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Edinburgh Fringe Preview: Choose-Your-Own Adventure guide to the festival

A sign for tickets on the Royal Mile
A sign for tickets on the Royal Mile Copyright Jane Barlow/AP
Copyright Jane Barlow/AP
By Jonny Walfisz
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Don't know how to handle the world's biggest arts festival? We've got you covered.

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It’s that time of year again - the world’s biggest performing arts festival has returned to Edinburgh. For the entirety of August, comedians, actors, dancers and more descend on Scotland’s capital to try and capture the tens of thousands of audience member’s attention.

To understand the scale of the Fringe, it’s the third biggest cultural ticketed event on the planet, behind just the Olympics and the Football World Cup. This is the third year back since COVID-19 derailed the festival in 2020. A slightly subdued version ran in 2021 but the Fringe was fully back into the swing of things last year. If this year’s Fringe can copy pre-pandemic figures, then around 60,000 performers will put on nearly 4,000 shows across more than 300 venues.

The Fringe is defined by its eclectic line-up and its brutal turnover. Most acts have under an hour before their venue’s strict timetable turfs them out for the next show. Anyone can hire out a venue for an hour-long slot, which means there’s an unparalleled variety to the ways you can experience August in Edinburgh.

Euronews Culture will be at the Fringe all of next week to report back with features on recommended shows, unique acts and interviews with artists. Until then, here’s our preview guide for what you can expect in Edinburgh.

With so many shows on offer, it’s hard to make a single piece reflecting the entire festival. Instead, if you happen to be in Edinburgh in August, treat the Fringe like a choose-your-own adventure novel. Depending on the kind of Fringe attendee you want to be, you can seek out any number of different paths on this multiverse of multi-disciplinaries.

For that reason, here are our key characters in the Edinburgh Fringe Choose-Your-Own Adventure guide: Old favourites; next-big-things; something stranger; and pure chaos. Of course, feel free to combine all four approaches to whichever way of enjoying the Fringe suits you best.

Old Favourites

The fastest selling of all the tickets, Edinburgh Fringe doesn’t just attract scrappy 20-year-old artists with half a dream and a month’s rent in a leaky bedsit. It’s also where some of the biggest legends of the British comedy scene come to debut new work before they go on nationwide tours.

Many comedians are first discovered at the Fringe, and it remains a proven training ground for new material. If you can get tickets in time, there’s the chance to see a huge-name comedy star trying out material in a stripped back fashion.

This year, some of the big comedy names include Frank Skinner, Adam Kay, Stewart Lee, Sarah Pascoe, David O’Doherty, Rosie Jones, Frankie Boyle, Ed Gamble and Rose Matafeo. Chances are, if you’ve seen them on a British panel show in the last year, they’ll be doing a show at Edinburgh.

It’s not just comedy though, there are also some big name shows that are returning to the Fringe this year. Theatre shows like ‘Trainspotting Live’ and ‘Yippee Ki Yay’ bring the films Trainspotting and Die Hard to the stage in surprising ways. While if you fancy enjoying some psychological trickery, shows like ‘Colin Cloud After Dark’ bring Derren Brown style antics to Scotland.

Jordan Strauss/2019 Invision
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, one of the Fringe's biggest successesJordan Strauss/2019 Invision

Next Big Things

The Fringe has historically been a hub for finding the as-yet-undiscovered talent of tomorrow. It’s where Tom Stoppard — Britain’s greatest living playwright — debuted his first masterpiece ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ at the festival in 1966. For years it is where much of the British television comedy talent has been discovered, often through the Cambridge Footlights showcase, for better or for worse.

In more recent years, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s show ‘Fleabag’ and Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette’ both had their debuts before rocketing to international fame. Naturally, many of the smaller acts putting on shows will be hoping for a similar career trajectory.

The ability for an unknown to make it from the Fringe has been seriously impacted in recent years by the rising costs of the festival. An artist can spend up to £15,000 (€17,400) on a month’s show, eliminating many acts without significant financial backing. However, there are still likely some gems that will be taking the first of big heady steps this August.

After the international success of King Henry VIII’s wives musical ‘Six’, which debuted at the Fringe, the same team are returning with a new show. ‘Hello Kitty Must Die’ is a new musical that deals with the trials and tribulations of Asian feminism in a White patriarchal society.

In comedy, there’s the newest show from Fringe regular Rob Auton. Auton won Dave’s Funniest Joke award at the 2013 Fringe and has brought countless shows to the Fringe over the years. Expect surreal charm. Chloe Petts also returns after her long-awaited and impressive debut solo show at last year’s Fringe.

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Something Stranger

Fancy diving into something a little bit more off-kilter? The Fringe will always provide for those with an avant garde taste in theatre or comedy.

Sometimes the best way to find something less familiar is to look for the acts that don’t fit into neat categories. ‘Police Cops: The Musical’ returns with a newly refined version of their hit show combining music, comedy and clowning. ‘How to Survive and Thrive in an Impossible World – With a Piano!’ sets a psychologist’s book to piano tunes, while ‘The Baron and the Junk Dealer’ describes itself as “Waiting for Godot in space”.

Less strange and more interestingly unique, there’s ‘Fat, Femme & Crippled’, a show from non-verbal comedian Alex Gibbon. He’s a fascinating performer who doesn’t let a neurological condition get in the way of a hilarious time.

Pure Chaos

Last but not least is the pure chaos method of attacking the Fringe. For this, you will need to make use of one of Scotland’s greatest assets: booze.

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Joining the pantheon of many an Edinburgh student before you, start the day in one of the many open pubs. Get enough down you that you can hazily stroll down the Royal Mile hoovering up up flyers for any and all shows.

Pop your head into the first thing you come across. It might be a terrible comedian struggling to stretch a tight-five into a 55-minute show. It might be a bunch of students performing their pretentions to an empty room. It might be the single greatest piece of art you’ve ever seen. That’s the excitement of the Fringe.

Once you’ve seen that, it’s back to the pub to start the process again. Repeat this for as many days as you can before you eventually retreat from the bacchanalia to your normal life in London.

The 2023 Edinburgh Festival Fringe starts on 4 August until 28 August.

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