REVIEW – Edinburgh Fringe must-visit venues

The previous post detailed some new or original venue spaces being used at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. This entry, however, lists venues where you are guaranteed a good time, irrespective of whether you’re actually going there to see a show or not.

Let’s get the old favourites out of the way first:

  • The Assembly Rooms in George Street. For decades, this Georgian-era complex of staterooms and cubby-holes was the hub of the Fringe. To this day, it’s still where a lot of the big names appear (Frank Skinner, Clive James, The Soweto Gospel Choir to name but three) and due to its multiple performance spaces, it is constantly swarming with people, members of the public and performers alike. Its bar is a notorious hangout for journos and reviewers, and you are almost guaranteed to see a famous face there (even if you can’t quite place who it is).
  • The Pleasance. Another stalwart and another collection of venues clustered around the central Pleasance Courtyard. Kind of a Fringe-in-microcosm, the Pleasance is playing host to over 100 shows of all genres and, when the weather is being kind, the Courtyard area is thronged with bodies savouring the atmosphere (and the food and drink).
  • The Udderbelly in Bristo Square. I’ve mentioned this before, but this normally desolate outdoor space in Edinburgh is transformed during the Fringe. Mostly due to the unmistakable purple upside-down cow that is the Udderbelly tented venue. Bristo Square also has several satellite venues dotted around it, such as the Gilded Balloon at Teviot, making it a fantastic space to immerse yourself in the Fringe.

Now on to the perhaps less-known:

  • The C venues, in various places, but particularly C (not C Central) in Chambers Street. These venues tend to shy away from the normal big name crowd-pullers and are instead a great showcase for emerging talent. They are usually jam-packed with youthful theatrical groups and avant-garde musicians, and if you venture to the main bar there, you’ll be sharing tables with actors applying each others’ makeup as well as regular theatre-goers. I always find this place and its rep-like atmosphere keeps the true spirit of the Fringe alive, before the comedy juggernaut promoters muscled in on the act.
  • St George’s West in Shandwick Place. This church venue has carved out a special niche for itself in the past few years, providing a varied and seldom-disappointing programme of world music performers. This year, its cocktail of Brazilian, African, Cuban and Sri Lankan artists looks set to impress again and, if last year is anything to go by, you’ll find that this venue ends up host to the the happiest and most upilfting mood you’re likely to find anywhere in the city.

Lastly, a new venue with a reputation to live up to:

  • Hullaballo in George Square Gardens. For the past few years, this venue has played host to the (in)famous Spiegelgarden. Due to a magical, pre-war Berlin style atmosphere (and some heavy marketing), it quickly became the place to frequent if you were spending an evening out during Festival time. Last year, it almost became a victim of its own success, with weekends in particular seeing it packed out with the post-office crowd and stag & hen parties. Perhaps fortunately, this year the Famous Spiegeltent is taking a year off for renovation. Instead, a new venue called Hullaballoo is taking its place, with a single circus tent and an Indian-themed ambience. It will be interesting to see if this captures the imagination in the same way as the Spiegelgarden, or whether people play it safer with some of the more established venues listed above.

Whatever venue does it for you, I just hope it stays dry enough for that al fresco experience so beloved of Fringe-goers. Otherwise, I’ll see you upstairs at the Assembly Rooms. Mine’s a Magners.

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