In the Shadow of the Castle | A Visit to the Edinburgh Fringe

Once you step off the tram and see it for the first time, there’s no mistaking Edinburgh Castle. Perched on a rock dominating the city, I thought I’d be vaguely aware of its presence for the remainder of my stay, whether or not I could see it. I could almost feel it, its sheer gravity tugging at me, very handy that my hostel was right beneath its ramparts. There were other matters to attend to first, but I couldn’t wait to visit it.

Three nights is a lamentably short time to cram in a month’s worth of festival, but I was determined to give it a go, with no better guide than my old friend Pius McGrath. A writer and actor, Pius has been performing at the Fringe in some guise for three years running now, and it’s one of the dependable fixtures in his calendar. He maintains that his calves are the strongest part of him and his liver the weakest come every September after traipsing around Edinburgh’s hilly and pub-lined streets the previous month.

I met up with him and we went to a wonderful, whimsical show called Släpstick by Dutch group Wereldband. He couldn’t have brought me to a better show to kick off the weekend; it was a brilliant medley of physical humour interspersed with talented musical numbers, all in a demented fairground meets Charlie Chaplin meets Laurel and Hardy kind of style. It fixed on my face the smile that wouldn’t leave it all weekend.

Later that evening, my friend Cais arrived (none of my friends have normal names). After dinner and drinks – always drinking, merrily drinking – Cais and I went to a late-night show, The Adventures of Rich and Morty, from which the Morty was unfortunately absent due to unforeseen circumstances. We were treated instead to an intoxicating mixture of stand-up and music from Amsterdam-based Irish comedian Richy Sheehy.

Cais and I stumbled into our hostel room at about three that morning, careful not to wake anyone up. Only after some fumbling in the dark with our phones did we realise we were the only ones in the room.

“Oh my god, we’re the losers who are home first!”

We’d have to do better the following night, we vowed.

The Friday Night Effect -
The Friday Night Effect (image source)

Saturday morning, after making sacrifices to the gods of the hangover, we went to see the show in which Pius was performing. The Friday Night Effect, written by Eva O’Connor and Hildegard Ryan and produced by their up-and-coming theatre company Sunday’s Child, is a brilliant foray into many issues facing young Irish people today including mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and escort work.

With three diverse female leads, the show offers a refreshing perspective, however its best feature is its vox pop democracy: at critical narrative junctures, the audience decides what the characters will do. It’s a powerful tool that invests the audience deeply in the girls’ fate, made even more immediate thanks to genuinely superb acting. By the show’s end, you may or may not be responsible for a death.

The Friday Night Effect will be gracing the Dublin Fringe Festival between the 20th and 23rd of September, with tickets available here. I recommend this show to everyone, regardless of interest in theatre or any of the issues confronted.

The shows aside, Edinburgh is a lovely, vibrant city, with broad streets, winding cobbled lanes, and gorgeous sandstone buildings. Apparently, one of the reasons it was chosen to host the inaugural Festival, 70 years ago this year, was because it was one of the few cities in Western Europe to avoid massive bombing during World War II.

During the month of August, everyone wears a smile and is open to a bit of fun and banter. You’re never far from a pop-up bar or a food stall, the sheer variety of which will induce vertigo. You may very well taste the best burger, dumplings, pizza, burrito, sushi, or crepes you’ve ever had. Trust me, my missus is a chef.

Saturday afternoon was spent wandering, Cais and I adrift on a cloud of smiley satiety. After food and drink, we decided a show was in order. We went to a venue box office, asked what was on in the next half an hour, and bought two tickets to The Starship Osiris by Willis & Vere.

It would prove to be the standout show of our weekend and reacquainted my vocabulary with the word serendipity.

Walking into the theatre, we’re greeted by a maniacal lanky prick of a performer frantically handing out programmes before the show begins. All the while, his deadpan fellow actor – and starship underling – haunts the stage and aisles. The show itself is a playful and off-the-wall space opera, the eponymous starship more a vehicle for the lead’s ego than anything else. Captain Harrison is fawned on by three gorgeous “starettes”, while Evans the minion watches mournfully on.

As the narrative moves forward, the seams start to stretch and tear, the actors’ underlying enmities ballooning onto the stage. Leading man George Vere’s monstrous ego rips the performance apart, and before you know it they’ve taken a sledgehammer to the fourth wall; there’s even a threat with a nail gun, diffused by the audience’s presence and the frothing, delightful line, “Lot of fucking witnesses, mate!”

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever laughed at or enjoyed a show so much in my life. If you see these two words together – Starship and Osiris – drop what you’re doing and go to the show, you will not regret it.

You might think that the rest of the weekend was a downer after such a high, but not so. A few hours later, enjoying a refreshing beverage at an outside bar, a man approached us and offered us two free tickets to Ed Byrne, and we leapt on them. We left the two girls next to us, whom the man had also been addressing, with faces like we’d just kicked their puppy. Life is one giant game of Snap, don’t ever forget it!

Ed Byrne’s show was excellent, the rest of the night a tapestry of smiles, jokes, and laughs with Pius and his Friday Night Effect crowd. True to our word, we were the last to stagger into our hostel room, dawn glimmering on our heels.

Michael Redmond -
Irish comedy is always well represented in Edinburgh by the likes of Michael Redmond (image source)

Sunday, our last full day, and the melancholy was setting in; that strange sense of already missing something even while you’re experiencing it. That day’s highlight was when Irish comedian Michael Redmond touched my bald head, which, given that he played Father Stone in Father Ted, I’m happy to take for an overdue blessing. His stand-up was refreshingly relaxed and good-natured, and featured the following exchange:

Michael: What’s your name?

Cais: Cais.

Michael: What? What the fuck kind of name is that? You, there, what’s your name?

Me: Eoin.

Michael: Now that’s a fine fucking normal name for you!

We spent our last hours in Edinburgh much like all the previous ones, smiling, ambling, watching, munching, gulping, and generally relishing existence. On Monday morning, we emerged from the hostel into the sharp sunlight and glanced up at the Castle. We had so much craic all weekend we forgot it even existed.

No matter, we said, we’ll visit it when we’re back again next year.

Main image via Pinterest