Reflections on the Fringe: a Festival for Everyone

By Anna Marshall

 

“It felt like when you’re a teenager and the city is yours. Those mad runs through the streets at night to discover new things. Young, free and bursting with energy… Yes – that’s how it felt to spend a day in Edinburgh!”

Across from me, my 77 year-old grandmother Margaret and my 54 year-old mother Katy continue as I try to translate their exclamations. “We had a mad time. Just dashed from place to place – didn’t even have time to finish our soup – and we saw so much, it was magical” – “Just magical” – “And gosh, we didn’t get tired did we? I thought we would, especially after the three hour journey there and back on the train… but it took me ages to get to sleep and the next day I woke up 7am bright as anything!” And the two women revert to chuckling with laughter as they proudly bring out their “Fuck it” pin badges they were given from their day at the Fringe.

 

fringe

 

The Fringe is an exhibition of people power. Created as an unofficial extra on the side of the Edinburgh International Festival, this global celebration of the arts emerged steadily over the twentieth century to become an annual month-long takeover of British culture. And although there’s now an official programme, ‘Fringe Shop’ and snazzy website, it remains an open access event. Like a body comprised of many individual living cells, the Fringe is simply thousands of theatre companies, comedians, street performers and artists deciding to come to Edinburgh, and doing their thing simultaneously to create a thespian overload. The Festival Fringe Society doesn’t have any quality checks or a selection process, but merely tries to compile this beautiful artistic mess into something you can attempt to navigate. The journalists and traders only hop along for the ride. With this in mind, we’re left examining a product that has skipped all the usual commercial tripe of a festival, and allows the audience to decide who their target is. Unlike the many music festivals littering the British Summer calendar with advertisements aimed at specific groups, the Edinburgh Fringe just doesn’t seem to have had the time to stop, collect its thoughts, and consider which group we’re aiming for.

“Oooh”, they both coo simultaneously, “it was lovely”. Margaret and Katy don’t seem to be anyone’s target audience. Certainly if I was chasing the big guns, they’d be off my radar: rarely out of walking trousers, they’re more likely to be found pushing a barrow of manure down the garden path than loading up a shopping trolley. They’ve seen Joseph! and Les Mis, but other than that most of their theatrical experience has been performed in a primary school hall. Margaret likes Shakespeare, so last year when we went to a live screening of Julius Caesar in town: she printed us both off a Wikipedia synopsis so we’d understand what was going on. In short: we fall into that majority of people that go to the theatre once every couple of years and come out saying “We should do this again”.