10 rules to make sense of reviews at the fringe

All the different fringe publications logos

Edinburgh Fringe is getting underway, which means that reviews of shows are starting to come in. And if you’re new to all of this, this might seem like an easy way of sorting out the good shows from the dross. After all, if you’re doing this properly you should know that – in theory at least – anyone who wants to take part in the fringe can do so. Inevitably, some of them are going to be good and some of them are going to be crap. Surely the reviews can ensure you see the good stuff and avoid the turkeys?

Not quite. Making sense of star ratings and reviews is a lot more complicated than most people realise. A play you loved might be getting two-star reviews, and a play you hate might be getting four- and five-star reviews; that’s happened to me on many occasions. Performers and venues, meanwhile, naturally do their utmost to promote the good reviews and bury the bad ones. Such are the intricacies of reviews, one might be tempted to give up on using them altogether and go back to guessing. But there are ways of making the most of reviews; some are difficult to master, but others are tips every novice should know. Continue reading

How to choose a show at the Edinburgh Fringe

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been doing various tips for punters, mainly on how to make the most of the various festival fringes. This year, I’ve not done a new article for the Edinburgh Fringe because there isn’t much that needs updating. So instead, I’m going to concentrate on a specific dilemma that punters face: how do you choose what you want to see at the Edinburgh Fringe?

Anywhere else, it’s quite straightforward. You look through the programme, pick out plays that are on at a time and place suitable to you, are affordable, and sounds like your sort of thing. Then you can pick out something from this list. You might go for the play/author/company/venue you like the best, which one has the best reviews, which one is best value for money, or whatever you choose. Regardless of what’s important to you, you make a choice. And this simple method works for Brighton Fringe, Buxton Fringe, any other Fringe, or pretty much any regional theatre scene out of fringe season. But in Edinburgh? Not a chance. Even if you want to see a play in, say, late afternoon somewhere in the city centre, you have gazillions of plays to choose from. In the time it takes you to list them all and narrow them down to the one you want to see the most, you could have seen the damn play. Which means instead you have to make hasty decisions which you may bitterly regret later. Who’d have thought choosing a play could be so complicated?

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How to make the most of the Buxton Fringe (fringe newbie edition)

Picture of Buxton Pavillion Gardens

Continuing my series of fringe guides, I’m going to do the same for Buxton as I did for Brighton and do a guide for the Buxton Fringe for fringe newbies. This will differ from last year’s guide that was aimed it Edinburgh Fringe veterans who want to know how Buxton differs from the big on. If you are such a Edfringe veteran and the phrase “Unboring” drives you round the bend, stop reading this and start reading the other guide. If, however, you’re new to this festival fringe thing, this is just the place for you.

This is not about which shows are the best ones to see (that will come in my next blog post), but rather what to expect of the festival fringe as a whole. Some of this will be a copy-paste from other articles. I’m in a hurry so that’s what you’re getting. Without further ado, let’s go: Continue reading

How to make the most of the Brighton Fringe (fringe newbie edition)

Brighton Fringe mural

Eek. Less than two weeks to go before fringe season begins. Better get a move on. I’ve got a list of Brighton recommendations that will be coming up shortly, but first of all, here’s my annual guide for how to make the most of it. In the last two years, I’ve written this guide for people who are used to the Edinburgh Fringe who might need to know how Brighton differs. This time, however, I don’t see any need to further update it, so this time I’m going to do a list of tips for people who’ve never done any kind of fringe before. This is not a list of things I recommend seeing – that will come in the next few days – instead it’s a list of general tips for how to get the best out of your fringe visit.

So, without further ado, here we go.

Why Brighton Fringe?

The Brighton Fringe is the world’s third biggest open arts festival, after Edinburgh and Adelaide. The important bit is the word “open”. There are no vetting processes to decide who can and can’t take part – anyone who wants to do Brighton Fringe can do so, provided someone covers your expenses. Like many fringes, Brighton Fringe runs concurrently to the vetted Brighton Festival, but the two festivals get on with each other rather well and co-operate (unlike the Edinburgh International Festival who have never forgiven the Edinburgh Fringe for upstaging them). It’s a much smaller festival than Edinburgh (in Edinburgh you can’t miss the fact a fringe is on, in Brighton you probably will miss it if you don’t know it’s there), but there’s still plenty to keep you busy. Continue reading

How to make the most of the Edinburgh Fringe

Edinburgh Comedy Fesitval logo crossed out
Here’s the big change in 2014

Hmm. My guide to making the most of the Buxton Fringe has got lots of attention this year round, but the Brighton Fringe guide not so much. Last time round, it was Brighton that got the flood of pageviews and Buxton that got only a trickle. Well, anyhow, let’s finish this off with the updated guide for Edinburgh, seeing as that’s only two week away now. Remember, these guides are about how the fringe works as a whole, and it doesn’t have any recommendations of individual shows. That will come later (once I’ve had a chance to check all the entries in the programme – oh boy, that’ll be fun). Apologies to any performers from Buxton waiting for my roundup – my brain is still fried and it will take a few days to get it back into sufficient working order to write that. But I can just about manage to update an old article now. Continue reading

How to make the most of the Buxton Fringe

Picturesque viaduct south of Buxton (credit: Graham Hogg)
Now, you don’t see this in Edinburgh or Brighton, do you?

So, continuing my updating of last year’s “X Fringe survival guide”, here’s my update for Buxton. As with How to make the most of the Brighton Fringe, this is not a list of plays I recommend you see – that will come shortly – but instead a list of tips about the festival in general, and how you can make the most of it as a plain old punter. I was expecting to do a massive overhaul of my tips from last year’s guide, because this time last year it was thought that the two most heavily-used spaces, Pauper’s Pit and the Barrel Room, would be closing. That hasn’t happened yet, so the overhaul will be postponed. So, with only minor alterations, here’s how to make the most of Buxton Fringe.

About this guide

Those of you who have seen both the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes will know that Brighton is very small compared to Edinburgh. Buxton is even smaller – but there is still quite a lot going on keep you busy. Other than that, the format is arguably similar to Brighton – much of the audience are local and the visitors to Buxton are heavily weighted to the local area. Much of what I said in my Brighton guide applies to Buxton, except that, for one reason and another, it’s not quite so weekend-centric as Brighton is.

As with Brighton, this guide assumes you are already familiar with the Edinburgh Fringe. If you haven’t been to Edinburgh Fringe, you may also want to read The Edinburgh Fringe survival guide – not all of this applies to the smaller fringes, but a lot of it does, especially the bit about open access. Remember: in a fringe, anyone can take part – if you want a vetting committee protecting you from substandard plays, find yourself another festival. But enough of the, let’s get on to the tips. Continue reading

How to make the most of the Brighton Fringe

Beach and ice cream
No visit to Brighton is complete without these two things

One of the surprise hits on this blog last year were my “survival guides” for the Edinburgh, Brighton and Buxton Fringes. This year, I’ve been wondering what I could top this with, and after careful consideration I thought, what the hell, let’s do the same thing again. Updated for 2014, my guide for how to make the most of the Brighton Fringe as a punter. If you read last year’s list (then called “The Brighton Fringe Survival guide“), you can probably ignore this because the changes are slight – just a few updates, additions and clarifications. If, however, you haven’t read last year’s list, read on … Continue reading