The Ten Fringe Commandments

Originally published in TN2 Magazine as: Edinburgh Fringe Festival: The Ten Fringe Commandments. A Heavenly Guide to Navigating the Holiest of Fringes



Ask anyone interested in the arts what they think of when they hear “Edinburgh” and what will they say?

(Don’t say Trainspotting or Jean Brodie, you’ll ruin my point.)

Yes, that’s right, it’s the Edinburgh Festivals.

For four weeks every August, the city is taken over by the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, though I have yet to attend that one). Both the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe were established seventy years ago in 1947 and, with the recent news that the Scottish Government has pledged an additional 10 million in funding for the Festivals; they are set to continue for a long time yet. The International Festival was founded in the wake of World War Two by Rudolph Bing and Henry Harvey Wood as a curated festival where high-quality theatre, music, dance and opera productions are brought from across the world to Edinburgh by invitation of the Festival Director. However, Fringe had a more interesting beginning (and arguably a more interesting future), and so it’s the Fringe that I am here to write about. The Fringe had a less official beginning in 1947 when eight theatre companies arrived in Edinburgh, uninvited, to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival. Though they were not there under the official auspices of the Festival, they made use of the already-present audiences and staged their work in alternative venues on…you’ve guessed it…the fringes of the International Festival. These performers set a precedent for others to imitate them in following years and the Fringe grew as a volunteer led event until 1958 when the Festival Fringe Society formed, formalising the Fringe’s existence and has continued to grow since then to become the World’s largest arts festival. To this day the Fringe Society follows the same basic principles of the original Fringe; though they will organise bookings, programmes and co-ordination of the thousands of productions that are staged, there is no vetting process like there is in the International Festival. As they say on their own website, the will include in the programme “anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them.”

Despite that torrent of information I just delivered, and the fact that I am a massive theatre addict, until this year I had never been to Edinburgh during festival time, but with both the International Festival and the Fringe celebrating their 70th year in 2017, I chose the right year for my first visit. As I was over reviewing work at the Fringe with the Network of Independent Critics for the last week in August, I had a jam-packed week in which  saw twenty-two shows, wrote many words, and walked many, many miles. I dived in at the deep-end, programme clutched to my chest, and spent a week sprinting from venue to venue up and down the city’s many hills and steps, fuelled by coffee, baked potatoes and a wild enthusiasm for theatre.

It was fantastic.

However, with 3,398 shows running at Fringe this year (and probably as many if not more next year), and the streets filled with excitement, performances, posters and, well, Fringe, it’s easy to find yourself drowning a little in the deluge of flyers, choices and chances, so I have put together a wee list to let you learn from my mistakes and get you acquainted with Edinburgh and the Fringe.


The Ten Fringe Commandments:


  1. Thou shalt not plan thy Fringe to the very last minute.

(There are always a few gems you may have missed in the programme. Leave yourself time and space to discover new things.)

  1. Thou shalt not narrow thine options.

( Sure, you may not think you’ll like that Morris Dance show about Madonna and existentialism, but you might surprise yourself. The thing you take a chance on may be terrible, but you might just stumble upon the next Pythons.)

  1. Thou shalt sleep.

(This is the voice of experience. You feel invincible at the start and going to that breakfast show after going to that gig that began at 2am seems entirely reasonable, but remember to pace yourself. By the end of a week you’ll be glad you pencilled in time to sleep.)

  1. Man cannot live on hasty snacks alone.

(Same as above. Nature Valley bars are great, but have at least one decent meal a day. If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, cook and freeze a few basic meals in advance, and remember that Edinburgh has a lot of delicious places to eat; leave space in your budget to explore a few of them.)

  1. Thou shalt remember to wear layers and comfortable shoes.

(Prepare for every season and lots of walking.)

  1. Thou shalt check and double-check thy venues.

(You don’t want to be left racing from Pleasance Courtyard to Pleasance Dome at the last minute.)

  1. Thou shalt leave thyself time.

(On a similar note to the sixth commandment, make sure you have time to get between shows and leave yourself some contingency time. I thought it would be no problem to trot the five minute walk between venues in the ten-minute gap between shows, but I forgot that the five minute walk was up a sizeable hill. I could have lit the whole show with the glow from my beetroot, breathless face.)

  1. Thou shalt talk to strangers.

(No, I don’t mean the scary ones down dark alleyways, but chat to the person next to you in the queue at box office or when you’re hanging around venues. Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to discover exciting work you might not have heard of otherwise.)

  1. Thou shalt remember that there is more to Edinburgh than the Festivals.

(With all the festival-ing, don’t forget to take some time out to clear your head. Lots of people decide to climb Arthur’s Seat, but if you’re looking for a less strenuous escape take yourself for a picnic at the Botanic Gardens or have a wander round one of the city’s many museums and galleries.)

  1. Thou shalt enjoy thyself.

(The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world; throw yourself in, enjoy the unexpected, make memories and have fun!)

Now, my young Fringelings, you have a year to prepare. Go forth, write plays, save money, play “Yes, and…,” get excited for Fringe and let these commandments help you on your way.

King Lear – Review

Originally published in TN2 Magazine.


Purple Coat Productions

Smock Alley


Shakespeare’s King Lear is a play of many layers, exploring the intensely personal hand-in-hand with the political. Telling the story of King Lear and his gradual descent into madness after dividing his property between his daughters according to their flattery of him, leaving his honest youngest daughter, Cordelia, with nothing, this play has the potential to sharply and insightfully examine ideas around power, madness, family, love and ageing.

A good production of King Lear depends on so much more than just the text. One such thing it depends on is a director to tease out the different themes, textures and ideas within the script. There is no teasing in Karl Falconer’s direction of this production. Throughout, the audience is presented with loud, brash images of incest, drug abuse and sexual assault that, in the context of the play, seem out of place and unjustified. The numerous instances of Lear groping his daughters and the violent sexual imagery that pervade the production suggest attempts at a cheap, base, and ineffective directorial shortcut to shock and an emotional response from the audience.  Similarly the inclusion of a poorly depicted cocaine addiction in Edmund’s character comes across as an attempt to shock the audience or assert the company’s non-traditional take on the play, but once again plays out as an unsuccessful shortcut.

Not only does the production fall short in terms of thematic execution, it also fails in numerous technical aspects of direction, performance and design.  Despite the fact that most of the ground level seating in the Boys School space is on the same level or a very slight slant, a large portion of the action in the play was placed downstage and close to the floor at a crouching level or lower to the ground. This meant that most of the audience were craning their necks and stretching to see what was happening; even though I was sitting in the centre of the second row, very close to the stage, I still struggled to see.  Though is a touring production, not one created within or for the Boys School space, it would have taken some relatively simple modifications to the direction to effectively adapt to the new space. Showing similar lack of foresight, parts of Alisha Johnson’s lighting design broke the flow of the piece as the lights came up on a number of occasions across the stage and audience, strongly suggesting an interval and leading to the audience starting to shift in their seats and move to clap. These are simple directorial and technical decisions that had an extensive negative effect on the production overall because of a lack of consideration of the audience’s position in the venue.

Some of the performances could have been salvageable had they not been fighting against poor direction. However, with shouting being used in place of nuanced emotion, an over-egged Poor Tom, and Lear being confined to one tiny upstage spot for what is arguably the most powerful speech in the play, there was no avoiding the myriad directorial issues.

Purple Coat take what they describe as Shakespeare’s “greatest, bleakest and perhaps last great play,” and deliver a coarse production that soon derails itself with cheap tropes and attempted dramatic shortcuts. To steal words from the bard himself, “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

King Lear runs in Smock Alley until the 12th July before touring.