Sampling the Edinburgh Fringe for free

By Kev Geoghegan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Edinburgh

Image caption,
The Edinburgh Festival Cavalcade provided colourful entertainment for free

With the price of show tickets increasing every year, the Edinburgh Fringe can be a quite a costly experience for the uninitiated.

For the performers too, the average cost of putting on a show is estimated at around £6,000.

This year more than 300 shows are being staged for free - some 3,000 performances during the entire Fringe run.

I spent a day watching nothing but shows available for free to the public. Was it worth it?

1330 - Beer Goggles, Cabaret Voltaire

"Is the glass half full or half empty?" asks the blurb for this early afternoon comedy show.

"The world contains joy, love and kittens but also war, pestilence and Piers Morgan. Which side prevails?

"Two men put forward their cases to determine the definitive answer."

The comedians on offer, Jim Campbell & Ben Van der Velde, are apparently not on top form. They lay claim to being sick with the flu and hung over respectively.

Lunchtime is not an easy slot for comedy in the faintly dingy surroundings of the Cabaret Voltaire.

Van Der Velde, arguing for the "glass half full" side of life, gets some laughs and is amiable enough, but struggles to find his stride. Campbell, dwelling on life's negatives, fares a bit better but a small-ish crowd appears to expect more.

Based on the lukewarm reaction to optimist Van Der Velde, the glass is still pretty empty.

1445 - Fringe Cavalcade, Holyrood Park

Not a show as such, but a chance to see a procession of the many artists taking part in the Fringe this year.

In the beautiful surroundings of Holyrood Park and under a shining sun and brilliant blue sky, this is one for the families, judging by the number of discarded buggies and ice-cream smeared toddlers sitting astride parents' shoulders.

A float carrying the famed Ladyboys of Bangkok is followed shortly after by a huge green caterpillar. Only in Edinburgh.

1530 - Confidence, Bar 50

The first piece of drama on my free day at the Fringe.

This is a two-hander with a man and woman, split into nine different scenes. Audience members pull numbers randomly from a hat and the scenes are played out in that order.

The major problem here is the venue: a sectioned-off area in a large pub, mid-afternoon, which is showing live football on big screens.

A cheer goes up about 15 minutes into the play - and it isn't the fevered response of a crowd enraptured by the slightly self-conscious performers before us. It is clear someone has scored a cracking goal.

Eventually, it becomes too hard to hear what the actors are saying. It is uncomfortably close to trying to eavesdrop on someone else's conversation in a busy pub.

I am also distracted by the male actor's constant hand fiddling. He can bend back the tip of his pinkie incredibly far.

Hoping he is double-jointed, I leave early.

1730 - Bored Stiff, The Counting House

First major disappointment of the Fringe. The festival guide is wrong and this black comedy about a weird love story involving death doesn't actually start for another few days.

I decide to go next door instead, where a comedian has set up a free show. But I make the mistake of nipping into the toilet. When I come back, he politely explains that I now cannot get in. His free show has sold out.

I decide against demanding my money back.

Dejected, I sit and watch a gypsy-style band on an outdoor stage nearby.

They play a version of The Doobie Brothers' Long Train Runnin', lifting my spirits for the final stretch.

1830 - A Nifty History of Evil, Opium

This one-man show was a hit at some festivals in Australia.

Host John Robertson comes on to the stage wearing leather trousers and a black corset. He looks like a cross between Wolverine from the X-Men movies and Edward Scissorhands.

With an ever-present demented grin, Robertson spins some yarns about the town of Hartlepool hanging a monkey dressed as a French sailor during the Napoleonic wars... and various ways of bumping off female vampires.

It is all very entertaining stuff and Robertson is a funny and engaging performer.

2030 - Pauline Goldsmith: PG Tips, Sin Club and Lounge

Pauline Goldsmith is an actress-turned comedian, originally from Northern Ireland but now a resident of Scotland.

Her act was opened by a 12-year-old boy named Murdo who drew some gasps from the audience with his material.

There is something definitely odd about being in a venue called Sin, listening to a young boy swearing and making jokes about paedophiles.

Goldsmith herself is funny, with a self-deprecating sense of humour. Towards the end she veers into the familiar territory of an Irish comic, telling jokes about her overly religious upbringing.

On the way out, Murdo passes me his business card with a cheeky smile, promising that, next time, he'll make sure not to fluff any of his jokes.

I decide to call it a night after a relatively productive day.

Shows at the Fringe continue well into the night and pick up again before lunch.

A poor relation to the actual Fringe itself, the Free Fringe allows performers the chance to hone their craft without the expense coming to Edinburgh involves.

Not all the shows are masterpieces, but there are some hidden gems to be found in the small bars and clubs around the city.

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