Where you can get Fringe fun all year round

Anne  Archer. Pic: John Saavage
Anne Archer. Pic: John Saavage
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THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe is just six weeks away, with companies from around the globe preparing to descend upon the Capital for our annual arts extravaganza.

Each will hope that their production gets noticed; no mean feat when there are somewhere in the region of 3000 shows all vying for the same audience. It’s a bun fight.

The arrival of the Fringe also means the arrival of pop up venues such as The Pleasance, Assembly, Underbelly and C Venues - places that for just over three weeks of the year become a major focus for the those seeking to be entertained.

However, it’s worth noting that some Fringe producers are based in Edinburgh all year around. The Gilded Balloon is one, Universal Arts, who programme the New Town Theatre on George Street, and the Hill Street Solo Theatre, another.

And let’s not forget Salt n Sauce Productions, which programmes The Stand Comedy Club, the Assembly Rooms and St Andrew Square.

All three boast great shows this year, mixing local home-grown talent with international names.

At the Gilded Balloon, where they are celebrating 29 years on the Fringe, there’s the usual mix of cabaret, comedy, dance, magic, music and theatre.

Based, as it has been since the Cowgate fire, at Teviot Row House, the Gilded Balloon has 109 shows playing over 27 days.

Some of the highlights include The Cuban Brothers who, after almost a decade-long break, return for two nights only - expect a blend of sexy, soulful music with jaw-dropping b-boy action and riotous comedy.

Popular star-gazer and Strictly Come Dancing hopeful Russell Grant also makes his ‘Edinburgh’ debut at the Gilded Balloon this year, in a show described as a mix of stand-up, live music and plenty of glitzy, glam dancing.

And talking of glam, don’t miss TV personality Nancy Dell’Olio in Rainbows From Diamonds, in which she will share her beliefs on choosing how to live with yourself, even if your life is a media sensation. Confessional, witty and inspirational, Dell’Olio will hold court for an hour, sharing her passion for life.

Finally, it wouldn’t be Fringe at the Gilded Balloon without a performance or two of Kiss Me Honey Honey, starring Andy Gray and Grant Stott. Back for a limited run of just seven performances, this will be your last chance to see this fast- paced, shambolic, five-star show, which sold out at least year’s festival.

Universal Arts, meanwhile, celebrates its 25th successive Fringe with a programme of shows in four different venues - the New Town Theatre, Hill Street Solo Theatre, Hill Street Drama Lodge and the Lennox Suite at the EICC.

Artistic director, Tomek Borkowy says, “Over the previous 24 festivals, we have introduced literally thousands of artists from around the world to local audiences.

“We have brought companies to the Capital from more than 40 countries, making audiences laugh or cry but always striving to create a first-rate theatre experience.

“This year you can enjoy ancient sit-down comedy from Japan, contemporary vaudeville circus from France, a love story for Scotland from Russia, cutting-edge performance from Japan, magical drama from Brazil, the return of big hits – Princess Pumpalot: The Farting Princess, and Silence in Court (accompanied by the all-new Conflict in Court) - late evening, musical variety shows and the second Hill Street Solo Theatre programme.”

Universal Arts also present the spectacular Philharmonic of Wit at the EICC and, in collaboration with local In Your Face Theatre Company, two thrilling shows Trainspotting and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, as well as Thief, winner of the Brighton Fringe Best Theatrical Performance Award.

Staying in the New Town area, the Assembly Rooms have teamed up with St Andrew Square to form a new Fringe ‘super hub’, where more than 1000 performances will bring together 200-plus Fringe veterans, first timers, international stars and homegrown talent.

Yes, for the first time ever, St Andrew Square Garden will be part of the festival, and feature The Famous Spiegeltent as well as marking the debut of The Stand In The Square.

Assembly Rooms Fringe director Tommy Sheppard, says, “Over the last two years we have redefined the geography of the world’s largest arts festival by bringing it back to the centre of town.

“Now that process accelerates with a new open air venue in St Andrew Square just moments away from the Assembly Rooms.”

At The Assembly Rooms, some of the highlights include Rab C Nebitt’s Mary Doll, actress Elaine C Smith, in The Pure, The Dead And The Brilliant, a mischievous satire on the independence referendum, by Alan Bissett; Ruby Wax, in her acclaimed new show based on her number one best selling book, Sane New World; and Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Anne Archer in The Trial of Jane Fonda. The true story of Fonda’s anti-Vietnam War actions that helped end the conflict and led to many branding her Hanoi Jane.

Comedy, meanwhile, comes from the likes of Andrew Maxwell, Jerry Sadowitz, Brendon Burns and Tom Stade. There’s also Lucy Porter’s new play, The Fair Intellectual Club, an Edinburgh-based true story of teenage love, friendship and betrayal, set at the dawn of The Scottish Enlightenment.

For music lovers Camille O’ Sullivan brings her haunting renditions of Radiohead, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Kurt Weil and Jacques Brel to the Assembly Rooms, while Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus stars in Reality: The Musical.

It may be the biggest arts festival in the world, but the heart of the Fringe, is local.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from 31 July-24 August, for details of all shows mentioned visit www.edfringe.com