A Guest Blog Post by Nathalie About Attending the Edinburgh Fringe!
After 4 years of not having travelled, this year I headed off for a trip again, on my own this time. I had already heard of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival about 15 years ago, when international comedy shows got launched in Belgium and also some Flemish comedians started to refer to this festival. Hard to believe that this year was in fact the 75th edition, after a cancellation in 2020 and a reduced edition last year!
When the Irish sketch comedy group, Foil Arms and Hog (FAH), who I’ve been following since September 2021, started to promote their new tour and their new EdFringe run, I knew what I wanted to do to have a break from normal daily life this year! I have wanted to see them at a live show and didn’t mind visiting other comedy gigs at the same time, whether already famous ones or new discoveries from around the world. FAH has a lovely informal fan club online and it was also a good opportunity to get to know some of them.
I knew I needed to plan and also that shows for some names needed tickets beforehand, including FAH, probably. This turned out to become a 9 day’s stay that would equal in budget to about a full-board 2 weeks away in one of those subtropical holiday centres. 😉 But to each their own; I don’t function well in hot weather, so visiting Scotland and going to shows seemed a good fit for me, especially as I have a liking for going to the theatre as well. Turns out I visited 29 shows in 7.5 days! For my first time, I didn’t find this bad at all, although quite some regular and more accustomed Fringe visitors will even reach higher numbers in the same days, and just rush from one gig to the next and only grab a bite of street food quickly in between.
Four shows out of these 29 were FAH-shows, which is quite a lot and will certainly be odd for – even insane according to - others. I also found it odd myself, but I had become so enthusiastic that I couldn’t reign myself in anymore. To give you an idea, the EdFringe website shows a bit more than 3,500 available shows for 4 weeks and there are even shows which are not included on the website immediately. These are free or "pay what you want" shows besides the ones with a fixed price. Finding out about this "free Fringe" was not so easy for me. It was difficult to not be overwhelmed by all the flyers you get on the crowded main streets in the city centre where the Fringe takes place or through the input via Twitter. The Fringe gigs take place in the whole town, but some of the most popular comedy locations are indeed packed together in a few streets in the city centre of Edinburgh, where there are a lot of tourists passing by already. The whole festival is quite chaotic when you go there for the first time, well that’s according to me.
At some central spots, different venues and organizers have set up an area with bars and all kinds of seats where you can sit and eat some street food, have a drink and go to the toilet. These are all quite crowded really, although they are comfortable to wait for another gig in the neighbourhood. I have to admit I couldn't find healthy food the whole time I was there. So, I ate mostly fast food on the go for about a week.
A very contradictory aspect at the Fringe festival this year was that for the first time ticketing was mostly paperless (but ticket buyers get the option to print their tickets), and that still hundreds of thousands of flyers were (and are being) distributed by especially the debuting comedians from all over the world trying to attract the attention of festival goers. One of the many times I crossed High Street, on one side, there were a couple of young people handing out flyers while on the other side, someone else was picking up the flyers from the streets. That's kind of contradictory, isn't it? For myself, I found it very handy to have all my tickets in my phone, as well as immediately being able to follow google maps to the different locations. 😉
High Street was always packed with lots of people and I always tried to pass there as quickly as possible, in fact. I couldn't find the calm there to look around more and really see what was going on, in spite of the street shows with various kinds of artists who performed there like circus or musical acts. Around 11 in the evening, there were always fireworks I could hear going off in the streets. Sometimes, I managed to see a bit of that, but mostly I was actually inside or on my way somewhere else. Most locations where the gigs took place were very nice. There were some big theatres for the popular headliners in the evenings but also smaller venues where gigs took place in a cellar or an attic where it was rather warm inside.
McEwan Hall where FAH have their shows, for instance, is a big building, belonging to the University of Edinburgh, with fixed seats but also extra temporary seats in the front and where the lighting for the shows is also set up temporarily, for instance. Black curtains cover the real ceiling of that old building and you could see sometimes magnificent glimpses of it when you were paying attention to that. Hog mentions in one of FAH's videos it looks a bit like a colosseum, and he really has a point there. The University is one of the bigger partners of the EdFringe and it hosts a lot of Fringe events in different locations. The courtyard of the Old College of the University, is part of the original headquarters. It is in fact one of the most prestigious and highest ranked Universities of the United Kingdom and even worldwide, and it truly is a beautiful one also. The University is one of Edinburgh's main poles of the city's cosmopolitan character, which is clear when you walk around and see people and hear languages from around the world.
The first two days, Lin, a Norwegian FAH-fan (FAHn), and I had arranged to meet and do some things together, two of which were the first FAH preview-shows, which for both of us were a highlight! The first preview was also my first live show of FAH’s and I felt really glad to be part of their usual start-up routine with Foil on the stage and the two others in the audience. This was already relatable to me because I have seen the available recordings as a Patreon-member of their previous shows. Preview shows are not ‘finished’ yet and are very much a work in progress, but the core set of sketches is already there and these are polished throughout the whole EdFringe run in fact, taking into account how they are responded to by the audience.
The new show is called “Hogwash” and seems rather different from “Swines”. The play off between the three of them is probably not as smooth yet at the Fringe as in shows further along in their tour, but this also leads to really fun glitches and improvisations between them, which I like even more probably. I am someone who is totally in for some digression and improvisation along the way, that makes the live shows just all different from each other! What is still the same in this show is the alternating between comical banter on (recurring) news items and right-out silly sketches.
At the first preview show, I met another bunch of FAHns who had also arrived in time for this, Heleen for instance. We greeted each other at the beginning, but didn't sit together as I had booked my ticket separately. It didn't feel awkward to have a seat alone, I noticed others had arrived alone as well, so that was quite fine. The moment that the lads had entered the room, I got a bit more nervous and excited at the same time, but when the show really began, I was more relaxed again. I enjoyed this first live show from beginning to end as I could feel the real life experience now. Some FAHns went of course to the meet & greet area directly afterwards. I didn't feel up for it really at that time although I couldn't exactly say why, and instead I chose to go off and have a drink at the bar instead. After their M&G, Heleen and the others joined me there to finally have a bit of a longer chat together for the first time.
After the second preview show, Lin and I sat together and we also went together to FAH’s meet & greet afterwards. I was grateful that Lin was there with me because I am a timid person and Lin has met them already at their previous shows in Dublin. Although the lads were really very nice, I only managed to say hi, how I had loved to see them finally live and that I liked their show a lot. That was about it really. Duck, who was also there, helped out to make a group picture with my phone, and you could also get a poster at £5, which the lads would then sign.
I sparingly went a second time to their M&G, then on my own, at the last night of my stay and the 4th time I went to see their show. I had met Stacy-Lou at this show, and we talked with each other before, during and after the show. I was actually seated at the very first row this time, and Stacy-Lou by a lucky coincidence was right behind me on the second row! I thought I would be a bit anxious to be there in the front, but it turned out to my own amazement that I was quite relaxed. It was very fun and Stacy-Lou and I were even also the first ones in the line for the M&G. We were both quite lucky really! I was the very first one in fact, so I had to think quickly about it. Or maybe I just didn't over-think it at all this time, who knows? The moment itself went so fast that I almost didn’t realize how it exactly went. I did manage to talk a little bit more with the lads. Foil asked me if I had noticed already differences with the first shows I had seen, and I mentioned one thing that had nested in my brain, but not more than that really, although I could have come up with some more probably. Arms asked me if I wanted to have some more selfie shots, which I really did of course, so he helped out with that this time, as I myself really am too short to have that range. I was certainly glad, although I managed to be critical of myself again afterwards, and wanted to have been more fluent still.
That self-criticism came only later though, at that time you are going to bed and overthinking your day a bit (as I used to do anyway). I could delay that moment luckily as a bartender who served me another drink, must have recognised my accent. As he started talking to me, it turned out that he knew my very own town really well and had learned Dutch, because he had studied for a Bachelor in Dance in Antwerp, where I live. He even changed to my language and he kept on talking with me for a while. That surprised me and warmed my heart as I had been out and about on my own for quite some days.
At the beginning of my stay, I did a guided tour at the Castle of Edinburgh together with Lin, which we had both booked beforehand. We also went to the gig of the Icelandic comedian Ari Eldjárn, Saga Class together, who has become a bit famous because of a Netflix show of his, and which I already got to know through some YT videos. He was really good as well.
I’ll sum up a couple of other gigs that I loved a lot in short:
- Boy: At Summerhall, I went to see the only gig I had identified with a Flemish touch: a theatre play named “Boy” with two Flemish actors who were both brilliant, and directed by Dutch-Scottish playwright Carly Wijs, in cooperation with Antwerp-based theatre group De Roovers and originally by the Swedish theatre group Teateri from Jönköping. The play is based on a heartbreaking true story about gender identity and family relations. More Information.
- Circus Abyssinia: Yes, I also went to see a circus show at the Meadows' Circus Hub! I like sensational acrobatic shows à la “Cirque du Soleil” a lot and the Ethiopian circus group Circus Abyssinia with Tulu promised this too and met this expectation! More Information.
- John Lloyd: Do you know who I am? This was an interview between this world-famous comedy producer of Blackadder and QI and the audience who get to ask the questions. This format was really fun as well.
- Josie Long: Re-Enchantment
- Kwame Asante: Living in Sin
- Mark Watson: This Can’t Be It
- Omid Djalili: The Good Times
- Stuart Goldsmith: A Shared Illusion
- Jason Byrne: Paddy Lama – The Shed Talks and Unblocked (two shows)
- Emmanuel Sonubi: Emancipated
- David O’Doherty: whoa is me
- Just These Please: Honestly No Pressure Either Way
On my social media, I posted some photos and small stories about my activities to update friends and the FAHns among them. With some of them, I have chatted wholeheartedly at times and they were also there to exchange experiences with and in moments I was too much alone with my thoughts. If these people read this, they will recognize themselves and I’m still very thankful for their interest in my story. Comedians asked to post reviews and references on Twitter if we liked their shows to promote them with other Fringe goers, so the EdFringe is not really an event you can do without a smartphone or a time to de-connect for a while.
As I walked around Edinburgh, I was surprised about some things in Scotland / Great-Britain which are a bit different from the “continent”, I mean the rest of Europe. I’ve had to get used to crossing the streets for example in a country where they drive on the left. 😉 Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get to know Edinburgh really well as I was focused on all the activities that took place there. I certainly crossed tourist places, which I could have learned more about. I checked out some bookstores as I always like to do that, and bought a couple of books in a smaller independent one. I also found a local Oxfam shop to which I related as an Oxfam volunteer in my local community. I loved the Meadows, but didn't walk up Arthur’s Seat due to lack of time. All in all, I’m very glad about my 8 days there, and seeing so many excellent shows in one place. Of course, the experience of FAH’s live shows and having met them stands out above everything else. Some memories will be stuck in my head for a long time!
Where FAH Performed at the Fringe