On the Fringe(s) of society.

This week Thomas Camilleri from the menswear team here at TASK PR talks about his hair-raising (what hair?) experiences at the Edinburgh Fringe.

How am I back already?! It feels like only yesterday that I left the sweaty, metropolitan jungle that is London for the wet, medieval fortress that is Edinburgh. I’d been here once before, in July ’08, but everyone kept repeating the same phrase, like a horde of undead thespians: ‘Wait until you see what it’s like in August’. Crikey, they weren’t kidding.

Things got off to a hairy start at Kings Cross. My friend Natalie and I were there bang on the dot at 9am to pick up our tickets and hop on the 10am Kings X – Edinburgh service. Not a chance. Kilts, kilts everywhere and not a seat to sit on. We hadn’t reserved seats but at a small fortune for each ticket, we’d foolishly assumed that we’d have a seat. Even though we waited for the 11am service and ran – Home Alone-esque with our bags and luggage – all the way to carriage B for those golden, unreserved seats, there was to be no joy for us. We resigned ourselves to failure and secured a smelly corner by the toilet on carriage F.

Remember steerage in Titanic? That was pretty much us, only no Irish dancing. Kids and elderly asleep on the floor, men and women clambering over us to leave a little something behind in the loo on the train, alternating smells of food and toilet – ghastly to say the least. But with a final, gasping lurch the train lumbered up to Waverly station in the shadow of the great Edinburgh castle and we were unceremoniously ejected from our disgraced steed. Little did we care, we were here and we were on holiday.

Once everything had been dumped inside our tiny flat on the Royal Mile we met our old friend Robbie who was performing daily in [title of show] and immediately headed off to our first theatrical pitstop – Chalk Farm at the Udderbelly. Having read terrific reviews of this little gem while in London I’d immediately been drawn to the subject matter, the London riots of 2011. The perspective was certainly interesting being told by a young boy drawn into the riots, and his single mother. The production values were well-used too with several screens adorning the stage being used to full effect. We were then lucky enough to be given comps for a musical called Facehunters. I’m not quite sure what this was about as I left the theatre feeling as though my eyes and ears had been thrown into a washing machine on a heavy cycle. The effort put into this was astounding, the heat generated by the cast as they headbanged and writhed their way through the performance quickly turned the space into an oven. The content was pretty disappointing though, especially when I later found out that this was its 5th re-write. We headed over to Espionage to watch some free stand-up comedy at Midnight Madness and although there were some good moments the comedy was generally bland and controversial for the sake of being controversial.

Friday dawned and Nat and I were on it! Love in the Past Participle at the Surgeon’s Hall at 11am was beautifully acted and well-written with a heart-wrenching performance from my good friend Andrew Galea (Yes I’m biased but he was terrific). After a quick lunch in the park we headed over to the Assembly Checkpoint to watch the UK Premiere of [title of show]. The concept of this musical comedy, seemingly written in real-time as thought by the characters, was hugely engaging and coupled with some very strong performances made this one of the highlights of our trip. The next two shows really made this our best day however. Knee Deep at the Spiegel Tent was an acrobatic show by three men and one woman which saw my hand rush to my mouth every few seconds as I was sure one or the other was surely not going to survive the trick they were doing. All of them were incredible and it’s when you watch shows like this that you really appreciate the hard work and thousands of hours that have gone into honing these artists’ skills. After a beer break we were back in the tent for Briefs: The Second Coming. 6 unbelievable muscled/dragged-up men giving one of the most entertaining shows of our trip. You could say that this was a form of male burlesque – boylesque if you will. It was a mix of acrobatics, burlesque, cabaret, drag, magic and all laced with humour and filth – terrific! Friday was rounded off with a visit to the Pleasance for Luke Kempner’s The Only Way is Downton where he created an alternative storyline with appearances from the X Factor and The Great British Bake Off all the while acting out every single character. His brain must move at the speed of lightning – how on earth he switches between accents at the that speed without losing track is beyond me.

By Saturday theatre-fatigue had set in. We took the day easy and purposely didn’t watch a thing until 4pm when we had bought tickets for Flown at the Udderbelly. This was a brilliant circus show with a twist – everything goes wrong! The show was hugely entertaining and some of the music sung by the cast was hauntingly beautiful especially Nerina Pallot’s Idaho. Next was some more free comedy, this time at the Laughing Horse at The Free Sisters. Again, free comedy meant bleh comedy. After heading back to the apartment to cook dinner we headed out for a half-past midnight Improverts show at Bedlam. Improvised theatre is a minefield of super-cringe. One false step and you can spend an entire hour wishing for the end as you clammily clench your way through a god-awful mess of a performance. We were lucky with this one – they were hilarious. What worked so well was they they performed a series of short games which meant that if anything wasn’t working they could end it and carry on onto the next one. They were very comfortable together (an essential part of improv theatre) and worked seamlessly.

Our last full day began with me running over to the other side of the gardens to see my beautiful friend Kathryn in How to Occupy an Oil-Rig. This was an artfully-crafted and touching piece which made the most of audience participation and the three performers carried it with conviction and simplicity. I intended to make the most of my last day so I then went to see First World Problems at the Free Sisters and then met up with Nat to watch The Knights of Improvalot. Both were ghastly and remember what I mentioned earlier about minefields? We were both blown to a thousand pieces. After heading across town back to the Pleasance we watched the very original Blam! which came all the way from Denmark. Four office workers seek new ways of making their mundane jobs more exciting by re-enacting stunts from famous films. Think The Office meets Kill Bill and The Godfather. We stayed in the area for The Boy With Tape on his Face which had come highly recommended by many. He certainly didn’t disappoint and I laughed my way through the entire hour with his wide-eyed antics ending up with 99 Red Balloons blasting out of the speakers as hundreds of red balloons hit the audience. We ended our show-marathon with a midnight viewing of The Room – the worst film ever made. This has a somewhat Rocky Horror Show following in that large groups of drunk people will congregate at special screenings to shout at the screen and throw plastic spoons at specific intervals. The film is horrendous and how it ever got made still baffles me but when the film is screened next at the Prince Charles in Leicester Square you should definitely grab a group of friends and go – it’s a hoot!

Whether you are a fan of theatre or not, Edinburgh during the Fringe is another world. A world where sleep doesn’t happen and people will sell their performances to you at all hours of the day. Drinking does not stop and neither does the party. This is definitely one for the bucket-list folks!