There is a reason—a very good one—why all good things are said to come in small packages. Though we can’t promise there is a Darwinian theory or a Newtonian law to prove the adage, what we can tell you with certainty is that the city of Edinburgh epitomises it. The capital of Scotland, teeny though it is with a population of not even half a million, has a lot rooting for it. Looking for some reputable history? Edinburgh has it. Care for enviable heritage? Again, it’s here. Maybe wildlife? Or fashion perhaps? Food? Edinburgh, believe it or not, nurtures all these, and more good things, in its bosom. However, the one time it truly comes into its own is when the indomitable Edinburgh Festival Fringe comes visiting. Armed with the singular distinction of being the largest festival of arts and culture anywhere in the world, it has statistics to prove its hallowed status: Almost 60,000 performers and more than 3,500 shows packed into three weeks. We’ve done the math for you and that works out to a mind-blasting 166 shows each day! Did we say good things? The Fringe is the greatest there is.
So, what imparts tinsel-edge to the Fringe? Its resounding popularity, to start with. They say Edinburgh’s population swells up more than double during the Fringe. Every wall on practically every street and close (an alley with a dead end) is full of posters and flyers of events; even the cobbled streets turn colorful with brochures and leaflets being handed out readily. There is a buzz you can literally hear.
But let’s first go back to the beginning and trace its humble genesis. In 1947, around the time we were celebrating—and also grappling with—our nascent Independence, the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival was being held. As a mark of defiance, a few companies that hadn’t been invited decided to turn up and perform on the sidelines anyway, giving birth to the Fringe and the moniker. No one knew that a mark of protest would eventually take on the tone and tenor of the largest and most iconic such festival in the world. Today, Festival Fringe has many versions—even New York has one—but nothing matches the diversity and spiritedness of Edinburgh.
Making it crazy fun, quirky and a jamboree unlike another is the fact that everyone’s invited—from celebrities and renowned names to novices and up-and-coming artistes. Anyone who can afford to pay for the journey can put up a show. While this underlines the festival’s universal and inclusive ethos, it also throws up exciting prospects for the audiences. The genre is no bar either. There are dancers, gymnasts, comedians, actors, burlesque dancers, mime artistes, storytellers, acrobats, musicians, freaks… at any given time, someone is performing somewhere. And it needn’t necessarily be in established venues like theatres and clubs. The entire city is Fringe-ready and ad hoc spaces like spare rooms and public parks are quickly filled up. Given the global popularity of the festival, the tickets are up for sale up to six months in advance.
The Free Edinburgh Festival runs parallel to the official festival, and lots of buskers and performers take over the streets, pavements and public spaces for free. The Royal Mile, stretching from the Edinburgh Castle to the Queen’s official residence in Scotland the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is your safest bet to catch some of the explosive action without paying a dime. Besides, there are hundreds of Edinburgh Festival Fringe free shows. For those on a budget and looking for an irresistible bargain (remember this is a predominantly student area), the festival organisers have installed a Virgin Money Half Price Hut that doles out tickets at, no prizes for guessing, half the price.
It’s not the Fringe alone that makes Edinburgh what it is: An international hub. The city hosts 10 other iconic festivals each year focused on films, books, storytelling, science and military traditions, among others, and many are organised in the eighth month. August is the busiest time for Edinburgh and it leaves no stone unturned in playing host to perfection.
The next time someone tells you the hackneyed homily about how good things come in small packages, don’t smirk. Just think of Edinburgh and the delightful Fringe, and you’ll find yourself in agreement.
(Next year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe will be held from August 2-26. For details of the shows, you can pick up the guidebook ‘Fringe Programme’− it’s heavy, mind it − available for free in all shops of Edinburgh; better still, download the Edinburgh Festival Fringe app.)
Photo Credits - Banner Left: Forbes; Banner Center: Al Jazeera; Banner Right: International Traveller
There is a reason—a very good one—why all good things are said to come in small packages. Though we can’t promise there is a Darwinian theory or a Newtonian law to prove the adage, what we can tell you with certainty is that the city of Edinburgh epitomises it. The capital of Scotland, teeny though it is with a population of not even half
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