No money? No problem
This article is from 2007.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe No money? No problem This year’s Fringe programme includes a record 304 free shows. Kirstin Innes looks at why a lack of funds needn’t hinder your Festival experience
Every year, without fail, at least one major newspaper runs a story about escalating ticket prices at the Edinburgh Festival. The article will usually be tempered by quotes from Fringe veterans recalling the good old days, with a couple of locals weighing in about lack of accessibility.
And they’ve got a point. This year, the average ticket for a Fringe comedy show will set you back £8, and you can add on another £3–£6 if there’s a big name on the ticket. Theatre averages out at £9, but shoots up to around £17.50 if it’s a hit show from last year. Not huge amounts if you’re only going to go and see one or two pieces, but that legendary ‘authentic Fringe experience’ – the one where you spend the month in a cultural whirlwind, taking in as many shows as there are hours in the day – is increasingly out of reach for those without a trust fund or a nice shiny press pass round their neck.
There are budget alternatives, however, and almost all of them are more enjoyable than craning your neck over the crowds on the Royal Mile for a glimpse of a fire-eating unicyclist. Here’s our ultimate guide to Festivalling for free.
Lose the preconceptions
‘Free’ means free. It doesn’t mean inferior, or substandard, or talentless. Ditto ‘unknown’. Whether or not a comedian once had a two-minute slot on Mock the Week has no bearing on their ability to make you laugh.
Peter Buckley Hill started up the Free Fringe 11 years ago to counter the accusations of exclusivity, and has steadily built up a quality-controlled programme based on profit sharing. This year they’ve bedded down in some of the nicest pubs across the city, while rivals The Laughing Horse are running a comedy-heavy programme from a network of venues mostly around the top of Leith Walk. Unless you’re a year-round regular on the comedy circuit, you might not have heard of Bevan and Browne (Laughing Horse) or Keara Murphy (Free Fringe) yet, but the ‘yet’ is the important bit. freefringe.org.uk; www.laughinghorse.co.uk
An antidote to the rarified air around Charlotte Square is the Edinburgh Book Fringe, a completely free programme run by Word Power, Edinburgh’s most beloved alternative book store, which Ali Smith has called ‘the giant defier’. This year, authors with clout like Alan Warner and Hari Kunzru are putting in an appearance at the event. www.word-power.co.uk
The classic freebie
Outdoor Shakespeare is as much a part of the Festival experience as losing a week of your memories in the Pleasance Courtyard. Returning company Pantaloons, who had a hit with last year’s A Winter’s Tale, have skilfully negotiated any ‘extra audience’ problems inherent in performing in a public space like the Botanics by getting rid of the cover charge and opening up their production to anyone who happens to wander by. It’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream this year, with a male Titania and some seriously twisted fairies hanging out in the trees. www.thepantaloons.co.uk
The lunchtime taster session
There are lots of ways to see the bigger ticketed acts for free as well. ‘Clip’ or variety shows like Devlin’s Daily at the Stand, run a ‘best of’ programme, featuring snippets of anything that’s caught their fancy. The BBC will be recording its Festival Café in the Spiegeltent in George Square, and is promising the ‘sharpest minds and the funniest performers’, all chatting to Janice Forsyth. www.thestand.co.uk;
The danger ticket
Historically, one of the most appealing things about going to see theatre on the Fringe was the element of risk. The one-woman abridged reinterpretation of À la recherche du temps perdu, performed in her best mate’s living room, might bore your socks off but might just be the best experience you have all summer. However, audiences tend to play it safe these days, demanding four and five-star cast iron guarantees of quality before parting with their tenners.
‘We decided to put the production on for free because we wanted the story to be as accessible to as many people as possible,’ says Leah Bennett, writer and director of Guernica Falls, a Picasso-inspired retelling of the Guernica bombings using percussion and performance, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the event. It’s exactly the sort of thing that conservative contemporary Fringe audiences would shy away from, and exactly the sort of thing you ought to be taking a chance on.
For full details of free Fringe shows, go to www.edfringe.com