I have been visiting the Edinburgh festival for years. Not just the comedy but the films, plays, books, exhibitions and street performances too. I try and stay away from the famous names and instead go for things that catch my imagination. The scale of it is vast (over 55,000 performances across 317 venues) as is the quality. Everything from professionally designed high quality extravaganzas through to things that are essentially ‘people messing around’ in basements.
Memorable moments from my last few visits include
- A comedy show with only three of us in the audience (the other two didn’t speak English)
- A version of Jekyll and Hyde from the perspective of the monster performed as an interpretive dance
- Something performed in a hotel pool where the audience members were invited to swim with the cast members
Very often I choose shows depending on what is closest and starting shortly. A few years ago I was walking down a street when it started raining so heavily, I rushed into the nearest foyer and ended up at a show so terrible, the performer stopped to tell the sound technician to ‘please sigh more quietly’.
However, as an autistic person, the Edinburgh festival can present a lot of problems. They can be hard to plan as so many things run late, plus there is a lot of noise, many venues are incredibly hot and of course, there are so many people there.
This year, the festival was a tough one for me. On the first morning, I got lost and ended up rushing to see a 10am show. Because I was away from my regular routine and overstimulated with the noise and crowds, I turned badly and twisted my hip causing a lot of pain. Over the next few hours, my body must have tried to adapt and so my other hip was overcompensating and that started to get very sore as well, meaning I had to adopt a slow shuffle as I moved from place to place. Edinburgh is not an accessible city. It has a lot of steps, steep slopes, busy roads and that is before you add in the festival crowds. To top it all off, I got my dates mixed up so the 10am show I rushed to see wasn’t actually on.
One particular moment was when I arrived at the main entrance of the Assembly Rooms (the normal home of the university) to see Choir of Man, a show I knew had been on in London and the main selling point was a working bar on stage which the audience members could use to get free beer. Obviously, without the ‘free’ beer, the ticket prices would be cheaper.
Anyway, the way into the show was up a huge stone staircase which with my twisted hips was impossible. I asked the lady at the entrance what I should do and she kindly explained the best way was round the side (up a hill) where I could use the accessible entrance. Although when I tried to do this, I was stopped by a security guard who told me I couldn’t pass due to the upcoming tattoo parade and instead I should ‘use the stairs’.
So back I shuffled round three sides of this huge building, fighting against the noisy crowds and after being given wrong directions by two different stewards I eventually found the accessible entrance and was put into a service lift which led me to the backstage area. Judging by the reactions of the various staff members, I got the feeling they were unused to this scenario. It was exciting being backstage in such a large theatre as people rushed by with large pieces of equipment. I was quite happy observing this show but following a hushed meeting of the various staff members, it was decided I should wait in the bar instead. This was fine, I said, how do I get there? Just down the stairs, came the reply. Another clue that this scenario was a new one for them.
The only way to get there without the stairs was through the sound booth where the audio engineers were working on another show (a very impressive street dance troop) and I shuffled through, giving them all a fright in the process. The bar was a temporary affair set up in the middle of a huge regal hall and I was the only customer. The bartender came over to chat to me (I don’t think she had anything else to do) and I asked who was the man immortalised in a large painting in the centre of the wall. “I don’t know, probably some colonial slave owner” came the response.
The show itself was fine, a rowdy singalong affair, all the characters were introduced even though there was no storyline, much of the time was taken up by the free beer queue but the audience didn’t seem to mind, they were having a great time. I think I would have preferred to watch the performance from the backstage corridor I was in earlier but maybe that says more about me than the show itself.
I decided that would be my last night in Edinburgh and I would go home the following day. There will be many more festivals and I can come back another year when I am feeling better. This is what I did and typically, the day after I got back, my hips went back to normal.
Thinking back on it, despite everything, I did have a good time this year.
- A talented seagull snatched a sandwich out of my hand without leaving a mark
- There was a ‘meal deal’ advertising a glass of wine and a Snickers bar for £4.50
- I asked for the autograph of a composer to be told nobody does that anymore.
Next year, however, I will be more careful to check my dates and not rush to things that are not on.