Fed up with bleating that we’d just never got around to visiting Edinburgh for the annual comedy festival, we decided to give it a go. We requested a brochure online and the hefty document told us all we needed to know. Based on the accessibility of each venue we booked around 10 shows to visit over three days – a mixture of household names, Fringe stalwarts and some that sounded good, like for instance A Play, a Pie and a Pint. We had no idea what to expect.
We took he train north as the programme was getting into gear, but before the hotels hiked their prices, and checked into the Bruntsfield, run by Best Western. It has friendly staff and an excellent accessible basement room.
We immediately fell in love with the spirit of the Fringe and the good nature of the people who make it happen; most visibly the hundreds of students whose sole job was to hand out flyers. Each of them showed an interest in us and were happy to talk about ‘their’ act and, if they were able to, the features of the venue. The audience members we encountered in various bars were extremely pleasant and several of them bought us drinks, which was kind since the queues were long and the beer dear. We never encountered anyone who wasn’t having a great time.
While we stuck to the pre-paid plan, we also allowed ourselves to be hauled off the street into one free show by its eager promoter. This made us feel supportive.
Each venue delivered the promised access, bar one. The le Monde at 16 George Street is perfectly accessible, once you have negotiated the five steps up from the street. The management thought that the staff they had available to manhandle one up and down made it qualify as wheelchair friendly. Indeed, inside it featured lifts to all floors and an impressive bathroom. I took some time to explain this flaw in their otherwise impeccable strategy and I’m still not sure they got it. But the moral is, the Fringe Society doesn’t have the resources to check every venue.
The other issue is the labyrinth of steep lanes, some I swear occupying three or four dimensions, and cobbled courtyards in the very centre of the action that you will be unable to avoid. Bring a friend and a Freewheel.