Into the Unknown: if you don’t see at least one bad show, you’re doing the Fringe wrong

By Martha Crass

So, you’re heading to Edinburgh, planning to indulge in one of the most unconventional, brilliant and rainy festivals the UK has to offer: the Fringe. Like many, you may have trekked from afar to get here, and after a restorative deep-fried Mars Bar and a refreshing Irn Bru you’re ready to hit the festival.


You soon become faced with a difficult, but clear, choice: you can go to the big-name, award-winning, touring musical that’s about to transfer to the West End, which has received unanimous five-star reviews from critics; or a piece of amateur new writing which is being performed in the back room of a local primary school. The box office for this is literally a shed, and odds are you’ll be one in an audience of three. So, naturally, you make the obvious decision and go for the latter, and -


Wait, what? You mean you DON’T want to experience a show whose only five-star review is from the director’s mum?


The thing is, there will always be performers at the Fringe who, after their sell-out runs in Edinburgh, are going to be spreading their professionally-trained, well-funded wings and taking off to greater theatrical heights. But why are you coming to the Fringe if you’re not willing to be a little uncomfortable? Not that you should avoid any show that looks a little too slick; if anything, seek these out! Enjoy! Relish! But don’t let these define your whole Fringe experience: see something on a whim based on a random flyer, see something from a group you’ve never heard of, see something outright, undeniably, unforgivably bad.


Sometimes (quite often, really) it’s the Fringe first-timers, or the stuff which sounds pretty dubious, that can surprise you. And the joy of this is: you’ll never know which are the good ones. So wade through all the bizarre melodrama and gut-wrenchingly funny attempts at tragedy; go and feel horrifically uncomfortable as an improv troupe fails miserably at the one thing they claim to do well; and then you might find something truly brilliant.


Part of the Fringe is about venturing out of your comfort zone, encapsulated particularly aptly by the theme this year: try venturing ‘into the unknown’, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

At the very least, a lot of those shows might be free, and there’s no arguing with that.