Suffering the twinges of Fringe Withdrawal Syndrome

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The Independent Culture
EVERY YEAR at this time I start getting strange physical symptoms. They include finding it hard to get up in the morning, ditto to go to bed at night, twitching in the knees, turning my head suddenly, wincing at the sound of the bagpipes, slapping my buttocks...

The condition lasts about three weeks, then goes away. It's called Edinburgh Fringe Withdrawal Syndrome. In most years in the last two decades I have taken part in shows in the Fringe and now, even though my mind knows I shall never do it again, my body thinks that I am still doing it every year, and starts re-enacting it.

Hence the late to bed, late to rise feelings. The last show I was in was a two-hander called The Death Of Tchaikovsky - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. It went on stage in the Pleasance Attic venue at about 10.40pm. 10.40pm! Every night for three weeks! Not only did that mean that my co-artist Simon Gilman and I had to remain sober all evening, it also meant that when we came off stage near midnight, we had a lot of winding down to do, or what you might call drinking to catch up.

The twitching in the knees is caused by the folk memory of bicycling over Edinburgh cobbles, which causes a sort of perpetual vibration and jarring of the eyeballs. The sudden turning of the head comes, I think, either from making sure that there is nobody famous behind you, from the perpetual search for a parking space in the New Town, or maybe from the itching caused by wearing the same shirt for three days.

Buttock-slapping must be a memory of making sure that my wallet, with its wad of Fringe tickets, is still in my back pocket.

Yes, other people get hay fever, but I get Fringe Withdrawal. Anything can trigger it off. It can be started just by reading one of those strange articles which appear in papers at Edinburgh time called "All You Need To Know About The Fringe" - I say strange, because they never contain anything you need to know about the Fringe - or by a small Fringe review, or just by a photo of some cobble stones.

But this year the condition was triggered off even earlier than usual by the appearance in Bath of an Edinburgh Fringe show called The Secret of San Vittoria. It's quite normal for a Fringe show to go on tour just prior to Edinburgh in order to pay itself in, and maybe to gather a review or two. But this show was different. It was a Fringe show that was still touring from last year's festival.

Mike Maran is a singer/storyteller. Philip Contini runs the Edinburgh food shop Valvona & Crolla, the best Italian shop outside Italy. Together they have been putting on great shows in the back room of Valvona & Crolla for a few years now - I remember going to see their version of Christ Stopped at Eboli in that warm, wine-scented back room, and Maran getting us all to join in lustily with an old Italian song, "La Jovanezza". "Very good," he said afterwards. "And I expect you'd like to know you've all just sung Mussolini's favourite Fascist hymn."

"What are you doing this year, Mike?" I asked him after the show.

"We're doing Captain Corelli's Mandolin," he said. "We are the only people in the world who have got permission to stage it. It will be a world premiere! Just imagine! A world premiere in the back of a grocery store!"

Clearly he had Fringe fever already. And as if this wasn't bad enough, I found out that someone in our village was also appearing in a Fringe show. Someone in our village - and it's not me! It's Rick. Rick is a burly middle-aged man who recently took time off from a lucrative career to enrol for a degree course at the University of West of England. The student Fringe drama group were looking for a burly middle-aged man to play an East End villain in their Edinburgh play and - well, Rick has now gone off to Edinburgh for a month to act in Jargoons (Venue 45, 6.15pm nightly until 28 August).

I saw Rick's wife in the street during the first week.

"How's he doing?" I said.

"He sounds OK but tired," she said. "He said that the show's going really well, but audiences haven't picked up yet."

Ah - Rick is picking up the lingo already. That's one of the 10 most common phrases ever heard in Edinburgh. One of the others is, "Never again. I swear it - never again." And, so far, I have stuck to it. But there is a terrible price to pay for this - Fringe Withdrawal Syndrome. Last night my wife said that I sat up in my sleep and shouted out: "Who's got the bloody bust of Tchaikovsky? We're on in 10 minutes!"

Yes, I can't wait for the end of the Edinburgh Festival. And I'm not even there this year.