Saturday, July 11, 2009


All my Fringe tickets arrived this morning, which was a relief. Rather obssessively, I have split and sorted them into day-by-day order, together with my tickets for the Book Festival and the Edinburgh International Festival.

Considering the number of tickets and their not insignificant cost, it was a bit stressful waiting for them to arrive via normal post. Next year, I will definitely order and pick up from the box office.

But, for this year, they're all here and it now seems one step closer.

Bring it on...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Photographing the Fringe on the Royal Mile

Being a photographer, one of my favourite locations during the Edinburgh Festival is the Royal Mile.

A fascinating enough place at the best of times - with its narrow alleys, historic sites and cobbled streets - it truly comes alive every August.

That's when the Fringe acts and street performers make the place their own, and the space between Parliament Square and the Tron Kirk is packed with colour, spectactle and noise (and photographers).

It is impossible to walk this section of the Mile without having dozens of flyers thrust into your hands by enthusiastically desperate performers; or to find yourself watching one of the many free performances on the temporary stages erected there. In fact, you can quite easily spend a few hours here without spending any cash at all and end up seeing excerpts from shows that would otherwise have cost you the price of a ticket.

The street performers are usually impressive as well: understandably, as the Fringe draws the cream of the crop to Edinburgh every year. Although their routines are often formulaic, they always contain feats that impress and entertain. I remember seeing the English Gents, for example - two bowler hatted acrobats that ended up being asked to join La Clique as a result of their quite outstanding street show.

From a photographic perspective, the Royal Mile is a goldmine. Artists and acts are constantly trying to outdo each other in terms of costumes or original ways to promote their acts (you will always come across a group lying down on the ground pretending to be dead, for example). And, being performers on a promotional mission, they are always happy to play up for the camera, resulting in shots that you'd be struggling to get otherwise. And of course, there are always the extremely photogenic opera singing Redman sisters...

The one exception to this rule are the living statue type mime artists, who will often expect (and in some cases demand) money for the privilege of taking their picture. Worst offender of all tends to be the 'Most Pierced Woman in the World', a notorious Edinburgh resident, who can often be seen hounding people for a somewhat unreasonable £5 photo fee. I'd advise you to avoid these - there's plenty more material out there on offer from performers only too delighted to pose for you for free.

With the explosion of digital photography over recent years, you may feel that photographers outnumber the performers at times, but if you're wanting to capture something unique, colourful and memorable, head to the Royal Mile with your camera ready and you'll not be disappointed.

Me, I'll be there every single day - even when it's raining.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Edinburgh Fringe must-visit venues

The previous post detailed some new or original venue spaces being used at this year's Edinburgh Fringe. This entry, however, lists venues where you are guaranteed a good time, irrespective of whether you're actually going there to see a show or not.

Let's get the old favourites out of the way first:

  • The Assembly Rooms in George Street. For decades, this Georgian-era complex of staterooms and cubby-holes was the hub of the Fringe. To this day, it's still where a lot of the big names appear (Frank Skinner, Clive James, The Soweto Gospel Choir to name but three) and due to its multiple performance spaces, it is constantly swarming with people, members of the public and performers alike. Its bar is a notorious hangout for journos and reviewers, and you are almost guaranteed to see a famous face there (even if you can't quite place who it is).
  • The Pleasance. Another stalwart and another collection of venues clustered around the central Pleasance Courtyard. Kind of a Fringe-in-microcosm, the Pleasance is playing host to over 100 shows of all genres and, when the weather is being kind, the Courtyard area is thronged with bodies savouring the atmosphere (and the food and drink).
  • The Udderbelly in Bristo Square. I've mentioned this before, but this normally desolate outdoor space in Edinburgh is transformed during the Fringe. Mostly due to the unmistakable purple upside-down cow that is the Udderbelly tented venue. Bristo Square also has several satellite venues dotted around it, such as the Gilded Balloon at Teviot, making it a fantastic space to immerse yourself in the Fringe.

Now on to the perhaps less-known:

  • The C venues, in various places, but particularly C (not C Central) in Chambers Street. These venues tend to shy away from the normal big name crowd-pullers and are instead a great showcase for emerging talent. They are usually jam-packed with youthful theatrical groups and avant-garde musicians, and if you venture to the main bar there, you'll be sharing tables with actors applying each others' makeup as well as regular theatre-goers. I always find this place and its rep-like atmosphere keeps the true spirit of the Fringe alive, before the comedy juggernaut promoters muscled in on the act.
  • St George's West in Shandwick Place. This church venue has carved out a special niche for itself in the past few years, providing a varied and seldom-disappointing programme of world music performers. This year, its cocktail of Brazilian, African, Cuban and Sri Lankan artists looks set to impress again and, if last year is anything to go by, you'll find that this venue ends up host to the the happiest and most upilfting mood you're likely to find anywhere in the city.

Lastly, a new venue with a reputation to live up to:

  • Hullaballo in George Square Gardens. For the past few years, this venue has played host to the (in)famous Spiegelgarden. Due to a magical, pre-war Berlin style atmosphere (and some heavy marketing), it quickly became the place to frequent if you were spending an evening out during Festival time. Last year, it almost became a victim of its own success, with weekends in particular seeing it packed out with the post-office crowd and stag & hen parties. Perhaps fortunately, this year the Famous Spiegeltent is taking a year off for renovation. Instead, a new venue called Hullaballoo is taking its place, with a single circus tent and an Indian-themed ambience. It will be interesting to see if this captures the imagination in the same way as the Spiegelgarden, or whether people play it safer with some of the more established venues listed above.

Whatever venue does it for you, I just hope it stays dry enough for that al fresco experience so beloved of Fringe-goers. Otherwise, I'll see you upstairs at the Assembly Rooms. Mine's a Magners.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Venues of the year

It is a running joke amongst Edinburgh residents that any empty space capable of holding two people or more has potential to become a venue during the Fringe.

This is often true, and I seem to recall shows taking place in a telephone box and the back of a car in the past.

This year is no different, and some of the most orginal venues I have so far spotted include:
  • Two shows taking place on buses - The Comedy Bus, a customised silver double-decker that takes participants on a comedy tour of Edinburgh (including thoughtfully-scheduled stop-off points at 4 bars around the city). And Miss High Leg Kick's Fashion Bus, a free show taking place in an around a London bus stationed in the Grassmarket, from which "fabulous fashionistas emerge" at 6.30pm every evening. Should be worth hanging around there with a camera, if nothing else...
  • At Home With Holly does what it says on the tin, being a one-woman comedy show taking place in a real flat in Edinburgh's Albany Street. I hope she's done the cleaning...
  • After last year's sell-out shows, Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is back, with diners in B'Est Restuarant being treated to the pleasures of being served by Manuel, Basil, Cybil and the rest. Good value, as the ticket price includes a three-course meal. Obviously, just don't mention the war.
  • And in what is a perhaps a worrying trend this year, two shows are set in public conveniences. Whilst some locals may say these places provide all-year round entertainment and spectacle, The Assassination of Paris Hilton and Waiting For Godot ("bringing Beckett to the bogs") take this one stage further, taking place in the ladies' toilet in the Assembly Rooms and the public lavatories of the St James' Centre respectively. I just hope, particularly for that latter show, they have reserved exclusive use...
  • But perhaps the most original of all is Soul Photography, A Virtual One-Man Show. This one doesn't even have a venue, as performance artist Mikhail Tank is planning on broadcasting himself over the internet (a registration fee of £5 applies) for one night on August 30th at 9pm. At the very least, it'll save on the taxi fare.

These perhaps raise the bar for Festivals to come. One thing's for sure, when the controversial Edinburgh trams finally arrive, someone will be performing a Fringe show onboard...

Shameless plug

I love the Edinburgh Festival and I love photography, so here's my annual plug / request for willing subjects: