The Fringe, with love and squalor


Hayley Camis on a successful show at the Edinburgh Fringe, minus ladyboys

A stroll down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile in festival season is like falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Everywhere is chaos: nuns smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, fairies dancing, half naked people singing, and the world’s most pierced woman smiling, waving and twiddling her floral umbrella. Yet, all of them are actors, promoting their productions and hoping to ensnare bystanders into their audience (except for the pierced lady, who just comes every year for the fun of it.) The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a glorious three weeks in August dedicated to arts of all genres with performers from around the world. Scotland’s capital becomes an explosion of colour, with millions of posters in every shop window and a carnival of street performers juggling chainsaws and swallowing fire. This year a record number of 1,955,913 tickets were sold, making it truly the largest, most energetic and brilliant show on earth.

The Fringe accumulates the best (and worst) of the country’s talent, and this year there were an estimated 21,148 performers, from household names such as Simon Callow and Jimmy Carr to young amateurs like my fellow students  and I from St Andrews.

Being a humble student and taking part in such an amazing and celebrated event was an experience like none other. Even being on a depressing a student budget, we were able to enjoy the many highlights of the festival, such as getting student discounts and being able to see mild blowing theatre for free with our Venue Stage Passes; and, most importantly, performing to audiences and press who had thousands of other shows to choose from but came to see ours.

After our production of ‘Five Women Wearing the Same Dress’ at the Barron Theatre in February, none of us thought we would ever be performing at the biggest arts festival in the world: selling out on opening night and getting four star reviews on Broadway Baby and by the British Theatre Review. Yet there we were, on the 4th of August, laden with props and our hideous peach dresses en route to Edinburgh, terrified we were going to be living in a crack den and that no one would come and watch our show. Luckily, the flat we stayed in turned out to be gorgeous and located by Edinburgh’s Meadows (‘ladyboy’ territory we were told, although disappointingly not one was spotted).  There were about ten of us living in a five bedroom flat and, over two weeks and fourteen performances, we managed to block the toilet, flood the bathroom with sewage and consume over 160 crumpets.

Our production was funded for the Fringe by Mermaids, the university society that provides grants for performing arts in St Andrews. It was not the only production by the students of St Andrews: a member of our cast, Ashton Montgomery, was also involved in a children’s show, ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.’ Ashton said, “After an intense two-week rehearsal period juggling both plays, I moved up to Edinburgh, sharing a flat with 16 other people and only one bathroom. Needless to say, the shower queues in the mornings, and state of the bathroom and kitchen, aren’t suitable subjects for print. But I loved the whole experience!”

Despite the lack of ladyboys and the consumption of excessive amounts of carbs, invaluable experiences were won from the Fringe. Our cast and crew became incredibly close through living, rehearsing and performing with each other every day. And we five women did literally wear the same dress for two weeks day and night without washing it once; even so, they still attracted all sorts of unwanted attention from tourists and locals. Flyering on the Royal Mile was hilarious; being in character with our southern accents and hideous dresses enabled us to strike up conversations with people — some of whom thought we were from Tennessee — and get interviewed and photographed (the fruits of which are now embarrassingly all over the internet.)

Ashton’s highlights of the festival were, “Meeting Stephen K. Amos and Reginald D. Hunter, getting free tickets to Alan Cumming’s concert, dancing till 5am in Espionage and getting some lovely reviews — and some legendary kebabs!” For me, it was all made worthwhile by hearing people laugh and reading their fantastic reviews of the show; and, of course, the ‘Udderbelly Ale’ (straight from the teat!).

The Fringe has been an incredible opportunity and has furthered my interest and enthusiasm for theatre. And I would thoroughly recommend anyone passionate about performing arts to get involved next year.


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