With everything from ballet to burlesque, cabaret to comedy, picking the best acts is at Edinburgh Festival is an art in itself
If you could complain about anything at Edinburgh Festival it would be that – with more than 43,000 performance in three weeks – it can be tough to know what to see.
Arriving in Edinburgh and flicking through the Fringe Festival programme, it was easy to identify what not to go to. I quickly established that I wouldn’t, for example, be attending Wake Up and Sing! A ‘full audience participation event’.
Nor would I be heading along to Sex Tourist by Chris Dangerfield, which offers attendees the added incentive of a flyer for £10 to a local escort agency (though you can read Guardian writer Tanya Gold’s take on this here). But a process of elimination will only get you so far; the Fringe programme alone is the size of a small phone book.
Another way to decide on your festival line-up is to comb the fliers and posters that festoon practically every spare wall in Edinburgh – they’re updated with reviews daily – and look for those that have been awarded four or five stars by critics. (By this method, you’d probably find yourself heading to Felicity Ward or maybe Vikki Stone who got great reviews.) Luckily, I have a cousin who works for the Festivals and made some suggestions, and we ended up seeing a smattering of offerings from several festivals (Arts, Books, Fringe): Ballet Preljocaj, a seminar hosted by authors Nathan Englander and Ali Smith, burlesque/stand-up show Comic Strip, and drama Mies Julie (pictured).
My picks? Mies Julie, a reworking of Strindberg’s 1888 play, but set in South Africa. Raw and shocking at times, this is one of the Festival’s hottest tickets and it’s easy to see why. It’s the kind of play that lingers for hours and days afterwards, and packs an intellectual punch as well as an emotional one.
Ballet Preljocaj was also incredible. An apocalyptic theme meant that this one-and-a-half hour performance traversed everything from patriotism to exotic dancers to Beethhoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Don’t ask me if I understood every moment of it (I didn’t – and am open to any suggestions on the meaning of the final scene), but it was beautiful and impressive in equal measures nonetheless.
Thinking of heading to Edinburgh this year or next? Here are my dos and don’ts.
Do plan a little. The best events sell out, so do your research and book at least one or two shows in advance.
Don’t pack dressy clothes. Edinburgh during the festivals is fairly laid-back. Not to mention hilly. Flat shoes will do the job.
Do bring an umbrella. We were there during one of Edinburgh’s hottest weekends, and it still rained. Four times.
Don’t be late. Everything starts on time. (Some venues, when booked back-to-back, charge performers £50 for every minute they go over time.) The queues for Mies Julie started a good 20 minutes before the curtain went up.
Do ask locals and other members of the crowd for their tips. They like to be asked, and word-of-mouth is a great route to seeing the best shows.
Thinking about heading along next year? The 2013 programme goes on sale in March – so look out for it here
Go here for more information on Edinburgh itself.