Follow my rules for a first-class Fringe

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Ian ColeHe knows all the Edinburgh tricks, so follow Ian J Cole‘s guide for a fabulous festival


A friend of mine said the other day you’re always doing weird holidays so where is it this year? ‘The Fringe’ was my response! This caused him to raise his eyebrows in a quizzical manner – so what is this Fringe?

Whenever possible I like to go to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which is the biggest arts festival in the world. Last year’s event spanned 25 days and included more than 2,500 international shows from 60 nations in 258 venues.

It has the best and the worst of the arts, whether it be plays, concerts, installations, musicals, walking tours or comedy and I have a set of rules that for me are a requirement to attending any Fringe event – but more of the rules later.

My first visit was in the 1980s and apart from a few years when our children came along I’ve always tried to go to the festival every two or three years.

Once I’d made the decision to go this year I should have sorted out the accommodation but I didn’t. The first thing to say about visiting Edinburgh anytime during the Fringe is that it’s very very expensive to find anywhere to stay, and I had left it rather late. Every hotel, guest house, flat, shack and tent is rented out for those three weeks at hugely inflated prices.

Rule 1: If you’re going to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, book it the year before as soon as the festival has ended – and not as I did the month before it opens

Anyway I managed to book a cheap ‘very expensive’ hotel just off Princes Street which sounds dreadful judging by the reviews and is probably the only vacant hotel in the whole of this part of Scotland. I’ll let you know.

The next thing that needs to be done is to decide on which shows to go and see, a very difficult job when there are more than 2,500 to choose from.

Rule 2: Don’t go and see someone just because their famous or on the telly, because if they are a comedian who is on the TV a lot then you’ve probably seen all their best material

Plus you’re not going to get cheap deals seeing the likes of Ross Noble or Jim Jefferies because their shows will be sold out every night anyway. You want to catch the up-and-coming people who haven’t made it on TV yet or have had limited exposure.

I remember seeing Jason Manford in a free lunchtime showcase where emerging comedians are given five minutes to show how good they are. I liked him so much that I bought a ticket for his hour long show which was fantastically funny – this was before he’d ever been on TV. A couple of years later he started appearing on the box telling the same jokes.

This leads me to…

Rule 3: Get your hands on the Fringe Programme as soon as it’s out and go through every page highlighting things that might be of interest.

This should leave you with a list of potential shows which will be massive. But don’t worry there is a plan to whittle it down.

Rule 4: If you can go to the Edinburgh Fringe at the start. Why? Because the first few days will have previews of the shows which will be half price.

And there are usually a couple of days when you can get 2 for 1 tickets, that is providing you have a friend to share the experience with.

Now you can go back through the festival guide and select the shows that have cut-price deals. Book them on the website. It is also at this point that you should book any free ticketed shows such as the BBC showcases or podcast recording events.

Only now trawl through the Fringe Guide again for those must see full price shows and book them; I’ve paid for two full price shows out of the 36 that I’m going to see so far this year.

One is to see Henry Rollins who I missed two years ago (who is Henry Rollins I hear you ask – then Google him) and the other is the show that all the locals go: Radio Forth On the Fringe which is £16 for a three-hour showcase show.

Recorded live for Radio Forth, you get to see anything up to 20 of the best new acts at the Fringe so here’s

Rule 5: Book tickets for Radio Forth On the Fringe

Which leads me on to…

Rule 6: If it’s rubbish just get up and leave – you’ve paid your money and if after 15 minutes you hate it or are offended then go. Don’t sit there and suffer in silence.

I’m reminded of a spectacularly poor musical from 2010, I can’t remember its real title but Indiana Jones And The Terrible Cast fits. This show was so bad that after ten minutes I leaned over to my wife and said “I’ll see you outside I’m going to leave.”

She said in a panic “don’t leave me here” so we agreed that the next time the lights went down for a scene change we would scarper.

Now this show was in a church hall without a stage and we were sitting on the front row. The minute the lights when down my wife dashed for what she thought was a lighted exit but was in fact the door to back stage, so being the dutiful husband I followed her back stage where we had to apologise to the cast for leaving so soon. This incident was so much funnier than the actual musical that it was worth every penny of the admission fee.

Rule 7: Watch out for the Fringe staff handing out free tickets.

I’ve only really seen this near the Gilded Balloon and the Udderbelly venue (near the university) but when a show hasn’t sold very well and show-time is looming sometimes staff are sent out to give out free tickets to get bums on seats in the hope that the punters will recommend the show to others.

Free tickets? Head for the Gilded Balloon

Two years ago my wife and I when to see 2 Men And A Banana on free last minute tickets. The show was brilliantly funny although sadly there were only four of us in the audience – and one lady had to leave early to get her bus. This didn’t put off either man or the banana (which got eaten at the end of the show) and they performed as if it was a packed house.

Rule 8: Don’t forget to go and support the Free Fringe.

The Free Fringe started in 1996 by Peter Buckley Hill, because Peter thought that the Fringe was getting too expensive. What you will find is two opposing promoters, PBH – Peter’s company – and his arch enemy Laughing Horse Comedy fighting for audiences.

Peter feels it confuses everybody having two free fringes although a few years ago I did try to explain to him that audiences don’t care about these kind of squabbles. We just want to see a good show and that’s what you’ll get at both promoters’ venues. So check them out and put some money in the bucket at the end if you liked what you saw.

I hope to see you there in the queue for the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre or My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver.

But if you can’t go I will be sending a daily YorkMix blog (providing the cheap hotel’s wi-fi works) reviewing the six or seven shows that I’ll be seeing each day.