Edinburgh Fringe 2021 – Round-Up

Edinburgh Fringe 2021 – Round-Up

I'm not sure what I can add to what people who were also there have already said about Edinburgh this year except to agree. It was exceptionally chilled. It was nice not to have flyers thrust into your hand on every corner. It was also nice not to be bombarded by PRs begging critics to come to shows. If anything it was the other way round, I had to beg venues to be let in to shows as many were – understandably given the difficulties in warming up – only works-in-progress.

The sun shone, which was very weird. The schedules were odd, with many acts only doing a few nights rather than the full month. I guess this was down to money, even though accommodation might have been cheaper than it has been for years. I did wonder if maybe acts could've booked for the whole month, considered the first two weeks as previews and then invited press for the final week. But then what do I know, I'm only a critic. And as someone famous once said, nobody ever erected a statue in the name of a critic.

It was a odd not seeing many posters. Maybe this was what Communist-era Moscow was like. Some venues seemed almost illicit, which added to the fun. I only found Laughing Horse's Bar 50 venue by working out that it was at number 50 – there was actually nothing on the door saying it was a venue, adding another thrill.

On the mask/social distancing front it felt like there was a degree of inconsistency. I think the rule was that masks were still supposed to be worn indoors but – no names, no pack drill – once the lights were down I saw plenty of maskless faces. Some venues put seats in bubbles and spaced out, others seemed to fit as many people in just like the old days. Don't ask me the rules, I don't make them, I can barely follow them. Generally I felt safe though.

There was a definite sense of anarchy to the Fringe this year. There was no printed programme and a number of late additions didn't make the online version either. I'm kicking myself for missing a WIP from Dara O Briain which touches on his family history, but word of mouth suggests that his next stand-up tour could be very interesting indeed. Jack Dee also came up for some warm-ups and while I know Edinburgh is not about the big guns it was still nice to see some household names playing small rootsy rooms. From what I heard – and saw – most shows were selling out or close to selling out so while the streets were quiet I certainly don't think the likes of Dee and O Briain can be accused of stealing fans from other shows. 

Anyway, in the light of this unique festival, I won't be running full reviews but will file a round-up below of my highlights. No star ratings though. I went up to Edinburgh twice. Firstly early on for one day just for fun – which became less fun when I found out my Sleeper was cancelled at 10pm. Then again on the final Thursday to judge So You Think You're Funny? and catch some shows either side.

So, what were my highlights? Definitely Simon Evans' show The Work of the Devil. Evans (pictured) did this show here in 2019 and with so many shows to see that year I failed to catch it. My bad. Or as the scholarly Evans would probably say, Mea Culpa. It's a terrific story terrifically told, with Evans getting extremely personal. Evans is immaculate not only in the way he dresses (the Charlie Watts of comedy?) but also in the way he structures this narrative. Little clues and hints are planted like depth charges but things do not always turn out to be what you expect. Evans is touring this show and you'll have to see it for yourself because I'm certainly not going to say more here except that I thoroughly recommend it.

Reviews continue here.

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