Ever wanted to see a show performed in a swimming pool? How about an old science laboratory? At Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, these are just some of the non-traditional theatre venues where festival-goers can take in a performance. Fringe offers more than 3,000 shows, and artists often think outside the box about the spaces best-suited for presenting their shows.
For a sneak peek at some of the offbeat experiences Playbill will explore as part of Playbill Goes Fringe, Playbill’s extensive on-the-ground coverage of the festival, read about 13 unusual places Fringe shows have performed in years past.
In previous years, Edinburgh Fringe has indeed featured shows performed in public toilets. In 2009, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was presented in the public toilets at St James Shopping Centre by nod/nod theatre company. Later in 2017, audiences piled into the bathrooms at Assembly Hall for Chamber Pot Opera from Australian company Bontom for an intimate look at three women on a night out whose lives briefly collide.
A Sports Stadium
Edinburgh’s Easter Road Stadium, home to the Hibernian Football Club, became a venue for a Duncan Kidd’s drama A Field of Our Own in 2017. The historically-set play explores immigration, xenophobia, and other social issues through the story of the origins of the stadium’s home soccer team, which was established in the 19th century. The site-specific production immersed audiences in the very location integral to the play.
A Swimming Pool
Three Bugs Fringe Company focuses on Hamlet’s Ophelia in a play inspired by Sir John Everett Millais’ 1852 painting of the tragic Shakespeare character. Ophelia (Drowning) was staged in the swimming pool of the Apex International Hotel in 2009. The hotel hosted a nightly water-based theatre production during the festival that year, but is not the only one to have hosted a pool production. The show Brodsky Station, which features the poetry of Joseph Brodsky as characters struggle for freedom and a place, ran in Novotel's swimming pool in 2017.
A Biscuit Factory
Built in 1947, The Biscuit Factory still features many of the original details from when it was built to make Crawfords Biscuits. Now a home to creative businesses, the events venue was hosted last years Dykegeist, from artist Eve Stainton and musician Mica Levi. The piece of choreographic performance art investigated archetypes of the lesbian predator.
A Tent That Looks Like a Purple Cow and A Vault Five Stories Underground
Underbelly has multiple famous venues that host shows for Edinburgh Fringe each year, including the Udderbelly, a giant tent set up in George Square that looks like an upside-down purple cow. Another venue is called Cowgate, a series of vaults five stories below Edinburgh Library that only open once a year specifically for the Fringe. Both host multiple performances and are also known by their venue numbers 300 and 61, respectively.
An Old Laboratory, A Dissection Room, An Anatomy Theatre, and A Former Women’s Locker Room
One of Fringe’s best known venue hubs is Summerhall, an arts and events complex which was home of the Royal Dick Veterinary College from 1916 to 2011. The building subsequently features an Anatomy Lecture Theatre with curved, tiered, seating and a vaulted skylight, an old laboratory, a dissection room, and a former women’s locker room. All four rooms will host performances this year from an immersive music installation to solo shows and new dramas. All rooms can be found at Summerhall, which is venue number 26.
A Shipping Container
Theatre company Darkfield creates immersive theatrical experiences inside shipping containers, often bringing new shows each year to Edinburgh Fringe. Last year they presented two offerings. One was Eulogy, an experience performed in complete darkness that uses technology to bring audiences through a labyrinthine hotel, leaving how it unfolds up to each audience member–with a warning to not become the one every guest is preparing to eulogizes at the end. Another was Séance, which explores group psychology in the shipping container-turned-Victorian séance room.
Not all venues are stationary. Festival-goers can have the intimate experience of seeing a show in a taxi with Cab-arette Showtour. The driver takes on different personalities to perform a 90-minute cabaret show in this musical comedy tour for up to five audience members. Set in a feathered cab with prosecco in hand, audience members become part of the entertainment for passers-by. There is a pick up point marked as venue number 560 for ticketholders to climb into their theatrical ride.
A library may not seem like a particularly unusual place for a show. But consider the complications of putting on a musical in a space with sonic levels that rarely rise about that of whispers. Last year, University of Edinburgh Playfair Library hosted a production of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, co-created by David Greig and Wils Wilson. Described as “a wild session of anarchic theatre,” the show was inspired by the original National Theatre of Scotland commissioned production.