The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with more than 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
Amidst evenings of mayhem, cardboard clownery, and the original Squid Game, attendees to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival often find themselves at the center of the action, literally. Immersive offerings at this year’s Fringe varied from funereal practices; strange, sinful experiences with strangers; storytelling by a warm glow; and a dance party fit for the gods.
Understanding audience participation may not be for everyone, the below selection gives participants a range of ways to engage with themselves and the work. Some find audience members in a booth, in a beer garden, or on a dance floor. Others ask us to talk about regret, balance a spoon on our nose, or sway back and forth to mythic rhythm.
Here are four highlights for immersive experiences from this year’s Fringe.
My partner in sin and I are invited to enter the large, wooden, black booth in Summerhall’s Courtyard. The word “SIN,” in Barbie pink neon is emblazoned on the front, between the doors. What shall our penance be? Without Sin is a 20-minute guided conversation between you and a stranger. Taking turns, you read from a small stack of notecards, asking each other to confess the last time you hurt someone, whether you forgive yourself for inflicting that hurt, if ever you’ve taken revenge on someone, and why you like the person you’ve become. Quick, but not entirely painless, be prepared to embrace your conversation partner in a show of acceptance and forgiveness for their sin and your own.
Two Strangers Walk Into a Bar…
What is your go-to karaoke song? Do you believe in fate? One hour in House of Oz’s beer garden may make you a believer. The audio-guided experience by Tilda Cobham-Hervey, reminds us that our worries can be small, because we can be quite small, and the concept of a stranger isn’t so strange when we remember we are all made up of the same wonder. Primarily taking place in a charming outdoor garden, your meaningful experience with a stranger will have moments of contemplation and moments of silliness, ultimately feeling far too quick and fleeting.
Playwright Alexander Flanigan Wright is the center of our solar system, with Phil Grainger’s music twinkling all around him. Helios is a fiery coming-of-age adaptation by Wright and Grainger of the sun-god's chaotic myth, revisiting the tragic moment his son, Phaethon, tumbled from his chariot out of the sky. It asks: What happens when we decide to stop remaining in the middle, going neither up nor down, and set the world on fire? This electric hour of performance is the “Goldilocks’ Zone” for participation—every moment of interaction with Flanigan is just right. Audience members are asked if they are “happy” to set a timer on a stopwatch, shout out their favorite fact about the sun, or read scenes aloud from bright orange cards. In the warm glow of Flanigan’s smile, and four or so gold-brushed IKEA lights, you realize that sharing in this myth-making and giving breath to the importance of storytelling, makes you quite happy indeed.
The Gods, The Gods, The Gods
Also from the minds of Wright and Grainger, The Gods, The Gods, The Gods is a euphoric 12-song concert and dance party. Interweaving the Greek myths of old gods and new—and how those ancient came to be overthrown—Grainger and Wright perform from three different stages, walking among us crowd of mere mortals. The music is dreamy, captivating melodies, beats you feel in your bones, soliloquies you can’t help but sing along. This is an album drop party that summons the gods, unseats the gods, and establishes us as deities. When you witness it, you will think this could be Heaven, now.