Flyers are pushed into my hand as I weave in and out of the crowds on the Royal Mile, dodging children stunned by magicians’ tricks, a juggler miraculously keeping five swords in the air, a man dressed up as a Victorian dame, and a musician playing their guitar upside down. It’s all hustle, and bustle, and hustle; and whilst I have stood in many crowds for many years on Edinburgh’s High Street during the festival, it all feels much brighter and louder, after two years of stony grey silence.
As much as some of the locals complain about tourists who do not know how to cross the road and about how you cannot find a seat in the pub, the city delights in the noise and chaos. There is truly something for everyone with thousands of shows on all of August. Locations can be grand- the Divinity School on the Mound is decked with flags to become Assembly Hall, with its gorgeous great rooms seating hundreds. Yet others would argue that the true Fringe experience is watching a comedian make the best of being crammed into the side-room of a pub basement. Some people I met had spreadsheets: name of show, genre, location, duration. Efficiency to them is key with so much to see; but there is also something wonderful about stumbling into a box theatre, inspired by a poster on a lamppost or just the pint in your hand, and the surprise of finding yourself thoroughly entertained. Of all the shows I saw (twenty-six across the month of August with my free pass from work), the one I enjoyed the most was a circus that my flatmate suggested, and I knew nothing about. Inverting gender stereotypes and developing themes such as gender fluidity, toxic masculinity, and black womanhood through acrobatics and song, Muse was nothing like I had ever seen before. It enthralled me.
That’s not to say that the best of the Fringe is high-brow. I had fun with my co-workers going to Never Let Me Go, watching a man in high stilettos perform every character and scene in Titanic (including the steamy one in the back of the car). Working for a box office at the Fringe meant knowing a huge group of people just as interested in art and comedy, and always having someone to see a show with. I worked almost exclusively evenings, but the excitement from the customers kept me awake. In lulls we would have great conversations, and when there was nothing left to talk about during the fourth week, we could always comment on the show we had seen yesterday. Schedules were skewed- with two days-off dotted at different points in the week- and the big staff night out was on a Sunday. Never before has my boss encouraged me to go out the night before I’m working, never mind been the DJ on the decks until 5am.
It did feel incredibly hurried. I couldn’t sit still; I was either working or if I wasn’t. I felt the need to see as many shows as possible to talk about when I was working. After it all ended, I was exhausted and very ill from Fringe Flu, but it was all worth it. I watched some of the best theatre, comedy, circus, and music in the world, without having to walk further than twenty minutes from my student flat. I met interesting people, both customers and colleagues, some who have become firm friends. I saw my city, that has seemed so unnaturally silent, bursting with noise and life.