Features Published 9 August 2014

Fringe Things

The Edinburgh Fringe experience encompasses more than just the shows, it's all the things that happen in between as well.
Exeunt Staff

Lauren Mooney: I’ve taken a lot of overnight megabuses in my time, but this is the first with beds, because ADULTHOOD. As we wait to set off at 11pm, Victoria bus station is full of furious late-night travellers, but there’s (or am I imagining it?) a thin hum of excitement, of chatty friendliness, running through the Edinburgh queue.

The driver dishes out muffins and water, and as we head upstairs, the bus’s odd geometry reveals itself: bunk beds like hammocks and thin maroon double-mattresses all piled on top of each other. It looks unlikely. Sliding in for the night, getting comfy, the driver lays down the law over the tannoy: no drink, no drugs, no dealing. Spoilsport.

It only (only?) takes eight hours to get there – eight hours of rolling half-sleep while the bus speeds, slows, banks, before we all wake up, groggy in the grey light streaming through the windows. There are forgotten muffins flattened on most of the mattresses, and across the aisle from where we’re getting our things together, the woman in the top bunk has lost her shoes. ‘I think they fell on you in the night,’ she says to the man below.

‘Here you go,’ he says, still half asleep, passing something up.

‘This isn’t my shoe. I think it’s yours.’

‘Yes,’ he says, with the air of a man who has passed somebody the wrong shoe before. ‘Probably.’

Somebody else says, ‘What’s that sound?’ and there’s a pause as we all listen to the unmistakeable thud of heavy rain on the roof of the bus. Yes, it’s as wet here as you remember. Welcome to Edinburgh.

Natasha Tripney: Sometimes being in Edinburgh during the Fringe can have a slight world-slip quality. The streets and the stone of the city look familiar, they look normal enough, but for a few wet weeks in August they are peopled by the surreal. It’s like living in something written by Noel Fielding. The whole city becomes a theatre.

During my half hour walk across town, down from the Meadows to Leith Walk and the Forest Fringe to see the very excellent This is How We Die by Christopher Brett Bailey, I encountered the following: a barrel-like man in an orange t-shirt handing out invisible flyers: “there’s no show yet but one day there will be.” A woman in a floor length green dress having a terse, semi-whispered discussion about housemate etiquette with a wan man in leather trousers. A girl with hair the exact same shade of hot neon pink as her DMs carrying a guitar. A tired but smiling young woman in a pierrot costume. Stewart Lee. A girl carrying a vast stuffed brown bear almost as big as she was. A man with an immaculate moustache walking a similarly immaculate smoke-grey whippet. A troupe of five people, their faces milk white, wearing matching suits spattered with red paint and each carrying a step-ladder. A Victorian gentleman. A pipe-cleaner limbed blonde boy with his face painted in a way that makes him look a bit like a tear-stained tiger. A little girl watching a man blow bubbles through a strange metallic contraption, her eyes star-bright with delight.

Catherine Love: Brian Ferguson is hunched over, shoulders raised, braced as if against a storm. “This feels pretty Scottish.” Sandy Grierson lurches across the stage, imaginary pint in hand and head wobbling. “This feels pretty Scottish”. They strike pose after pose, walk after walk. Middle-class Scottish, working-class Scottish, young Scottish, old Scottish, drunk Scottish.

I’m watching The Scottish Enlightenment Project, a work in progress of the new collaboration between the National Theatre of Scotland and the TEAM. It’s not strictly speaking about the referendum on Scottish independence. As it currently exists, it follows two Scottish men (Ferguson and Grierson) and an American woman (the TEAM’s Jessica Almasy) on a road trip through Scotland, exploring – among other things – the traditions and identities of both nations and where they overlap. I’m not sure independence is even mentioned.

Yet it manages to touch upon many of the questions that lie at the heart of the independence debate – the real heart of it, not necessarily what gets given airtime. Questions about what it means to be Scottish, about the confidence (or lack of confidence) that individuals have in their nation and their national identity, about what it might look like if we could scrap the system and start over.

It’s been commented that surprisingly few shows on the Fringe this year are directly addressing the impending referendum. But The Scottish Enlightenment Project stealthily gets me thinking about it more than most news stories or television debates. There’s a suggestion that if it’s possible to have confidence in being Scottish, in what that means, then perhaps it’s possible to reimagine what a whole nation – its economy, its society, its democracy – might look like. And that’s something that has repercussions for all of us, Scottish or not.

The next day I’m out in the rain, that drenching Edinburgh rain that sweeps in at a moment’s notice, hood up and shoulders bunched around my ears. This feels pretty Scottish.

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Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine