Garter Snakes? They have it easy compared with putting a show on in this place

It's official - the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is huge. Dust off any copy of the Guinness Book of Records, look up "Festivals: Enormous" and there she blows: 200 venues, 660 theatrical groups, 9,000 performers and a zillion shows: everything from Waiting for Godot in German to a semi-naked bloke doing acrobatics in a bath off the castle battlements. And who pays for this artistic outpouring? A mysterious government department? The punters? No. By and large it is the performers themselves. Like Garter Snakes struggling in their hundreds to mate with a single female in some grotesque wildlife documentary, here fringe performers struggle in droves to attract the attention of the press, the public, non English-speaking tourists - anyone who will enable them to recoup at least part of their investment. After two years performing at other summer festivals across the world, trying in effect desperately to avoid this place, I am back myself and let me tell you - those Garter Snakes have it easy.

This is not the first outing for my show All Classical Music Explained - oh, no. A significant part of the past two months has been spent on planes delivering my message first to South Africa, then to Canada. And after 22,000 miles of touring, on Thursday 8 August, I hit a steady 75 in a hired Vauxhall Astra and roar north: M1/M6, with a journey break in Lancaster, where as a first-year economics student I first trod the boards in some (truly dreadful) college sketch shows. A hundred and fifty miles later, Auld Reekie hoves into view, heralded by a big poster of Mark Thomas looking subversive under an even bigger sign announcing "Edinburgh Welcomes the Fringe Festival".

Funny thing: I realise that almost all the foreign festivals where I have appeared also call themselves "fringe" largely in deference to their Scottish ancestry without actually having any main festival of which they are on the fringe. Their desire is to conjure up a feeling of experimentation, of "otherness" that, apart from the occasional piece of wackiness, is gradually getting lost at Edinburgh in a sea of good PR and empire building.

The city is much as I remember it, with the exception of a few blocked- off streets here and there. Oh, and a brand-new Festival Theatre that seems to have sprung from nowhere on Nicholson Street - four levels, 2,500 seats and two cafes through whose glass frontages festival folk can break the tedium of High Art and actually observe some real Edinburgh life.

My own venue is downstairs in a converted night-club whose key advantage is that it is central. At the stroke of 10.30, however, it must, Cinderella- like, convert itself back into a night-club, which means that the facilities are basic - two speakers suspended from the rafters and four unfocusable lights pointing directly at my head. This theatre space is costing more than I have ever paid anywhere else in the world and, to top it all, there is a turnaround of just 15 minutes between shows, which, with my props and sound equipment, I know to be impossible. I have a growing feeling that Edinburgh is taking the piss.

Monday, 12 August The show is running well - almost sold out on one occasion, which is amazing, since I know of at least two acts who have cancelled because not one single soul turned up.

Today, two minutes after I start, a middle-aged couple hurry in and plonk themselves down on the end of a completely unoccupied bank of seats on my left. They are late and their position means that the audience - which had been carefully marshalled to sit in front and on my right - is now on three sides instead of just two. "Hello," I say as playfully as I can to one of them, "what's your name?" "I am the woman who booked you to appear on BBC Radio Scotland," she says. The audience groans. I smile and say: "I suppose that means 'Get on with it, you curly haired git'," but inside I hate her: having got in on a freebie, these professional latecomers now sit apart, visibly bored, depressing an audience who have paid seven quid to get in and are up for a good time.

Talk at the watering holes is all about venues, audiences and accommodation. Whereas a place to rest your head in many foreign events is either free or included in the deal - accommodation in Edinburgh is a nightmare. Hotels here get booked up a year in advance - who by? I can only assume by the locals. Where else can they be staying while they are renting out their homes to all of us? On the news today, it says Edinburgh and Glasgow are thinking of bidding jointly to host the Olympic Games in 2004. If they get it, I don't think there'll be a single Scottish family left at home this side of Dundee.

My own place is costing pounds 750 for the three weeks - and, having finished choking at the cost, which only a sell-out every night could possibly cover, I am now warming to my little retreat overlooking Hollyrood Palace. Seventy-eight twisting steps up to a fourth-floor peace that is only occasionally disturbed by the sound of bagpipes from distant Princes Street and the odd tannoy-blasted commentary from passing tour buses in the Royal Mile below. This is actually a wonderful perch - almost a listening post for the whole city.

This morning, at about four o'clock - just after the last pissed comedian and media-type had tottered home from another round of staring over one another's shoulders looking for someone more important to talk to at the Guilded Balloon and before the first student group had assembled in the High Street to present more thigh-slapping highlights from this year's production - I took the opportunity to open one of the big-framed windows and admire my view of the old town. And, in among the far-off brush- hitting-glue of the few score fly-posterers and muffled clicking of a couple of hundred critics typing their reviews, was the faint but unmistakable sound of a record-breaking 9,000 performers losing money.

Thomas Sutcliffe returns next month

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

    £16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world