Whether you’re looking to catch a show or not, Edinburgh’s unique venues are what makes the Fringe such a lively celebration of culture.
This year’s Festival Fringe will take place across 294 venues and host more than 50,000 shows between them. Now in its 69th year, the event commandeers pubs, clubs, restaurants, schools, tents and even toilets for the duration of August.
1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL, 0131 560 1581, http://www.summerhall.co.uk/
Originally the site of a family-run brewery in the early 1700s, and until 2011 the home of the University of Edinburgh’s veterinary school, Summerhall has since been a dedicated, year-round arts hub. Hours pass quickly in Summerhall’s central courtyard, where the frantic pace of the city centre is turned down a few notches. As comfortable as the surroundings are, though, the venue’s programming promises to be “risky [and] engaging.”
What to see: Macbain, where Shakespearian pathos meets pop culture tragedy as Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. http://festival16.summerhall.co.uk/event/macbain/
60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ, 0131 556 6550, http://www.pleasance.co.uk
One of the Fringe’s best loved sites, the Pleasance Courtyard is a multi-venue complex with an expansive beer garden at its heart – a place that one Scotsman critic called “the centre of the cultural universe”. Shows at Pleasance tend to be of a high standard, but if you’re just passing for a pint then the surroundings are a treat in themselves.
What to see: Perennial Fringe favourite Beardyman performs a seven-day run with a new show, One Album Per Hour.
5 York Place, EH1 3EB, 0131 558 7272, www.thestand.co.uk
If you only see one stand-up comedy show at the Fringe, make sure it’s at The Stand. The 21-year-old enterprise, which also has venues in Glasgow and Newcastle, is the standard-bearer for independent comedy in the capital. Frankie Boyle is known to drop by to do unannounced shows, something that seems to typify the casual air of the 160-capacity basement club. It also takes a welcome stance against modern annoyances like heckling, mobile phones and hen and stag parties.
What to see: The ever-essential Stewart Lee, whose work-in-progress shows – this one’s called Content Provider – are often better than the completed works of many others.
2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU, 0131 623 3030, www.assemblyfestival.com
Though Assembly no longer occupies the Assembly Rooms on George Street, the venues under the William Burdett-Coutts banner remain impressive. Among these is the Assembly Roxy, a converted church whose basement, a noirish shelter where revellers can relax with a drink, is one of its many charming features.
What to see: I Don’t Believe It! An Evening With Victor Meldrew will “recreate a legendary and hilarious episode” from his much-loved BBC TV sitcom, One Foot in the Grave.
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall
Nicolson Street, Eh8 9DW, 0131 510 2384, thespaceuk.com
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall is a particularly good spot to catch theatre and performance art; the former, organisers say, is at the core of their programming. Contemporary issues pepper the programming: Ian Heggie’s 1%, spoken word piece Knowing EU and The Monologues of a Tired Nurse all point to shows driven by powerful social commentary.
What to see: An anti-war monologue The Rose Of Jericho, from Theatre Ortas, has attracted rave reviews for its blend of the personal and the political.
66 Cowgate, EH1 1JX, 0844 545 8252, www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk
Another marquee space at the Fringe, Underbelly Cowgate has the advantage of opening till 5am, nestled among one of the liveliest after-dark spots in the capital. Opposite one of Edinburgh’s best nightclubs, Sneaky Pete’s, and the longstanding rocker’s paradise Opium, Underbelly Cowgate offers a fun, round-the-clock counterpoint to the Cowgate’s traditional late-night revelry.
What to see: Grimm: An Untold Tale reframes the classic fairytales of the Brothers Grimm through the eyes of the women who inspired them.
Gilded Balloon Teviot
Teviot Row House, EH8 9AJ, www.gildedballoon.co.uk
At the side of the Bristo Square courtyard complex that could contest the Pleasance Courtyard’s pre-eminence as the beating heart of the Fringe, Gilded Balloon Teviot remains one of the festival’s most venerable institutions, with a broad programme specialising in comedy. Housed in a fine neo-gothic building, the oldest purpose-built student union in the world, Gilded Balloon Teviot is one of several venues that facilitates a visual exchange between history and modernity that can make the Fringe so spectacular.
What to see: Burnistoun Live At The Fringe, a show which will likely prove a huge hit – tickets for their run at Glasgow Comedy Festival sold out in under an hour.
The Jazz Bar
1a Chambers Street, EH1 1HR, 0131 226 0000, www.thejazzbar.co.uk
In some ways the Jazz Bar is relatively untouched by August’s city centre-wide party – it carries on as normal, programming a broad spectrum of nocturnal jazz and blues. But for a taste of something rare during the Fringe – a leisurely atmosphere that is, and feels, close to the Fringe – the candlelit basement on Chambers Street is just the tonic.
What to see: New York jazz vocalist Jess Abrahms reworks Cat Stevens classics such as Wild World, Father and Son, How Can I Tell You and The Wind on Cat Stevens Reconstructed.
Gilded Balloon at National Museum of Scotland
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, EH1 1JF, 0300 123 6789, http://nms.ac.uk/
The newly-refurbished National Museum of Scotland, which re-opened last week after a £14 million expansion, will be a Fringe venue for the first time, hosting a smaller mix of comedy, theatre and children’s shows. As one of the capital’s most imperiously impressive attractions, the national museum is a perfect setting for the festival’s more stately occasions.
What to see: Rory Bremner Meets…, where the stand-up invites a guest for an hour of “comedy and conversation” across seven shows.
29-35 Niddry Street, EH1 1LG, 0131 226 0000, www.thebansheelabyrinth.com
One of several Free Fringe spots, the Banshee Labyrinth is famous for being Scotland’s most haunted pub. It’s also one of the Free Fringe’s best venues, an intimate and atmospheric place to enjoy the comedy and spoken word acts it showcases. Bannermans, round the corner on the Cowgate, merits a mention here as a Free Fringe venue that fosters a similar conviviality.
What to see: If Richard Gadd’s Monkey See, Monkey Do measures up to the quality last year’s Waiting For Gaddot, which the Scotsman’s Jay Richardson described as “dark, unhinged and arch,” then we’re in for a real treat.