‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.’ I spent most of this year’s Edinburgh with Forest Gump’s infamous hallmark card platitude twanging through my head. It may be a statement that stinks of cheese to high heaven but in terms of the Fringe it’s something we could learn from. For a lot of people the festival isn’t like a box of chocolates at all, but rather a very carefully chosen menu and it means they’re missing out on many of the Specials (ok I’ll stop this analogy now).
I’ll admit my new found admiration for pot luck comes from necessity. For the first few years of going to the Fringe my viewing output matched the input of artists that I knew, before slowly moving out to companies I admired and shows I’d heard would be ‘good’. Consequently for the first 8 years of my Fringe history my world was a very small place, full of people who agreed with my theatrical leanings. But in 2011 it exploded as I was plunged into shows and audiences I would never usually see.
Since I have begun writing about theatre I have been sent to things in all corners of the Edinburgh kingdom. Averaging around 6 shows a day it’s been an experience full of highs and lows. Of course I’ve delighted in some but others were a lifetime away from anything I would choose to attend; who really wants to see Paul Daniels: Hair Today Gone Tomorrow? (Actually he was quite good, review here).
It’s been exhausting but invaluable. Not only have I found a couple of hidden treasures (Real Men Dream in Black and White and At the Sans Hotel particularly) but I’ve had my eyes opened to a much more holistic view of the Fringe. And it’s HUGE.
Stop rolling your eyes at me. Of course I know that that’s a received wisdom but how many of us actually experience it in all its messy vastness? I certainly never used to. Now I’ve shared early morning coffee theatre with old American tourists, and marvelled at puppetry with 5 year olds, agog. I’ve despaired at a one on one performance that was meant to be for more than just me (being thanked at the end of that one for simply being there was a low point), relished obscure performance art, endured HORRENDOUS sketch comedy (Sketch Off – consider yourself named and shamed) and watched a lot of mediocre musical theatre. I’m only now really beginning to see Edinburgh for the tapestry that it is, warts, beauty spots and all.
£10 tickets begin to add up so I’m not advocating 40 unknown shows whilst you’re up there. But in between your carefully pre-planned schedule maybe take a dip in the chocolate box just once in a direction you wouldn’t normally tread. Sure, you may get a stinker, but either way you’ll share something with people you’d normally just storm past in the street.