Edinburgh itself entranced me immediately. The train station is smack dab in the middle of the city and I emerged practically in the shadow of the castle. To be fair of course pretty much anything in downtown Edinburgh is loomed over by the castle, the mount is that imposing. I eventually found my way to the hostel after a few wrong turns, not the world’s best map and I had to pull out my laptop and look at my thankfully cached google map while standing in the fringe crowds. It turns out that the hostel is actually a University of Edinburgh residence that seems to be used as one just for the summer. Reception even seemed to be in an RA room.
August in Edinburgh is festival time, this means of course the Fringe but also the art festival, the Royal Military Tattoo and others. Most of you know how much I love Winnipeg’s fringe which if you count the actual theatre is more or less tied with Edmonton as the world’s second biggest. They both pale in comparison to this. It’s incredibly massive. Yet almost immediately I can see why many performers who do (or have done) both say they prefer Winnipeg and Edmonton because they’re more personal. It’s insane how much competition there is here. The leaflet handouts are incredibly aggressive at times and even if I hadn’t been told that many artists entire year of wages rests on this month I would have guessed. Still historically having a hit show in Edinburgh is the gateway to being picked up for the major BritCom touring circuit or a guest spot on one of the panel shows so popular over here. As a result the marketing here is ridiculous with what seems like the entire cast of some shows making an cordon across the high street and passing out leaflets with production values you generally only see on the top end shows in Canada. In addition many of the groups have ridiculously elaborate standees, flags, sandwich boards or other elaborate attention grabbers. If everyone here who claimed to have “new comedy from Cambridge” was telling the truth the university drama department would have an enrolment equivalent to some small South American nation. Overall it’s quite sad in many ways as you know that there’s simply too many companies/artists here for some people not to lose their shirts.
The streets are therefore packed with performers and tourists and it makes things completely impassable at times. My first exposure to this was made even wilder by what can only be described as a massive pack of almost universally bra-less Dutch girls running around at high speed on some sort of scavenger hunt. Apparently a Canadian or North American was one of the things required and I had on my RCAF hat so I ended up in a few photos. I saw the same couple with a pair of dogs stopped at least 5 times as well. “Pleashhh can we have your fotosh!” The crowd was quite diverse though, besides Dutch girls I saw a pack of kids (pipers I think) from Kitchener-Waterloo where I lived for a while during co-op, several large Japanese or Korean tour groups and of course thousands of English. This last group was somewhat split in emotion (be they performer or attendee) as every time they went near a television they saw the ridiculousness going on down south. The riots are very much on everyone’s mind here and it’s all anyone talks about if they aren’t discussing the shows they just saw.
On that initial walkaround the walkway up to the castle was absolutely jammed and it wasn’t long before I discovered that was the tattoo. If you’ve never been to one it’s basically a giant military marching/music display and the Edinburgh one is considered one of the best. It runs nearly every night and I think one of the things I read mentioned something like 150,000 people attend annually. This also explained why I heard a fighter fly over a bit later while going online to buy fringe tickets.
I picked up tickets to some of my favourite brit comedians that I’ve seen on TV (more about that later) and headed back out to grab something to eat and look for something cheaper to see that night. Some of us have been bitching about increasing prices at fringe back home, but we still max out around $10, but for three headlining shows here I paid the equivalent of $65cdn. There’s of course also a street theatre portion of the fest and I finally got rid of a bit of the 10 pounds of change in my pocket while watching a few jugglers, a Canadian acrobat/unicycle guy and a set of fantastic saxophone players who I sat watching for nearly half an hour. I also had a giant nerdgasm moment when I saw Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer walking around with his daughter. I didn’t want to be one of the douchey fans that run up and gush at a star when they’re on holiday though, much as I would love to meet them both so I just smiled and moved on. Mostly though I just wandered around appreciating the gorgeous (if sometimes severe) architecture and falling in love with the city.
I ended up seeing a couple short, cheap shows that night that were quite good. I couldn’t help making comparisons to home though. They have a fantastic surplus of really neat venues that the Winnipeg fest would die for. My first show was in a former wine cellar in what seems like it was probably a 16th century building, the second was in a loft built under a bridge with a gorgeous vaulted ceiling. The only problem is that they aren’t huge on risers so if you’re late your sightline will likely suck. Making up for this is that I have yet to be to a venue that doesn’t have a bar that provides drinks for it, even if you (shockingly by Canuck standards) have to walk out and down the street to another entrance to go in. There’s also a weird lack of uniformity that explains some of the comments about preferring Winnipeg for the community feel. It seems like there are a variety of larger mega-venues that are each made of a bar, a separate merch area, and 3-10 venues in some large building. It’s hard to describe (I’ll post some pictures later) but it’s as if Winnipeg Fringe was made up of MTCZone which is all the MTC/Pantages venues surrounded by their own fence/entrance then a few scattered independent ones, usually in bars (think the king’s head), before you get to say Artspace, but an Artspace which has 10 different rooms, their own specialized programs, beer gardens, marketing banners and teeshirts etc… Very very different. The shows themselves run on nothing like the strict schedule we’re used to and it wasn’t until the Ed Byrne show I caught that one was really spot on time. I finished the evening with a pint at a place called the brass monkey before turning in, unfortunately hearing that someone had thrown themselves off the bridge that night, explaining the sirens that had almost drowned out one of the earlier shows.
Waking up the next morning I really was glad that I hadn’t gone to school and stayed in this rez. Never mind that the only access to this massive complex is down a VERY dark alley that I wouldn’t be super keen on entering after midnight myself, much less as a woman on her own. It’s also quite grim inside and every door slams heavily meaning that whenever someone goes to the toilet, comes back from the bar, or leaves for a train (or class) at 7am you’re going to hear it. Also, five flights of stairs after a long day sucks. I kept going back to sleep though, enjoying the chance to lie in a bit since I’ll be on the move more come Europe. Once I was up and about I booked my next steps in the trip then headed up to Edinburgh castle. Unfortunately the rain and cold had followed behind my train, Shilpa confirming that it was sunny back in London. Umbrella etiquette is as lacking as at home too, particularly while I was waiting in line for my ticket/audio guide and the Spanish woman behind me nearly incessantly poked me with the razor sharp edges of hers. When she wasn’t doing that she has holding it in a way that every drop ran off it and down my back. Whenever I tried to give myself some extra space she’d come right back up to me as if crowding me would get her there sooner, eventually I had to turn around (after several excuse me’s) and literally push the umbrella backwards every minute or so. Her husband eventually got embarrassed and made her put it away but not until we’d been through most of the line. Luckily it was soon forgotten (except for being stored for a blog anecdote) as I got to explore the castle. The history nerd in me enjoyed a lot of the ancestral stuff (having been told many times how I was descended from King Robert the Bruce by my grandmother) and the views from the mount when the fog and rain faded from time to time were breathtaking. I’d love to be there on a sunnier day though so I’d go again for sure. Got to see the Scottish crown jewels (which somewhat pale in comparison to the English ones, but are older since most of the English date from post-restoration) the stone of scone and various other relics as well as the Scots war museum. It’s definitely the most visually impressive and together (and beautifully sited) of the castles I’ve visited this trip, I still think Caerphilli is my favourite though.
That night I got to see David O’Doherty who I’ve been a fan of since seeing him on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. He was absolutely brilliant and I’ll be hoping he makes a trip to Canada at some point. Today I saw the Phill Jupitus quartet (also of NMTB) which was a pretty standard but hilarious improve show and an absolutely fantastic set by Ed Byrne of Mock the Week fame. I’ve loved Ed’s stuff forever, but he’s even better live. He’s a good sport too, jokingly ripping a guy who went to the bathroom in the fourth row then looking on in increasingly bewilderment as 3 other people from the same party went on to do so over the rest of his show. He even gave a shoutout to the walnut bladders at the end of the show. For the last night I had a couple pints in a couple interesting pubs on the way back to the hostel, watched the end of tattoo fireworks (and the typhoon soaring overhead.) I also had an incredibly hilarious few minutes listening to a pair of Scotsmen cover Outkast. Imagine a less talented version of the Proclaimers (of 500 miles fame) doing Hey Ya, then imagine how I had to struggle not to laugh. They were earnest, I’ll give them that but I don’t think it’s the greatest song choice for them.
Tomorrow it’s back to London before catching the Eurostar to Belgium the next morning.