all returned to the entrance at roughly the same time and, as we were to be waiting for Sally to rejoin us for the whiskey tour, we wandered down the hill to check out the markets. They were a little small but it filled in the time. There was an armoury shop nearby, and I was excited to see Eddard Stark's sword, Thor's hammer and Legolas's blades.

Back up, up, up to the castle, collecting multiple free vodka shots along the way, it was time for the whiskey tasting at The Scotch Whisky Experience.

Quiz time, kids! What's the difference between scotch and whisky?
Absolutely nothing. Scotch is simply Scottish whisky, and has been called thus so it can be differentiated from other kinds of whisky. Scottish whisky is unique because, similar to Belgium with their chocolate, it is highly regulated and must maintain a certain quality level.

Sally, Ann and I jumped into our barrel ready for our Whisky Experience. The barrel ride (aside from letting us sit down for a while!) explained the process of making single malt whisky. After the ride, we were escorted into a room where it was explained how the different flavours come about.

As we entered, we were given a sheet of paper with four distinct colours. We soon learnt that these were scratch and sniff panels, and each referred to a district in Scotland and the exaggerated aromas and flavours that that district creates. At the end, we put our glass on the corresponding colour to receive a nip of that region's whisky.

I chose, possibly ill-advisedly, red for the Islay region. The strongest, and the peatiest smell. Lowland region was vanilla, Highland was strangely banana and fruit flavoured, Speyside was quite floral and Islay blew ones face off with smoke. We all went Islay.

Next, we were herded into a room with thousands of bottles adorning the walls. They had been collected here and many were so old, the scotch had evaporated to almost nothing. Here, we learnt how to taste the whisky properly. First, stick your nose in the glas and breathe as deeply as you can.

Shudders, coughs, splutters, exclaimations of "Shit, I think I'm drunk off the fumes."

Ok, let's try that again. The second breath was much easier. Next, take a small sip and let it roll around the mouth for a few seconds. We were being herded to the next room where we were promised more and interesting bottles, and so I downed the remainder of my whisky (with a shudder) and with my very, very warm belly, proceeded to the next room.

Here we were greeted by some fantastical bottles. A miniature grandfather clock. A Scotsman, complete with kilt. A chess set, each individual piece a shot of whisky.

Our tour guide explained, "The bar here boasts the second largest collection of different whiskys with over 400 to choose from. The first largest..well, that's in our basement bar. We have to be both number 1 and 2!"

We finished the tour with a few more free shots (oh wait, that was mostly me...) and, with our bellies grumbling, it was time for lunch. I can't recommend the Scotch Whisky Experience enough - it was excellent fun and the guide was knowledgeable and hilarious.

Next stop: Lunch. This would prove exceptionally difficult as we were a troupe of 5 and it was dead on lunch time - every where was filled. We returned past the free shots of vodka, and after the whisky, we weren't sure if it was alcoholic or not. We tried about 5 or 6 places before finding one that had space outside. Oddly enough, it was a gorgeous day and not what I had ever expected of Scotland, notorious for being grey and rainy (even more so than London).

Lunch was an obvious choice: on the menu was a "Wee haggis" with a side of neets and taters. This was to be my first taste of haggis, and I was quite excited. In case I didn't like it, I ordered the wee haggis as entree, with a pie for mains.

The verdict? I thought it was rather delicious. It wasn't encased in the stomach lining, and was more of a mushy smush on top of the potatoes and turnips. The texture was a fraction offputting; it felt like it stuck to the top of ones mouth. But all in all, I enjoyed it and finished the whole dish. I was completely and utterly full, and lamenting the pie I had also ordered.

After lunch, we split up to go our separate ways. I was painfully full (quite literally in pain), but decided to join Larissa to see a show. We saw two shows back to back, while I became progressively drunker to try to quell the pain in my belly.
The Coin-Operated Girl - A Sex Worker's Real Life Revelations of Frivolous Fornication
Here's the truth about sex workers, their clients, and the hilarious, heart-warming and often bizarre moments in a unique career.Not my favourite show of the Fringe, but refreshingly different with a couple of laugh-out-loud moments. More than anything, I enjoyed her passionate and educated opinion on sex work, women's rights, freedom of body and that women should be allowed to do as they wish safely and without judgement. It was eye opening and gently amusing.
Paul Savage: Tired and Emotional
Paul Savage can't sleep. It's been 20 years and insomnia is turning him into a lunatic. Share in the ludicrous, pointless, insane ramblings his sleep-deprived mind subjects him to.Struggling with sleep myself, I felt I could relate to this show. Some of his rambles made utter sense to me, as one lies there staring at the back of ones eyeballs trying not to think, and trying desperately to sleep. Some of his jokes were quite geeky, which appealed to me, and I giggled my way through his hour. I gave him £5 as I very much enjoyed his show and in return he gave me a comic book. 

After this show, we decided to meet up with the rest and try to get them to another show that evening which was compared by the lady who hosted The Coin-Operated Girl. It was a disaster.
Single Comedians Trying to Impress You
[Can't find it in the booklet...which may explain a lot...]
In a nutshell, it was supposed to be a variety act with comedians talking about their sex lives. None of the comedians turned up, and the host was left by herself. She told us the show had been cancelled but, upon seeing us all standing outside, decided to try to wing it none-the-less. Let's just say it should have been cancelled. Awkward conversations ending with a girl taking the stage to discuss how she managed to leave a cult. The end didn't come soon enough. Crash and burn.
After the failure of the last show, we weren't sure what to do. Some were keen to head back to the hostel, but Jordan, Gabriel and I decided to stay on.
A variety show - the name escapes me.
I can't remember the name of this show but it was one of the best ones I saw in the Fringe. We sat in the front row and consequently were picked on. I was picked on for working in the field of social media, for which I "probably get paid really well for not having a real job". One of the comedians had spent quite a bit of time in Australia and enjoyed having us in his front row. The show ended with a comedian who played the guitar who was hosting a show later that evening, and so we decided to stick around for that one.
At this point Dan arrived in Edinburgh and joined us for the last show. It was sadly not a good a show, which we should have picked up on by the time it was on - but that isn't always an indicator of a bad show.
Another variety one - the name also escapes me
This was hosted by the comedian from the last show and was clearly a gathering of the much smaller comedians trying to break into the scene. Up first was a Japanese girl who was constantly heckled by a drunk man up the back. This flustered her so much she ended her set very quickly, and thankfully the man also left. The other two comedians were marginally funnier but still not amazing. It ended soon enough and it was time to make our way back to The Hostel.
Sunday 30 August
Most of the Britbounders left early this morning to go to Loch Ness to try to spot Nessy. I was in Edinburgh for the Fringe, knowing full well I would be returning to Scotland one day, and so I opted not to join. As Dan and his friend Dion had arrived in Edinburgh the night before, I decided to head with the up to Arthur's Seat, a hill on the outskirts of the city with 360 degree views of the landscape.

After a quick breakfast, we started the trek towards the hill. Upon arrival, we couldn't decide which way to go, and so I said "Let's take the stairs!" not realising that I may have chosen the most difficult route to the top. It was steep, the first section took us about 20 minutes to reach the first set of stairs. From there, another 20 minutes to the top. The stairs were jagged rocks and the final flight was simply a leg-wide gap between high rocks.

Puffing, we made it to the top, and the view was indeed spectacular. Suddenly, we heard a guitar strumming, and realised a quartet had brought their instruments to the top and were serenading those who had completed the climb. The day was simply stunning; glorious blue sky, little puffy white clouds, bright green rolling hills, the city spread out on our left and the ocean to our right. We claimed victory and Arthur's Seat in our name!

Down the steep hill and it was time to bid Dan and Dion adieu. I grabbed a pie from Auld Jock's Pie shop while I tried to figure out what to do next. On my walk to the pie shop, I had wandered through the main strip where I was given what felt like hundreds of fliers for shows happening in the next couple of hours. While I ate my pie, I perused the fliers, and settled on a musical. The actors had excitedly approached me along the strip, babbling "We have just found out we won an award!" (the name of which escapes me) and so, after some to-ing and fro-ing, I decided to see Departures: A song cycle.
Departures: A song cycleEight strangers stand at a nondescript railway platform on an unremarkable weekday afternoon. As their train is delayed further, they put down their crumpled Metros, pocket their bleeping smartphones – and begin to share their secrets, hopes and fears.This was the first and only show I paid for, and it only came in at £10. It was based on stories by real people interviewed waiting for the London Underground. The songs had a very Sondheim-esque feel to them and with 9 distinct themes it was fascinatingly woven together. The characters were the disgruntled train employee, watching the passengers, a young businessman who is dreaming that there must be more to life, a young girl who looked after her cancer-stricken mother, a Polish migrant looking for work to support his wife and small child, a brash mother, a hipster, a feminist looking for love on Tinder, a depressed teenager and an elderly gentleman who feels he is invisible in today's society. In all, it was deep, amusing, well sung and well written.
After the show, I wasn't sure what to do next, but found my way back to The Free Sisters, grabbed a leaflet and decided to see another free show. Jordan had said this guy was funny, and you just start laughing "the moment you look at him". So I gave it a go.
James Dowdeswell's Perfect PubGeorge Orwell wrote an essay on the perfect pub. A fictitious pub called the Moon Under Water. With the help of the audience, James designs the perfect pub. James has a lazy eye, which explains Jordan's comments. He referred to his eye on a few occasions when he was picking on members of the audience - "No, I'm looking at YOU OVER THERE", pointing dramatically off into the distance. The show consisted of taking audience suggestions for what we want in a pub, interspersed with quick witted comments and other pub-related stories by the comedian. Unfortunately with my fear of public speaking, I spent much of the first part panicking he would pick on me and so I didn't pay a lot of attention to what was being said. The audience were very conservative at first, wanting "more chairs" and "well priced alcohol", but we eventually made it to "water slides" and "breasts dispensing different types of ale depending on the colour, size and type of breast". 
After this I met up with Natalie my housemate and we saw one final show.
ShaggersThe worldwide hit show returns with a line-up of superb and varied comedians from all around the Fringe doing material based around the hilarious, cheeky subject of shagging. I had seen Shaggers advertised at the Adelaide Fringe but hadn't been to see it. As it was a free show here in Edinburgh, we thought, why not? It turned out to be a goodie. Compared by one of the comedians from the great show the night before, with 3 additional comedians, they all regaled us with stories from the bedroom. One of my favourites was a question posed of a man in the audience. "Who would you rather have sex with: Scarlett Johansson with a penis, or Alf Stewart from Home & Away with a vagina?" It took a bit of working through, but the audience member finally relented that it would have to ScarJo with tackle. It was a rather hilarious show and I do recommend it.
And that's all, kids! My final show. Nat, Gabriel and I met up with the rest of the troupe for dinner. To finish, we decided to partake in a ghost tour of the underground tunnels of Edinburgh. We finished our dinner and raced to the office, to find it dark and locked. We almost gave up, but decided to try the starting point. We made it there just in time and, scrounging together all of our cash, had just enough and were raced around to join the back of the group.

Our guide was a hilarious and theatrical gentleman and the tour was enlightening, amusing, and in many parts chilling. We climbed down the stairs to the underground cellars where Burke and Hare, the famous body snatchers, were said to have kept the bodies. Each of the rooms we entered we found out a bit about the beings that haunted it. I kept my cool rather well, but my fear of the dark did leave me particularly jumpy. There was a group of girls who kept squealing and this allayed my fears somewhat, more serving to irritate me instead.

We finished the night on a frightening note, and made our way back to The Hostel for one last snooze before jumping back on the bus to return to London on the morrow. And what a journey it was going to be.

Monday 31 August
There's not a lot to say about the bus journey aside from it being absolutely awful. The driver was rude and aggressive. We should have had 12 seats between the 6 of us - it is what had been paid for - but he had overpacked the bus to the point of us having to argue to get a seat at all. There was a spare seat in the middle and I asked if I could please sit down.

My rage swelling, I was in a talkative mood and proceeded to natter away with the gentleman sitting beside me. What was supposed to be an 8 hour drive took 12 due to traffic, our driver stopping for unknown reasons and just generally driving slowly. I talked to Chris for approximately 8 of these 12 hours and so that helped pass the time. Probably a good 2-3 of those hours was dedicated to complaining about how bad this bus ride was. We were convinced we had entered purgatory - limbo, and that we had always been on that bus and we were forever more going to be on that bus.

We finally made it back to Victoria Station (after passing my house 45 minutes previously), I jumped on a tube and arrived at my home at around 10.30pm.

It was an excellent weekend with a variety of shows of varying success rates. I was deeply impressed by the free shows on offer at Edinburgh Fringe. With over 3000 shows on the books, Edinburgh is definitely Adelaide's big brother (although Adelaide will always hold a very special place in my heart).

Til next time.