My Festival Highlights Challenge – Day One

The Festival Highlights street team led by Julia Bolden (centre) at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe

The street team led by Julia Bolden (centre)

After a late night at the technical rehearsal for Eric and Little Ern, Day One of my Festival Highlights Challenge started with a 10am production office meeting. Producer James Seabright went through the first day’s advance sales for all nine shows and set the street team, under the direction of Julia Bolden, with targets.

James echoed the sentiment I’ve been hearing on the street that the success of the Commonwealth Games in nearby Glasgow seems to have distracted local audiences, who normally help get the Fringe off with a bang during previews. The Games conclude on Sunday. Until then, the street team will be working even harder than usual.


Several of us head off to Gilded Balloon for the first two shows of the day, running back to back in the Debating Hall. First up, Outings, based on real-life stories of gay, lesbian and transgender people coming out.


Having read the script and interviewed co-authors Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin just five weeks ago, I’m amazed by how much the script has changed. And the cast – comedians Rob Deering, Andrew Doyle, Zoe Lyons and Camille Ucan, who all prove their acting chops – are terrific. (And in a handy cross-promotion opportunity, Mark Farrelly – star of Festival Highlights’ Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope and The Silence of Snow is the first guest star.) The show is very warmly received. Director David Grindley is pleased. He gives notes after the show and will continue to tweak for the next few days. The first critics are in tomorrow.


Outings is followed in the Debating Hall by Eric and Little Ern, with Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel reprising their roles as the much-loved Morecambe and Wise, after their success at Edinburgh last year and West End transfer. The boys bring their sunshine back to the London for Christmas with an extended season at the St James Theatre.


We then nip to the Pleasance Courtyard, where Dan and Jeff, and saucy sidekick Lizzie Wort, in fully costumed Potted Sherlock mode, join casts of myriad other children’s shows from the Pleasance programme this year for a mass photo opp in the Kids’ Zone. A dinosaur ambles past to the under-five (and over-five) audience members’ delight. While at the Courtyard, I also meet Lizzie’s young 18-month old critic, Buster, and The Only Way Is Downton star Luke Kempner instructs me on better selfie photography.


After a trip to the Pleasance press office (at the Pleasance Dome in Bristo Square) to pick up tickets and an admin pit stop in the office, it’s back to the Courtyard with the Festival Highlights street team. The flyerers perform one of the most important functions in Edinburgh – persuading passing punters to see our shows each day rather than the other 3,500+ on offer.


Evidence of their day’s hard work is the huge queue forming outside The Only Way Is Downton. One of the Pleasance ushers tells those at the front of the queue, “It’s smart to see this one early, I predict it’s going to be a sell-out later on.” She saw it at last year’s Festival.


I saw The Only Way Is Downton at the West End’s Trafalgar Studios, and seeing it a second time, I think I enjoyed it even more – which I didn’t think was possible. Luke’s array of spot-on impressions – from all the characters of Downton Abbey to reality TV stars and sport gods Andy Murray and Tom Daley (shouldn’t he be in Glasgow for those Games?) is awe-inspiring and so so funny.


The audience warms to likeable Luke even more by the way he smoothly and good-naturedly handles a few cue mishaps – well, it is only the first show and, as we saw last night with Eric and Little Ern, the technical rehearsals are tight to say the least. “It’s so good we turned the lights out,” quips Luke at one point when he’s plunged accidentally into darkness.


As soon as the audience files out after a whoop-heavy curtain call, lighting designer Tim Mascall springs into action to iron out the kinks by tomorrow’s show. The street team all loved the show and are raving about it as we head back to the Festival Highlights office at Teviot Square. They’re even more energised now to spread the word and distribute those flyers!


Check out tweets from the day below – and follow @TerriPaddock and @festhighlights for more action throughout the day.


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