Fringe spirit is in the pink

Katie Duce on Edinburgh's most esoteric venue

I’m no fan of barbershop quartets, nor of wacky people shoving fliers with dubious quotes in my face, but when it comes to Edinburgh, it’s all in the spirit of the Fringe and must be embraced. Walking down the Royal Mile in August can feel like running the gauntlet, but it’s really a reflection of the festival as a whole: a chaotic, welcoming guarantee of originality, and a microcosm of the sheer range of entertainment on offer.

If comedy’s your thing, then the festival can’t be beaten. There’s an incomprehensible amount of fantastic, fresh and innovative work available, all set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most beautiful and brooding cities (and a lot of bagpipes).

What better than to watch back-to-back comedy in a miscellany of interesting and odd venues? From the damp, atmospheric caves to tiny cupboard-like rooms at the Stand, the venues at Edinburgh are as much a part of the experience as anything.  

However, as life relentlessly dictates, it’s the big boys who seem to score the winning shots. In 2007, Ricky Gervais chose one night to showcase his stand-up show Fame at the beautiful Edinburgh Castle, much to the consternation of his fellow comics. It was no surprise that, despite charging more than £30, he still managed to pull away potential punters from other comics’ shows. But who wouldn’t say no to a comedy gig in the grounds of a crumbling, ethereal venue steeped in history (well, apart from people who don’t like Ricky Gervais)?

And last year witnessed the controversial ‘breakaway’ group of the festival’s biggest comedy venues to form the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. Much anger ensued, and for me it was the corporate intent which was the most irksome. I’m all for getting the crowds in, but didn’t this just smack of big boy-itis? So I was therefore glad to see that this year there still remains a proliferation of esoteric, original comedy venues, helping to keep that original spirit of the Fringe alive.

I was particularly struck by Caroline Fletcher and Victoria Brook’s Big Pink Bus, resident in SoCo’s Urban Garden. To the untrained eye it might just look like a beached bus full of your nan’s discarded tat, but on closer inspection it’s a lovingly created attempt to make something more permanent and original out of life’s unwanted ornaments, with an unstinting dedication to a good hour’s entertainment to boot.

The Big Pink Bus started out as a degree project and it was only after a chance meeting with – and subsequent lecture from – Lenny Henry that the two decided to launch it as a comedy venue. And what a treat it is. In what other comedy venue would you find half a car, a bar made meticulously out of melted records and crushed drinks cans, Mills and Boon wallpaper, a bearded mannequin posing as a bus conductor, and a plethora of fetching Demis Roussos album covers?

It’s pertinent that Simon Munnery – Fringe favourite and a comedian known for his originality – made regular appearances on the bus, palpably inspired by the miscellany on board. Other Fringe regulars, such as Paul Foot, Patrick Monahan and Pappy’s Fun Club all performed there, as well as a whole host of impressive newcomers. But despite the appealing cast and a solid, central location, it didn’t prove easy to drum up the punters when battling against the more established venues.

So as more and more people flock to the festival, swayed by repeated viewings of that handsome young man off of Mock The Week, or Another Audience with Al Murray on ITV2, we need to ensure that quaint and the alternative get just as much of a look-in as the biggies.

Creativity, originality and a dedication to entertainment lie at the very heart of the festival and this extends beyond the acts to the way they market themselves and the venues they perform in. As the commercial enterprises inevitably take more root, let's continue to embrace the original and the interesting and keep the spirit of the Fringe alive.

Published: 1 Sep 2009

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