Fringe Preview: Pirates of Penzance

Pirates of Penzance. Pic: Comp
Pirates of Penzance. Pic: Comp
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THE Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a riot of colour, a cacophony of sound, a chaos of tourists and an altogether overwhelming experience. Yet for me, and thousands of other locals, it’s also three weeks when the commute to work doubles in time, when getting to the shops feels more like entering enemy battlefields and during which day to day life has to carry on as normal.

People often say that if you can’t beat them, join them and I think that’s a good approach. That’s why my friends and I decided to set up an amateur theatre group, Cat-Like Tread, and put on our own show at the Fringe this year – Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, which I’m producing.

It feels like we lead double lives during the Fringe, continuing regular day jobs and then going on stage (or backstage) to put on a show. I think it makes our Fringe experience quite extraordinary.

My typical day during show week will start with my usual work alarm at 6.30am, when I’ll force myself out of bed to get ready for work. By 7.05am I’m on the bus into town, which is busier even at this time of day, and on a train by 7.37am (if I’m lucky). At 8.30am I’m set up in the office ready to start a full working day and trying to put Fringe things out of my head. Lunchtime sees me checking emails and frantically trying to sort out any media requests, cast queries, ticket sales reports and any other little emergencies that crop up.

An afternoon of work follows until 5pm rolls around and I’m ready to go home and put my feet up with a cuppa, but that’s not how things work in August.

Instead, I head back into the centre of Edinburgh. I try to find a bite to eat or a spot to relax in for a few minutes. There isn’t enough time to head home and back again because public transport is so busy and takes so much longer than usual.

I need to check on our ticket sales, check in with the venue, make sure we have enough flyers, update our Facebook page and ensure that everyone is ready for another show that evening.

Then we need to do some flyering, trying to sell just a few more tickets, before heading to the venue.

The curtain rises at 8.55pm so we need to be there by 8.40pm at the latest and be ready to get in quickly. For the next hour and a half I can enjoy the show from the tech box as I’m operating the lights – no pressure.

By 10.35pm we’re all done for another day and I try to find a bus that’ll take me home, forgoing the after-show socialising and late night revelries in favour of a little extra sleep (at least until the weekend arrives).

The buses are usually standing room only at this time of night and not closely linked to the timetable, but one will turn up eventually. I’ll get home around 11.30pm if I’m lucky and then have to take care of any more admin and emergencies before I can get to bed, hopefully around midnight.

This is probably fairly typical for performers living in Edinburgh, of which there are many. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled month of madness where dozens of people not only appear in shows but do that while going about their day to day routine as normal.

Yet it’s hardly ever mentioned. These groups are filled with people that work hard to keep Edinburgh running as well as putting on fabulous shows. We’ve got doctors and nurses in our cast who’ll put in busy shifts and then sing in the show.

There are engineers, solicitors, shop assistants and many more who work hard at their regular jobs and still perform with boundless energy even when they’re exhausted. It’s mad and magical and completely in the spirit of Fringe fever that takes over the Capital.

The Pirates of Penzance, Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall, Hanover Street, Monday-25 August, 8.55pm, £10, 0131-220 5911