SOME ARE in costume, some are virtually naked. Some leer, some look like frightened rabbits. They brace themselves for two hours of hard sell, several hundred in one large room, sweating, cajoling, begging, hustling.
There are 540 productions on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and only enough newspapers, writers and critics to mention a fraction of that number. So the first day of the festival sees the hard sell. The Fringe office hires a room in Edinburgh University Students' Union, throws the representatives of the shows (several hundred) and of the press (a couple of dozen) into the arena together and the scrum begins.
A Fringe official who pinned the press badge on me said that the average survival rate was about half an hour before one ripped the badge off and fled from the quadrophonic hustling. I beat the average by only two minutes, 32 minutes of earnest entreaties, clowns appearing from nowhere and jumping in front of one, King Charles II tapping you on the shoulder and making you drop your glass of wine; each new entreaty an improvement on the last in the fine art of hustling.
'Can I interest you in a play on Chekhov?' came a soft voice from behind. And there was Chekhov, nineteenth century Russian garb, small pointed beard. I switched to orange juice.
Back to the present, almost, was the girl from the Questors Theatre in Ealing. 'We're the only reminiscence group on the Fringe.' What's that? 'We've gathered memories from old people. Our play is all about the Acton laundries. They served west London in the 1930s.' Not a lot of people know that.
'This is Rossini the play,' a lady in a Rossini T-shirt darted into view. 'No one has noticed it's his bicentenary.' Well, they have actually. 'Oh, well not in Edinburgh perhaps.'
Pamela Buchner, an actress for 33 years, dressed as Sarah Siddons for her one woman show, was wearing a forced smile. 'This is a very daunting experience,' she confided. 'I don't know what I'm meant to say, it's terrifying.'
What she should have done of course was to fulfil the performer's biggest fantasy, spout at breakneck pace the review you've always wanted to get. As did a lady from New York - 'It's a comedy, I wrote it, it's fast, funny and irreverent; oh and we're doing a benefit for Aids.'
Sexual favours are said to have been traded in the past for a favourable mention but the most extravagant offer on this occasion was a free T-shirt.
Ingenuity comes in many guises, though. Allen Wright, arts editor on the Scotsman, tells how one company rented an office opposite his merely to hang a banner outside asking him to review their play.
But the top award for ingenuity must go to the director last year who didn't bother with any demeaning hustling. He simply phoned over a rave review of his play to the Edinburgh Evening News, was assumed to be one of the many Festival freelances reviewing shows, and saw the glowing notice printed in full the next day.
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