The Edinburgh Fringe offers rich pickings for printers. Often beautiful flyers are perpetually pressed into hands by more often than not, beautiful people. One chap, clad beak to braces in gaudy plumes, touted ‘underground rebel bingo’ complete with giveaways of glitter balls, tents and sleeping bag suits. Another lady enticed me to behold a singing shimmering mermaid. By end of week one, sturdy pillars flanking the Royal Mile – scene of scores of outdoor gigs – are deeply swathed with the flickering papers.
From sharp, golden mornings to gale force evenings, festival fever seizes Scotland’s capital. Both the Edinburgh International Festival and rival, Edinburgh Fringe were launched in 1947 to brighten post-war murk. From seven performers then to over 2,500 uninjured shows today, the Fringe has grown to be the world’s largest arts festival and has given rise to actors such as the then sixth former, Sir Derek Jacobi, and plays including Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Such is the array of material unravelling its four weeks – from Potted Potter where all seven of J.K. Rowling’s novels are performed in 70-minutes to a homage to Harold Pinter – that it’s hard to know what to see. In fact that itchy feeling of missing out caused me to stay another day than the allotted schedule.
I ventured with Courvoisier who built pop-up Punch Bar Arthur’s beyond the cobbled courtyard of the stepped terracotta-roofed Pleasance Theatre. Illuminated apple trees sprouted by glowing heat lamps and teal picnic tables. The famous Cognac producer also dispatched 10 Hackney cabs, free for all from 6-10pm within the city’s confines. Their arresting livery featured surprisingly expressive miniature models rowing across a marmalade coloured punch lagoon in reference to the life-sized version realised at Portland Place two-years before. On hailing one, our driver handed out punch recipe cards, revealing the most commonly asked question to be: “What’s an orange wheel?”
My favourite play was written by LA-based Julien Schwab. Held far from afternoon sun down steep steps at St Columba’s by the castle, Roger and Tom was a bright but dark play on a play within a play. Of comedy, Max & Ivan’s Holmes & Watson proved a studied farce given added slapstick and crutch from the fact that one of the party broke their ankle days before leaping 11ft in wrestling misadventure. Also entertaining was Isy Suttie’s fusion of guitar and stand-up, particularly her surprisingly poignant canticle about elementary Welsh grammar.
Owing much to the surreal, complete with kazoos and audience sing-along, the Ukulele Cabaret at The Pear Tree’s Gothic Room required more alcohol than Courvoisier could reasonably ethically dispense to truly savour its raison d’être. But all seemed tame compared to the sandwich act at White Mink’s Voodoo Rooms. Between updated Charleston which almost literally brought the house down and silencing erotic gyrations by Australian hula-hooper, Tiger Lil, a perma-smiling female took a sparking electric angle grinder to her thankfully steel reinforced crotch. Fortunately, by averting eyes and taking deep scoops from the handmade pewter-engraved Courvoisier punch bowl in my midst, I was able to rinse nerves away.
I also caught up with Edinburgh’s restaurant scene. At a Bedouin booth at Tigerlily we were served ample plaice by waiter DT who wore a blue plaster to cover an injury caused by an axe. Meanwhile, a visit to Martin Wishart’s handsome brand new brasserie, The Honours, revealed an innovative take on coq au vin – presented as a fleshy tile. And a shared warm seafood platter at Roy Brett’s Ondine beside Hotel Missoni where I stayed, gave me a sweet taste of local water.
From fulsome feathers to fresh fleshy fish fringing the city, my long weekend seen through punch-tinted glasses bordered from surreal to sapid.
Photography (c) Douglas Blyde