Contrary to what the people who don’t dig past the crowded streets and first pages of the programme might tell you, The Edinburgh Fringe isn’t just comedy, dance interpretation, and English, public school Performing Arts students standing on buckets on the Royal Mile.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a world-renowned arts festival that takes place annually in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is the largest open-access arts festival in the world, featuring an (often overwhelming) variety of performances including theatre, comedy, music, and dance. The festival showcases established and emerging artists from all around the globe – lots of performers have used it as a platform to launch impressive careers – providing a space for creative expression and experimentation. During the festival period, the population of Edinburgh is said to double in size!
Throughout the month of August, there are literally thousands of shows spread across numerous venues throughout the city. While many are hosted in long-established venues and well-known city locations, my favourite ones are always those taking places in the unusual (and sometimes outright bananas) venues.
In this blog, we’ll be looking back at some of the most fun and quirky Edinburgh Festival venues, as well as providing tips for planning your visit and maximising your Edinburgh Fringe Festival experience.
The Unforgettable Edinburgh Fringe Experiences: Immersion and Interaction in Quirky Venues
A red Ford Escort – Alfie Joey’s Mini-Cabaret
In 2003, Alfie Joey Performed his entire play from inside a red Ford Escort. Audience members were invited to sit in the passenger seats while he told his real-life stories, hosted a raffle, and served cups of tea.
A chicken coop
In 2019, the popular Pear Tree beer garden played host to Laughing Horse @ The World’s Smallest Fringe Venue – a chicken coop! The venue was so small that it could only hold one person at a time. It was a popular talking point and hosted many a festival goer due to its well-known location, with lots of other bars and other stages nearby.
An Uber – Andrew Maxwell’s Comedy Car
In 2018, Uber decided they wanted their own slice of the Fringe and opted to host a series of free comedy performances set in their moving vehicles. Audience members were piled into the back of an Uber and shipped around town for 15-minutes at a time while Comedian Andrew Maxwell gave them a whirlwind tour of his observational comedy act and a taste of the city’s sights.
A Fudge Kitchen – The Fudge Shop
In 2011, a slapstick quartet sketch group took over the Royal Mile Fudge Kitchen for a series of after-hours performances. The evenings included a round of original songs from Toby Williams, Tony Dunn, David Gibson and Patch Hyde, alongside mouthwatering fudge samples. Audience members were invited to embrace the BYOB policy and enjoy a pantomime-like celebration of silliness.
A storage container – Darkfield
Darkfield are no stranger to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Captivating audiences with their unique shows performed within storage containers, they transform these confined spaces into immersive environments that rely on sight deprivation and binaural sound. Darkfield’s intense container shows provide a distinct blend of suspense, mystery, and sensory stimulation; past performances have included Séance (a Victorian Séance experience), Flight (an Airbus 320 with a sudden loss in cabin pressure), and Eulogy (a dreamlike journey through a labyrinth hotel).
A motorised Beijing rickshaw – Hand Made in China: Moons, Migration & Messages
In 2014, Chinese theatre company Hua Dan, an NGO based in Hong Kong, teamed up with Tinderbox Project and Alchemy Arts to elaborate on a project first presented to Edinburgh by the Beijing Community Rickshaw Gallery. The show, titled ‘Hand Made in China: Moons, Migration & Messages’, was designed to share the stories and perceptions of life for ordinary people in China. Settling down in a space only large enough for an audience of two, visitors were provided with herbal teas and asked to choose an item from a basket of five things. During the show, they were joined by a second performer, who delivered a short story about the chosen object.
A beach – Tom Basden’s ‘Holes’
In 2013, Tom Basden’s Holes bussed audiences out of town to a “secret seaside location” (Spoiler alert: Portobello Beach) where they were walked to a large sandpit. The play began on the beach, starting from the point at which 4 sole survivors of a plane crash find themselves shipwrecked on a remote island.
A football stadium – The Edinburgh Zombie Experience
In 2021, The Edinburgh Zombie Experience introduced visitors to a sketchy medical corporation named ZeoBioTech, who claimed to have found a “safe” way to extract organs from zombies that could be used for human transplant. As with any good zombie tale, a number of their semi-human test-subjects had escaped, and audiences were invited by the company to enjoy a site visit as its temporary facility (Easter Road Stadium) to put locals fears to rest. The performance was promoted as “a cross between a ghost walk and an escape room adventure.” During the 45-minute walk-through, visitors were tasked with problem solving missions, tunnel navigation, and escaping the clutches of the undead.
The top of an extinct volcano – Barry Ferns
Comedian Barry Ferns loves the top of Edinburgh’s iconic Arthur’s Seat so much that he’s been performing his (rather windswept) comedy shows up there since 2007. Every day at 2pm both Barry and his audience schlepped up the old volcano for a round of his comedy magic. His 2013 show was so popular that it received a special celebrity audience member, David Hasslehoff, which promoted Barry to encourage an end-of-show Nightrider theme tune sing-along as he ran down the hill.
A caravan – Lou Conran: Small Medium at Large
In 2015, Self-confessed comedian and ‘weirdo’ Lou Conran tapped into her upbringing by a clairvoyant mother and spent her Edinburgh Festival Fringe in a caravan parked on the Assembly Gardens. The show pulled from Conran’s real-life experiences and talked about finding dead bodies and giving readings via the medium of food.
A container lorry – The Container, by Clare Bayley
A poignant performance in 2007, The Container was a distressing drama delivered inside a container lorry, bringing awareness to the harrowing reality of people-trafficking. Inside the vessel were 5 people (packed in with the audience), stowed in an unidentified European location, all with the aim of reaching the UK and starting a new life. The intense story received the Fringe First Award for outstanding new writing and Amnesty’s Freedom of Expression Award. Following its Edinburgh debut, the show went on global tour.
A garden shed – Iraq Out and Loud
In 2016, a garden shed played host to a string of comedians, authors and politicians, including Stewart Lee, Omid Djalili and Ian Rankin. They were tasked with reading Sir John Chilcot’s entire 6,000-page report on the Iraq war, invasion and occupation. Staged as a non-stop 24-hour performance, the show took weeks to complete. The aim of this extraordinary endeavour was to encourage thorough engagement with the report and ignite discussions regarding the actions of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government in the lead-up to the Iraq military intervention. It had taken 7 years for the report to be released and it contained a staggering 2.6 million words, three times the length of William Shakespeare’s complete works.
A swimming pool – Ophelia (Drowning)
In 2009, the Apex International Hotel showcased a production called “Ophelia (Drowning)” within its swimming pool. The unique performance quickly grabbed the spotlight, drawing significant press coverage, including a prominent feature in The Guardian newspaper on the festival’s opening day. With its sad portrayal of Shakespeare’s Ophelia’s descent into madness, the show struck a chord with audiences and achieved sold-out performances throughout its run.
Planning Your Visit: Tips for Maximising Your Edinburgh Fringe Festival Experience
The festival lasts for several weeks, so choose your dates wisely. Consider the time you’ll need to explore the city and attend multiple shows. Also, be aware of the peak and off-peak periods for better availability and ticket options. I recommend booking in as many shows in the first week as possible. Many performances run ‘Preview’ shows at a slightly reduced rate.
Book in Advance: Popular shows can sell out quickly, so it’s advisable to book tickets in advance. Research the program, identify your must-see shows, and secure your tickets early to avoid disappointment.
Embrace Variety: The Edinburgh Fringe Festival offers a diverse range of performances, from comedy and theatre to music and dance. Embrace the variety and try something new. Step out of your comfort zone and discover hidden gems. One of my favourite things to do during opening week is to ru n a couple of Google searches for ‘Unusual Edinburgh Fringe Events (and enter the current year)’.
Engage with Artists: The Fringe Festival provides an opportunity to connect with artists and performers. Attend Q&A sessions, post-show discussions, and workshops to gain insights into their creative processes and engage in meaningful conversations.
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