Disability, Edinburgh and the Fringe – an Unlimited perspective

Photograph of a man in a brown suit facing away from the camera. In front of him a man in a yellow t-shirt is speaking on stage.
Artist Brian Lobel speaking at British Council's Edinburgh Showcase

A small Unlimited team hit the Fringe this year to see as much as they could whilst meeting, greeting and generally schmoozing. Jo Verrent feeds back on 9 points to learn from… 

  • Don’t expect Edinburgh to be accessible. It’s a bumpy city with cobbles, hills and some pretty treacherous curbs. It also rains, even though its summer. Don’t just take it from us, read what the brilliant Penny Pepper had to say. If you are a performer, or connected to a company or organisation up at the Fringe, do make use of the sanctuary that is Fringe Central to restock, recharge, and sleep, and don’t forget to check out their amazing free programme of events too.


  • The fringe has lots of shows (50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in 294 venues in 2016). Not many will be accessible. You will have to search to find which ones have access embedded, which have access added, and which just happen to have access for you because of the aesthetic they have. This needs time and research! The numbers are increasing, but slowly. I particularly liked using The Difference Engine’s captions on my phone for the excellent Milk Presents’ Joan this year. 


  • It can be ridiculously expensive. For performers, venues and for audiencesbut it doesn’t have to be. You can book early, stay in university halls of residence, grab a sofa at someone else’s lodgings, and book travel early. Luckily, there’s plenty of info out there about how to do Ed Fest on the cheap


  • Expect to see stuff that you’ll love. For me, my top hitters were Salt by Selina Thompson, which is just perfectly balanced, and Every Brilliant Thing, by Paines Plough in collaboration with Pentabus, which I didn’t expect to enjoy as the review I’d read said ‘Every Brilliant Thing may be the funniest show about depression you’ve ever seen’, which made me cringe. But it was. I laughed and cried in equal measure and then marveled about the writing, staging, performance, audience interaction and everything. And I bought the book. 


  • Expect to see stuff that will really make you think. China Plate’s The Shape of the Pain did this for me beautifully – an exceptionally well crafted piece that provoked different responses in different people. I love it when that happens.  


  • And expect to see stuff that will irritate you. I won’t list the shows that did this for me, but they did have a common theme of exploiting subject matter often for laughs. I don’t mind stuff that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but I don’t find the promotion of negative stereotypes funny. Especially when those performing, writing or creating don’t come from the identity groups they are lampooning. I also worry for some of the performers making work based on their own personal experience – I hope there are enough support nets like The Sick of the Fringe in place to ensure people are clear about what they are mining and why. 


  • Not everything with a five star review will be five star. The role of the critic has changed – many are paid per view (so a high rating means more clicks, means more money) and some aren’t really critics at all, just a form of marketing. Always look to see who wrote the review and where it’s placed. I trust Lyn Gardener (and had a great conversation with her in a corner shop during a fire alarm at Summerhall this year) for genuine reviews with heart, knowledge and experience. 


  • If you work in the sector, networking is as much part of the Fringe as the shows. There are breakfasts and lunches, gatherings and events. I genuinely think if you went to them all you’d not have to spend a penny on food. It seems as though everyone knows each other, but they don’t. Be bold and start a couple of conversations – what have you got to lose? And if you aren’t on a guest list, ask around… You never know what’s possible. 


  • Build in breaks. I am the worst for this. There’s so much to see and do and I want to do it all – even though I did no late shows or late nights out, I still ended up exhausted and crashed on the final day. All I’m saying is thank goodness for quiet rooms, brilliantly supportive staff at British Council and good old Holby City on iPlayer! Instead, take time to look around. Edinburgh is a lovely city and deserves to be explored. Sure, it’s not the most accessible place, but there’s a wealth of curious little back alleys to wonder down, shops catering to your curious side and – inevitably – whiskey bars! If you find yourself with a free evening and it’s not pouring down, go on an adventure.  



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