Cambridge Goes to Edinburgh: Backstage at The Fringe

Edinburgh Festival attracts millions of tourists each year, but how does it feel to be on the other side of the curtain? HARRY PETO shares his experiences of a summer well spent.

Cambridge edinburgh harry peto Theatre

 As much as I’d like to think of myself as the cultured Cambridge gentleman, not only had I never been to the Fringe before this year but I probably saw more productions there this summer than I have in the rest of my life (well, not quite, but nearly).

ed fringe

 The atmosphere created by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is like no other. For those of you unfortunate enough to know as much about the Edinburgh Festival as I did two months ago, it began as the Edinburgh International Festival with the aim of providing “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit” in 1947, and God knows it needed flowering then. Fortunately, a few keen performers recognised that the human spirit bloomed in a wider variety of colours than classical music and traditional theatre and began doing whatever they would, wherever they could. This is still that attitude held by those involved in the “Fringe”; it is the largest arts festival in the world, with 2,871 shows performed by 24,107 artists in 273 venues.

 I may have been 1 in 24,107, but taking part in the Fringe really is something special. Anyone who wants an audience more than the average of six has to flyer on the legendary Royal Mile – with hundreds of shows on every single day, smaller shows must get noticed to minimise losses. OK, so big names may effortlessly pull audiences, but for everyone else, flyering is an essential part of the Edinburgh experience.

 The standard run for Cambridge theatre is five nights or fewer, but taking a show to Edinburgh meant that we were burdened/blessed with 22 performances. Ensuring that the 17th delivery of a line still sounds fresh is no mean feat, but surprisingly I never got bored of the city, the play or the people. By the end, though, I didn’t miss flyering, or sitting in a very small, hot, dark backstage for 45 minutes every afternoon.

 It’s not all work, though, and there is nowhere better to spend your downtime. Over 600 shows were free, and I was blown away by the variety, humour and emotion of what I saw. Of course, some things were better than others, but part of the fun is the spontaneity of it all, seeing things you would never see elsewhere.

I now can’t imagine spending a summer without a visit to the Fringe, though nothing will beat taking part. I left the day after it finished; posters drooped off railings and the Royal Mile was eerily tourist-free, but the drama has not stopped. Provided that we remain willing to get involved, it never will.