Every August I spend a week or two at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world's biggest arts and live entertainment festival.

It's difficult to explain the Fringe to anybody who doesn't already know it. There is an official Edinburgh International Festival - theatre, classical music, dance, visual arts and related activities. And there's the Festival Fringe. The Fringe began life as a sideline to the official Festival in 1947 when half a dozen drama groups arranged performances in the city during the same period, hoping that they would attract audiences and publicity. From 1948 onwards the Fringe grew. And grew. And grew. The sheer scale of it has become almost incomprehensible.

Nowdays the Fringe is around fifty times the size of the official Festival. There are nearly six hundred seperate events each day, every day for three weeks, taking place in over 150 venues throughout the city. The activities are many and varied but there is a heavy accent on theatre, comedy and music. In more recent years the activities have spilled out onto the streets, and nowadays a block of the Royal Mile - between George IV Bridge and North Bridge - is closed to traffic during the day and becomes an outdoor arena where just about anything could happen. Fringe groups showcase their acts, impromptu performances break out almost anywhere and everywhere, and a forest of leafletters will do almost anything, no matter how crazy or bizarre, to persuade you to come to their performance. The vibes are amazing and the place literally jumps - it's like one enormous party, to which the whole world is invited.

Most of the images in this gallery reflect the activities in the Royal Mile during a week in 2004, though there are also a few shots of other outdoor performance spaces and Fringe venues. Enjoy. And come next year.

Click on any of the thumbnails for a full-sized image.

The activities on the Royal Mile, outside the Festival Fringe office and adjacent to Parlament Square and Hunter Square, during August 2004. Performances (scheduled and unscheduled), publicity stunts, leafletting, people having fun.

A handful of years ago the main centre for outdoor activities was the paved area adjacent to the Scottish National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy, on the Mound just off Princes Street. It's undergone a major remodeling during the past few years and, while outdoor perormances still take place here, there is nothing like the atmosphere there once was. But you will still find the usual craft stalls and face painters here.

Finally on this page, a look at some of the performance venues. The first image below is a sad one - it's the mortal remains of the old Gilded Balloon Theatre, part of a block of Edinburgh's Old Town that was destroyed by fire in December 2002. The other two pictures are of the Teviot Row headquarters of the Edinburgh University Students' Association, the Gilded Balloon's new home during the Festival. Teviot Row features six performance spaces, two bars and a cafeteria, and there's an adjacent outdoor bar and food court.

Three more venues below. The first is the entrance to the Underbelly, a fascinating complex of performance spaces that finds a home in a series of disused vaults on four levels under South Bridge. In the middle is the auditorium of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, fitted out for Ross Noble's show, "Noodlemeister". And on the right is Lady Glencora's Hall, also known as the Roxburgh Theatre, which housed Richard Demarco's "Rocket" venue in 2004 and was previously Pleasance Over-the-Road. The blue gentlemen ascending the wall were part of an installation that cropped up in various localities in the city centre.

Below is the Pleasance, my favourite venue by far, a complex of eleven performance spaces centred around the courtyard of Edinburgh University Students' Association's sports and societies building. From 10am to 1 am the Pleasance Courtyard is quite simply the most happening place on the planet, featuring audiences, performers and various media types passing time, eating, drinking, catching the vibes and simply enjoying themselves.

And finally on this page we see the interior of a third Edinburgh University Students' Association building - the Potterow centre on Bristo Square, which for the past four years has doubled as the Pleasance Dome. The Dome features five performance spaces, a cafeteria, a bar, a coffee shop,  cash machines, and a very useful shop that stays open until the wee small hours.

This page last updated 24th April 2005