ED2014 News ED2014 Week0 Edition

The A-Z of Edinburgh Festival 2014

By | Published on Saturday 26 July 2014


It’s pretty much upon us, isn’t it? Welcome to Edinburgh 2014, the biggest festival in the world. Actually, it’s several festivals all happening at once. The programmed International Festival, the Book, Politics and Art festivals, the Tattoo, the Mela, and the massive unprogrammed ‘everyone’s welcome’, Edinburgh Fringe. Here’s a speedy guide to it all, from A to Z.

This is when it all happens, of course. With the Fringe kicking off right at the start of the month, and the International Festival keeping things going to the very end. Though for most people the core ‘three weeks’ of the Festival are from the 1st to the 25th of this month.

The Edinburgh Festival is the biggest cultural festival on the planet, that’s no secret. Indeed, just the Edinburgh Fringe on its own is the biggest. Add the International, Book, Art and Politics festivals, the Mela and the Tattoo, and blimey, big big. And this year is also the biggest ever Fringe, with 3193 shows in the programme. Which makes all this the biggest cultural extravaganza ever staged in human history. So yeah, biggest.

Perhaps the genre most associated with the Edinburgh Festival these days, and the biggest strand of the Fringe. Indeed the Edinburgh Fringe’s comedy section is itself the biggest comedy festival in the world. For any new comedian, certainly in the English speaking world, the Edinburgh Fringe is an annual benchmark for your career, as you move from open mic to shared-slot to free full-hour to paid-for show to award winning glory to the biggest stages in the Festival. And then, if you have any credibility, a second show back in a dingy pub room in the Free Fringe, cos that’s how you keep it real people.

Though don’t be thinking it’s just comedy at the Fringe, because there’s so much more. Including a very impressive programme of dance. Look out for Tamsin Fitzgerald from ThreeWeeks Editors’ Award winning company 2faced Dance with her tips for navigating the dance programme in our preview edition. And don’t forget there are some grand dance and ballet productions in the International Festival too.

Yes, you’ll find lots of arty happenings in Edinburgh during August as well. Indeed there’s a whole separate Edinburgh Art Festival programme to peruse. And even if visual arts aren’t usually your thing, you can’t beat a chilled morning absorbing some of the world’s greatest artworks to refresh yourself after a night of Fringe excess.

Doing the Edinburgh Festival need not break the bank, because of all the free shows on offer. There are now three free show strands to choose from – the Free Fringe, Free Festival and Freestival – and you’ll find freebie shows outside of those programmes too. Though, as Sam Brady put it, “remember that ‘free shows’ are only free to get in – you are expected to pay to get out”. In that if you like what you see, you should throw a little something in the bucket on exiting. By which I mean money.

I’m talking about the Commonwealth Games people. And while the Glasgow games may wrap up just at the Fringe begins, the Edinburgh International Festival has specifically invited performers from a number of Commonwealth countries as part of Scotland’s wider celebrations this summer. And in amongst that you’ll find a whole strand of work celebrating the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa. And if you’re inspired to be sporty by Glasgow 2014, book yourself tickets for a show at the Just The Tonic caves and then another at the Pleasance Courtyard with just a five minute gap, and enjoy running up that hill. Latecomers will not be admitted.

Pretty much every building becomes a venue during the Edinburgh Festival, including the Scottish Parliament, which hosts the Festival Of Politics from 15-17 Aug. It’s a great event any year, but this year, needless to say, political debate should be higher on the agenda of the average Festival-goer than normal.

Few festivals can be as international as this one. Obviously the International Festival is a global affair, otherwise that would be false advertising. But all of Edinburgh’s festivals bring together people from the world over, with 47 other countries represented in the Fringe alone.

Yep, there’s plenty of shows for younger Festival goers too. The Fringe’s childrens show strand is brimming with great choices for all the family, and the Book Festival has a brilliant programme for younger minds too.

What do you mean I’m starting to cheat here? So, yes, Kabaret. Such a vibrant strand of the Fringe, look out for some top cabaret tips from ThreeWeeks Editors’ Award winner Sarah-Louise Young in our preview edition.

I’m talking about the Book Festival, of course, taking over Charlotte Square Gardens with two weeks of discussion, talks and debates. It’s got a brilliant programme, plus if the sun shines, the Book Festival site is another excellent place to chill. Though take a book to read won’t you? Oh, and also look out for the Book Fringe at Word Power Books on West Nicolson Street.

Not always something you think about when you say “Edinburgh Festival”, but there’s so much music in the city over August I wouldn’t know where to start telling you about it. Fortunately ThreeWeeks Editors’ Award winner Daniel Cainer does it for me in our preview edition, with his picks of the musical Fringe. Meanwhile for classical fans, the International Festival is over-flowing with concerts, and we’d also recommend the Fringe programme at the Royal Over-Seas League.

The Edinburgh Festival is very nearly a 24 hour affair, with plenty of late night/ early morning drinking haunts on offer. Though Edinburgh nights are not just about the booze. There’s a plethora of late night shows to choose from, our favourites being those that bring together performers from across the Festival to perform a short ‘spot’. Them hoping beyond hope that you’re not yet so drunk that you’ll forget how good they were. Their thinking is you might buy tickets for the full show in the morning. Sometimes it works.

The International Festival is the place to go if you’re an opera fan, it’s a really impressive programme of full productions and concerts. There’s a little opera in the Fringe too, you’ll find it in amongst the musicals strand, which also deserves a mention. If you like your musical theatre, you’ll be well catered for here.

Physical Theatre
This is another less-talked about but impressive strand within the Fringe, though physical theatre shows are lumped in with the dance and circus productions in the programme. So this is where the ‘secondary’ genre listings the Fringe provides are very important. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.

Quality Not Guaranteed
The whole point of the Fringe is that anyone who can find a space to perform (and usually some money) is welcome to do so. This is how you stumble across magnificent performances that just wouldn’t be booked at a programmed festival. Though it also means there are a few duds in there, usually ideas that had potential but didn’t quite work out. But that’s the point of the Fringe, take a gamble, don’t play it safe, and see how it turns out. Maybe awful. Maybe the greatest night of your life.

It’s the erratic nature of the Fringe that makes the reviews so important. The ThreeWeeks review team check out shows across all the genres, big names and total newbies, and at venues large and small. A selection of reviews will be published in the ThreeWeeks magazine each week, though to see them all you should sign up for the free ThreeWeeks Daily by email at threeweeksedinburgh.com/signup.

Spoken Word
A recent addition to the Fringe’s programme guide, though there’s been a great spoken word scene at the Festival for years. Take note, some of it can still be found hiding in the comedy and theatre programmes. ThreeWeeks Editors’ Award winner Richard Tyrone Jones has the spoken word tips for you in our preview edition.

How did I take so long to get to theatre? Oh yes, I remember, the alphabet. There are some grand theatrics in the International Festival, though it’s the Fringe that is the real Mecca for theatre fans, with pretty much every flavour of the dramatic arts on offer, and plenty of brand new plays too. And with running times generally shorter here than elsewhere, it’s particularly good for theatre lovers with short attention spans.

As in between Scotland and England. With the big vote now very much on the horizon, there are a fair few shows dealing with the old union of kingdoms this year, and it’ll be hard for any vaguely political comedian to not reference the referendum. More focused debates on Scotland’s future, whatever way the Yes/No vote goes, can be found in both the Book and Politics festivals.

Oh yes, venues. I’ve already mentioned that pretty much every building in Edinburgh becomes a venue in August. In the Fringe each venue is independently programmed and run, and many people navigate the Festival via each venue’s specialisms and reputation. As always, there’s some new venues this year, with a number of existing Fringe venue operators expanding into new spaces. Some useful venue info: The Assembly Rooms is not run by the same people as the other Assembly venues, and any venue with Laughing Horse in its name is Free Festival rather than Free Fringe.

Weird Stuff
Yep, there’s plenty of weird stuff to enjoy this Festival. Half of it situated on the Royal Mile. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Be a bit weird yourself, why don’t you? Though if you spot a local clearly in a rush to get somewhere important, probably best not to be weird in their face.

It’s a family affair this Festival, though some shows are a bit more ‘grown ups only’. It used to be the aim of many a Fringe producer to create the show that generated enough outrage that a boycott would be launched, ensuring a sell-out run into September. People seem less prone to get outraged about X-rated performances these days. But they’re still there to be enjoyed if that rocks your boat.

Yearly Institutions
If you’re a Fringe regular you’ll likely have some moments and events you look forward to each year. The buzz of Meet The Media at the start of the Fringe. The first night you go the whole hog and leave the Gilded Balloon as the sun rises. Plus there’s the award shows, the charity galas, the big day off in the middle when everyone gets ill, and, for those still in town at the end of August, the International Festival’s awe-inspiring firework finale.

If you’re not already feeling sleepy after reading about all this cultural exertion, you’ll definitely need some recovery time come September. So please do schedule in a post-Festival lie in. Thank you.