Back in 1992, when I was young, handsome, lithe and fresh faced as a daisy, I spent two weeks performing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was nothing fancy, a Bertolt Brecht play called Man is Man with the Leicestershire Youth Theatre. Now just imagine. A bunch of 17 and 18 year olds sent hundreds of miles from home, left unattended in flats at the worlds biggest arts festival. Wow. You would think that would mean a LOT of sex. I’m sure some people got a lot of sex, but I know it wasn’t me. I did get alcohol poisoning one evening and there may have been naked star jumps….
But we were there for the art, of course. I think I even went to see a show. It was in the back room of an Art Gallery. A tiny stage and room for 30 people. I fell asleep. But not before a naked man had jumped out of cake. It was possibly the most ‘Fringe’ experience you could think of.
Come to think of it I spent more time in A & E on the trip then I did in a theatre other than my own performing space. But that’s another story. (Not for the alcohol poisoning, for a friend’s injury sustained whilst failing to operate an underpass correctly.)
In planning this piece. (Yes, planning. You thought I just made them up on the spur of the moment right?) I did think about pulling out some old photos from the trip, so you could see me looking so virginal. But then it struck me. I have no photos of myself from that trip. I have some pictures of friends. And views of Auld Reekie, but none of myself. How times have changed. The selfie didn’t exist in 1992, apart from the funny arms length photo you took of yourself to finish of your film at the end of the holiday. You had 24 snaps. You treasured them. Just an observation as to how things have changed. Now you can’t log into Facebook without seeing a dozen selfies from people’s holiday’s But, to be fair, most of my Facebook friends are a lot better looking than me.
But it was the whole experience of Edinburgh that was intoxicating to my young mind. (As well as the 70cl of Glenmorangie Whiskey I downed that famous evening. Only time I have ever had memory black outs, so perhaps I did get some sex. Though it seems unlikely and I can’t imagine I was a competent and satisfying lover if I did.) The life, the excitement, the thrill of going into the Fringe Performers club, with its various bars. It was a good deal less pretentious than you would imagine. We climbed Arthur’s Seat, went swimming in the Commonwealth Pool, went out on nighttime flyposting raids, I invented the Ham and Lemon Curd sandwich (You’re welcome.) I inadvertently terrified a young lady. (Long story, but basically, a bit worse for wear, I went into the spare room of our flat to pinch the unused pillow from the bed. Only to discover a blonde head on it. Luckily still attached to her body although rather alarmed to wake to find me, boxer shorted, tugging at her pillow. I profusely apologised and fled back to my room. Turns out our third flatmate had let her sleep over without telling us. She left early the next morning after more apology on my part.
We had one review in The Scotsman for our play and it was dire. But, to be fair, the reviewer clearly had no idea how Brecht should be performed. (The Alienation Effect dahlings.) And since most of the cast were hungover every day I can’t say I was overly surprised. During the play I had to faint and lay unconscious for several minutes. It was an interesting gamble whether I’d ever get up again. It was not uncommon to spot audience members also enjoying a mid afternoon nap.
Before each show we’d get into costume and parade up the Royal Mile shouting our show and venue. We’d often meet the cast of Beowulf, also a student production, coming the other way, leading to increasingly loud confrontations and combative estimations over the qualities of each others show.
God it was fun. Come to think of it, I should have seen their show, then gone out on the lash with them. Might have scored me some action then. (I was still of the opinion that simply looking moody in a bar with foppish hair would make me irresistible to women. Quoting lengthy sections of Monty Python and Star Wars was just icing on the cake!)
I came home broke, tired and a good deal wiser. Alright, not that much wiser, but with some good anecdotes.
I fell in love with the city. Totally lost my heart. The first thing on my lottery win todo list is to buy an apartment up there. From the moment you step off the train at Waverley Station and walk up the steps onto Princes Street I am lost in admiration of the city. Its contrasts, its wonderful architecture. The pubs, the shops, the restaurants, the people. I could even learn to live with the bagpipes.
The graceful, Georgian splendour of the New Town. The three dimensional, Romantic, towering streets in the Old Town. The amazing view from atop Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. The legends and ghosts around every corner; Burke and Hare, Deacon Brodie, Mary King’s Close! The Forth Bridge being all fancy just a stone’s throw away, the port of Leith down the road.
I’ve been back a few occasions since. Not for the Fringe, just visiting, and my ardour has never waned. A rather conservative and dignified Stag Weekend in a 5 start hotel, all cool restaurants and Jazz clubs. (Only time I’ve been in a hotel where a wee lad came round to turn down the beds in the evening. What’s with that? Also, I used a concierge! Glam!)
We had a day in Edinburgh a few years ago, Mrs Bloke, Little Bloke and myself. It was during festival time, so walking down the Royal Mile we were bombarded by dozens of flyerers with flyers for every show imaginable. It is bonkers. And wonderful.
BBC Radio 4 has started putting out a daily Podcast from the Fringe, focusing mainly on the comedy output of the four week festival and it has me hankering to don my big floppy acting hat, to wrap up my clothes in a bindle and set off to do a show.
Whether I could turn a daily Archers blog into an hour show is of some doubt perhaps. Whether I could afford to throw away £8,000+ on hiring a venue, accommodation and living expenses, not to mention going to see other shows, is less in doubt. I can’t. No flipping way. It isn’t cheap and unless you are a big name you have no guarantee of filling your 50 seat venue night after night, or rather 11:30 am, which is the only slot you could afford.
And, if I’m honest. Would I find it all the same thrilling experience now I’m 25 years longer in the tooth?
I don’t know. But by God I’d like to find out!