A Brief Guide to the UK Fringe
Though the UK boasts great theatre all year round, any theatre aficionado knows that the summer season is a high point for new plays, musicals, and comedy shows! If you’re putting together your must-see list, our brief guide to the UK fringe will help you get started.
The UK Fringe: What’s On
There are a huge amount of theatrically-themed events in the UK, in a variety of locations – from London to Belfast – but they all have one thing in common: they provide unprecedented opportunities to catch new and exciting work from both up-and-coming talent and established artists. Indeed, many productions start in fringe theatres before transferring to bigger, more commercial venues (like the West End).
The Edinburgh Fringe (which takes place every August) is often seen as a ‘launch pad’ for a range of artists (from actors and playwrights to comedians). However, though Edinburgh is the biggest theatre festival in the world, it isn’t the only established fringe event the UK has to offer: there’s the Brighton Fringe, the Greater Manchester Fringe, the Camden Fringe, the Dublin Theatre Festival, the Underbelly Festival, and many more.
Some festivals have been and gone, but there’s still plenty of great theatre to catch in 2019. Keep reading to learn about our top three UK fringe festival picks for summer.
For Edgy, Up-and-Coming Theatre, Try… The Camden Fringe
Often seen as the little sister to the Edinburgh Festival, North London’s very own Camden Fringe is now in its fourteenth year - and it’s bigger and better than ever.
Boasting an impressive line-up of shows, from traditional UK fringe favourites like theatre and comedy to more offbeat delights like drag, opera, and even magic, the Camden Fringe Festival offers an excellent night out on the town (and is much more affordable than a trip to Scotland!). This year, the festival runs between 29th July to 25th August and encompasses a whopping 300 shows at 23 venues (including well-known venues like the Etcetera theatre and the Hen and Chickens). A great opportunity to see some lesser-known, experimental theatre without breaking the bank.
For a Thrilling Day/Night Out, Try… The Underbelly Festival
Also in London - but across the river on the Southbank - is the Underbelly Festival. This sprawling celebration of live entertainment takes place from April until September, offering up a selection of fantastic performances – everything from cabaret to children’s theatre - in specially-crafted tents along the Southbank.
There are some big names to see, too. The line-up this year includes acclaimed comedians like Nina Conti and Abandoman; top cabaret talent such as Cocoa Butter Club and Le Gateau Chocolat; an expanded Kids Festival which features an innovative choose-your-own-adventure from improv troupe The Showstoppers; and riveting circus and drag acts (Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club and Yummy, to name a few).
A day or night out at the Underbelly doesn’t only include live entertainment, though. The Southbank is essentially a one-stop shop for all your needs: an inviting central London location with delicious food stalls, bars, and fairground rides to enjoy. A perfect summer hang-out spot!
For Star-Spotting and Breakout Talent, Try… The Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Photo Credit: David Monteith-Hodge
No list of UK fringe recommendations would be complete without the Edinburgh Fringe: the biggest theatre festival in the world and a sort of ‘pilgrimage’ spot for budding thespians and theatre fans.
What started with just seven theatre companies in 1947 has become a veritable cornucopia of live entertainment, with some of the best and brightest names in theatre, comedy, and dance descending on the Scottish capital throughout August. Housed within just a few square miles are 250 venues showing more than 2,000 shows (resulting in a whopping 30,000+ performances taking place during the month). Though the sheer numbers involved highlight the Fringe’s preference for quantity over quality, there are many hidden gems to be found - almost every big comedian cut their teeth at the Fringe, after all, and a number of amazing shows have hit the big time following their ‘trial’ month in Edinburgh (for example, Six The Musical, currently on in London’s West End, made its debut at the 2018 Fringe).
This year, festivalgoers can watch performances from Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry and Kate Tempest, to name but a few; sing along to new musicals such as Friendsical (based on the hit TV show); and chuckle with comedians like Iain Sterling, Arabella Weir, and Phil Wang. Simply unmissable.