Wednesday, 18 August 2010

I lost my Edinburgh Festival virginity over a long weekend...

I lost my Edinburgh Festival virginity over a long weekend that began last Friday returning to London yesterday. Better late than never but given my enthusiasm for the low and high brow I don’t know why it has taken me so long to trek north in August where both can be handsomely catered.
From the experience of seeing eight shows – and the splendid National Gallery of Scotland (the skating minister reverend Dr Walker illustrates this blog) – I have listed 10 tips below in case you take the plunge yourself one day. But first a few general observations.
I can’t comment about the International Festival – the much greater choice and the relative cheapness of the seats meant I focused on what the Fringe had to offer. As you hit the Royal Mile where the Fringe box office is situated it is impossible to resist a heady cocktail of the eager crowd, the enthusiastic flyer distributors promoting their shows, and the excitment generated by first-rate street performers. The general optimism is infectious.
Throughout the Festival the mayhem is tightly controlled – it needs to be with thousands of shows on offer – but in a way, which is unobtrusive.
It’s many years since I was last in Scotland. Perhaps it has something to do with devolution but it seemed to me in the intervening years the Scots had lost any apparent hostility they might have harboured towards England and especially London.
A self-assured stance was evident at every turn – from the politeness of the people in the streets, to the attentiveness of waiting staff in restaurants, to Edinburgh’s cabbies whose keenness to assist with heavy luggage etc puts many of their London counterparts to shame.
It would be invidious to review the shows I saw which covered drama, dance, magic, stand-up, and musicals – other than to say they were of a sufficiently high standard that I thought each was good value at around £10 an hour.
My accommodation at 53 Frederick Street however does deserve special mention and so too the Fishers in the City restaurant, which warranted a return visit.
As I mentioned above I was impressed with the National Gallery where in particular the Impressionist room makes up for its modest number with some of the finest examples of the period I have ever seen.
So here are my 10 tips in no particular order.
1. Going by train? You must reserve your seats otherwise you might have to stand for hours.
2. Collect all the venue brochures – I couldn’t find one with a map that had them all shown. And beware venues with similar names can be a mile apart.
3. Keep an eye on newspaper and internet reviews but in the end you might have to take pot-luck and follow your instincts about what to see.
4. Remember shows start and end punctually.
5. It could be embarrassing – especially in a comedy show – if you need to go to the toilet during a performance.
6. Leave time to watch street artists – they take a while crowd building.
7. If you can, pre-pay for tickets by phone or over the internet. The collection system is efficient. I didn’t find the Half Price Booth any use.
8. Prepare for all weathers – you may need sun screen and an umbrella in the space of an hour.
9. Bring a ‘good’ pair of shoes. Edinburgh’s cobblestones are ball-breakers.
10. Finally leave time to enjoy the sites outside of the Festival – from the Castle to quaint tearooms.

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