Culture notes

3,000 acts and no quality control – why the Edinburgh Fringe is the greatest (and patchiest) arts festival in the world

Some performers think they're here for their big chance. Really, they're here to suffer

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

And they’re off. The mighty caravan of romantic desperadoes, radical egoists, stadium wannabes, struggling superstars and vanity crackheads is on its way to Edinburgh. This year’s Fringe sponsor is Virgin Money, which must be some kind of in-joke because most performers spend August watching their life savings being ritually despoiled by landlords, press agents and venue owners. Five years back the Fringe was ready for a gastric band when it grew to more than 2,000 productions. This year it glides past the 3,000 mark and it seems determined to maintain its place as the most cluttered congregation of twits and pipe-dreamers on the planet.

It’s also, of course, the world’s greatest arts festival and because there are no barriers to entry there’s no quality control. Every year fresh loons arrive who give themselves zero chance of finding a crowd because they think the crowd is desperate to find them. Some hope.

Performers have barely half a dozen words to grab our attention. Opening the brochure, I stumble at random on page 318, which offers a choice between The Trial of Jane Fonda starring Anne Archer and In the Surface of a Bubble, which reveals ‘how our dreams got locked inside our heads with capoeira, kung fu, masks, puppetry and live music’. Which would you pay to see?

I hope the Bubble performers turn into the biggest sleeper hit in Fringe history. More likely they’ll trudge home sad, outraged and skint. Which is perfectly OK. The festival isn’t about inflating your ego. It’s about thrashing it till it bleeds.

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