Everyone’s a critic, as the saying goes. However, not everyone was strolling through Edinburgh in August with a bright orange press lanyard round his or her neck, which is how I spent a fabulous three weeks of my summer at the Fringe. As a theatre reviewer for an online arts magazine, it was a whirlwind of flitting between press offices and Fringe venues, in search of undiscovered theatrical gems.
Reviewing at such a diverse and surprising festival was an amazing experience. The opportunity to see so much theatre for free is the envy of many who are minding their pennies at the festival. At one particular venue, I arrived to find that all reviewers were entitled to a complimentary cup of tea before the performance! This seemed a smart way to sweeten the critics, even those who didn’t take sugar. Other perks included exclusive bars, drink discounts and complimentary access to shows with empty seats.
Despite these fantastic bonuses, that carrot-coloured lanyard needs to be earned. Perched in the darkened auditorium, reviewers can immerse themselves in the performance enough to feel its impact, but a small, sometimes reluctant, amount of detachment is required to analyse and observe. Walking out of a terrible show on a press ticket is forbidden, no matter how many other audience members have already left. Furthermore, whilst other Fringe-goers build their day around their show times, I was building mine around deadlines. A twenty-four hour turnaround seems like an age at first, but time flies fast at the non-stop festival. Before you know it, you’re knocking back Espressos at 10pm to keep your eyes open in front of an almost-final draft.
All in all, reviewing at the festival was a weird and wonderful education. Here’s a few lessons I learned along the way:
- FREE WI-FI IS A GIFT FROM GOD: Or The Greyfriars Pub. Or The Counting House. Or the Hilton on North Bridge. As all reviews were submitted via Google Docs, I had to create a mental map of where I could grab a connection, or, at the University of Edinburgh, some sweet, sweet eduroam.
- GOOD ENOUGH IS GOOD ENOUGH: I’m a self-confessed perfectionist when it comes to writing, and I’m not happy until I’ve scoured every synonym available for an impeccable lexeme (yes, I looked that one up). At the Fringe, with tight deadlines looming, I was forced to close that thesaurus.com tab and accept whatever phrasing made sense. It was tough, genuinely.
- FRINGE REVIEWING REQUIRES A GOOD MEMORY: To take in so much theatre everyday, five-star flashback abilities were essential. My biggest challenge was seeing three one-woman shows back to back and later struggling to connect each show to the particular woman performing it.
- PRESS OFFICES ARE CHAOTIC PLACES: This was the case in some more than others. At one particular venue, I walked in to find a press officer loudly slagging off a review to her team. She continued completely oblivious until I cleared my throat behind her, at which point her face went as red as the 2017 Fringe programme.
- REVIEWING A SHOW IS EASIER WHEN YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY AUDIENCE MEMBER: This happened once. It was as painful as having a tooth removed, for ninety minutes. Never again.
I’ll be back for my lanyard again next year. And this time I’ll pack clothes that go with orange…