Edinburgh Diary: 1 JohnnyFox August 16, 2019 Cabaret, Comedy, Musicals, Reviews, Theatre It’s my anniversary – 25 years since I first came as audience to the Edinburgh Festival and in that time I’ve done it in a variety of styles. I’ve stayed in a comfortable hotel, a housing estate on the colder fringes of Leith, and shared a student flat with random women who left tights in the bath and passive aggressive notes on the fridge. Strangely for someone who does about half his travelling unaccompanied, I’ve always been to Edinburgh with a friend – not necessarily to see exactly the same shows, but to have that essential nightcap and dissect what we’ve seen over calorific breakfasts. This time I have some basic standards – a minimum of my own bathroom and a lock on the bedroom door, some space and time to see more of this beautiful city. A working umbrella so expensive to replace I will at least try not to leave it under a seat at Summerhall. I have tickets for a concert in the International Festival as well as Fringe, an appointment at the Scottish parliament for an architectural tour, lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant and a visit to Holyroodhouse. That’s the sort of air you need to put between five shows a day at the fringe to avoid becoming institutionalised. In all that time, it’s obvious that the Fringe should have changed, but for me the most noticeable changes have been abrupt and in the last two or three years. It may have stopped being quite so much fun.When I was first aware of it, as a drama student planning to take a show on tour, it just seemed such a gung-ho, let’s do it atmosphere, with few risks or pitfalls as fourteen of my mates piled in the back of a minibus and delivered frankly dreadful performances of Everyman and George and the Dragon. I played St George with the voice of Edward Heath, it’s that long ago. Now there seems to be a growing grievance culture among performers whenever they are not rewarded with high praise and financial success. There aren’t enough professional critics paid to roam Edinburgh to give everybody a chance of an informed and objective appraisal, so what you end up with is a lot of amateur work reviewed by amateur writers who will spunk stars up the wall in return for being named on posters. You’ll also find actors tweeting that they ‘never read reviews’, and feedback from an enthusiastic audience is what really spurs them on. Well, firstly remember most of the audiences are at least partially drunk – and secondly try selling your show to a savvy London producer without an endorsement from a creditable review source.Indeed, a word from either of the two most powerful women in Edinburgh in August – Lyn Gardner formerly of the Guardian and assiduous chronicler and encourager of everything Fringe, and Joyce McMillan year-round custodian of the arts at The Scotsman and indefatigable theatre reviewer – would be sufficient you get you an introduction. Even if they are effectively the Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart of the Fringe, they wear their crowns of responsibility lightly and with good humour. There was also the case this year of a performer with a one-woman show griping that she felt almost assaulted by being ‘tagged’ in a two star review, and this has precipitated a slew of similar complaints such that the collective platforms like Fest Magazine have agreed not to identify performers unless the review is a four or five star one. Of course actors, especially Millennials, have feelings and no writer ever sets out to be deliberately hurtful. But the deal with Edinburgh is that you bring untried or avant-garde work to a seasoned theatregoing audience in order to get pointers and objective appraisal from critics, to help you make it better. If you don’t enter into this bargain, what’s the point of doing it? I think the answer to that is ‘for validation’ similar to getting lots of ‘likes’ on Instagram – and performers have gathered in virtual self-help and mutual supporting What’sApp groups as a kind of informal therapy to protect themselves from the harsh realities of objective assessment. As the Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish suggested in a tweet, weathering an ill-informed two-star review may actually be the best way to prepare for the commercial theatrical world they aspire to work in. Time to pack, see you the other side of Hadrian’s Wall.