I Saw a Woman Drink Piss at the Edinburgh Fringe and Now I Don't Know What to Think
A rumination on the PROs and CONs of the UK's biggest arts festival.
Performers from Volcano Theatre performing the Chekhov play The Seagull. They have nothing to do with the piss drinking. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images
Have you noticed that London has seemed inexplicably less saturated with wankers over the past three weeks? Well, that's because it's August, which means a large proportion of the most obnoxious members of the "metropolitan" "liberal" "elite" are up in Edinburgh for the world's largest arts festival.
You've always meant to check out the Fringe, haven't you? You even got as far as looking up the train times this year. But it's a four-hour journey, the hotel prices are a joke and all the hostels are fully booked, meaning you'd have to sleep on the sofa at your friend's cousin's flat, which is also playing home to the entire cast of their university Drama Society's queer feminist re-telling of Waiting for Godot, and they would absolutely insist you pay your way by doing two hours of flyering for them every day before their 11AM show. Probably best to give it a miss?
I mean, yeah, but somehow I've managed to end up visiting the Fringe for four consecutive years, so I guess that must mean I think it's kind of good… ? Well: hmm. Let's weigh up the pros and cons of the entire Edinburgh Fringe as a whole and decide whether it's good or bad once and for all, shall we?
– The Fringe is essentially Magaluf for the middle classes, by which I mean it is totally normal to have sunk six pints before 6PM every day for a whole month without anybody batting an eyelid. Before that your-skin-is-too-small-for-your-flesh feeling and the slowly building – barely perceptible, so you hardly even know it's happening – layer-on-layer semi-hangover that wakes you up every morning, this is inarguably A Good Thing. We're putting this in Pros.
– There is literally so much free stuff. Due to a series of financial errors (mine and others), I checked my bank account right in the middle of my Fringe trip to discover that I had £5.50 left to last me 24 hours. But it was actually totally fine! I saw four decent free shows (admittedly, one of these was a show I produced, and another was only free because it was in the same venue); thought about but ultimately decided against climbing Arthur's Seat; had a little trip to the Scottish National Gallery, and still had enough left for a four-pack of Tennent's to smuggle into the (awful) free comedy set we went to that evening! The system wants you to have money, and to spend it freely. I am cheating that system.
– The Fringe, as they say, is a bubble, and – in this, the end of days – that can only be a good thing. Edinburgh right now exists in a parallel universe where there is no imminent threat of nuclear war, and if you ask somebody if they've seen what happened in Charlottesville they will probably assume you're talking about a new contemporary theatre space, not the epicentre of the American neo-Nazi movement. You know at festivals, in olden days before 4G, when a rumour would go round that Michael Jackson had died? And then one year Michael Jackson actually did die? And everyone was more confused than anything else? Amplify that feeling and hold it like a high note for an entire month. That's Edinburgh during the Fringe.
– If you're willing to part with actual money you can even see actually good stuff! This year I saw a show in which the performer straight up dropped trou, pissed into a wine glass and drank it! Live on stage! And it was actually a really great piece of theatrical social commentary on the themes of employment, class and aspiration! Honestly, it was! No, I know, it… the piss. But like: trust me, this is 100 percent something you need to see to appreciate. You— no, I know, piss, but. Look, it was the most bizarre thing I have ever witnessed, yes. I can acknowledge that. Also: piss. But honestly, sat there half drunk in the musty-dark theatre room of an Edinburgh Fringe art-show, watching someone piss in a wine glass then drink it, I can honestly say that… I've… never… felt… more… alive… ?
– Okay, fine, maybe piss isn't for you: but the beauty of the Fringe is that there's something for everyone! Wanna watch Scotland's longest-serving First Minister Alex Salmond have a good old bitch about his political rivals? There's a show for that! Wanna see people perform Shakespeare while drunk? Be my guest! How about an improvised Jane Austen novel? Quite unlikely you will be reading this article if that's the kind of stuff you're into, but hey, there you go!
– Once again, it is totally normal to have sunk six pints before 6PM every day for a whole month without anybody batting an eyelid, and at one point you do find yourself vomiting into a big Scotch bin and wondering where it all went wrong, and this is on about Day 8, so yes we all know that this is extremely unhealthy and should be discouraged. Even if it is really fun.
– Everyone always says that Edinburgh's population doubles in the month of August. This is, of course, ridiculous and impossible. But it definitely feels true. Despite the Fringe turning 70 this year, the city still doesn't seem remotely equipped to deal with the sudden influx of people: the infrastructure just doesn't feel right; it makes me worry that the sewers might explode. Example: my parents drove up for a day trip last weekend and it took them an hour-and-a-half to find a parking space. Can you imagine the shade of puce my dad had turned by the end of this ordeal?
– The overwhelming majority of Fringe participants are lads called Percy, who are up here with the Oxbridge college's (all white, all male) improv troupe, The Improvocateurs, or middle-aged magicians who just missed out on the live rounds of Britain's Got Talent in 2011 and do that kind of— listen, hear me out: can bitterness infect magic? Because some of these card tricks just seem too passive-aggressive.
– The overwhelming majority of Fringe attendees are American. The really bad kind of American. If you don't quite understand what I mean by that – have you just skipped a year? – here is a handy explanation by way of an anecdote: once, at the Fringe, a friend of mine crossed the road at the same time as a guided tour group made up mostly of Americans. As the crossing started beeping they all lost their minds because they thought it was a bomb or something, and when the tour guide explained that this was just to let blind people know that it's time to cross the road, one dude said – with complete sincerity – "I don't know what goes on here, ma'am, but in the United States we don't let blind people drive cars." A month of that.
– Yes there are some incredible shows, but there are also a lot of shows with names like "Suicide: The Musical" and "The Alien Chicken Remembers Galatea" and "Trumpaggedon" (this one is about Donald Trump. At a conservative guess I would say that 70 percent of shows at this year's Fringe are about Donald Trump and/or Brexit). I haven't seen Trumpaggedon, so can't tell you for sure if it is good or bad, but I just am personally very reticent to think that The Whole Trump Problem We Have might be solved by an out-of-work actor in combed a He-Man wig doing their best "GRAB HER BY THE PUSSY" to a half-room of polite applause.
– Sometimes at the Fringe you will be innocently watching some contemporary theatre and the performer will catch you off guard by doing something gross and weird like – say! – drinking their own piss live on stage. And just like that your next five days are ruined. You will spend two hours at the pub discussing urine consumption. Did… did she really actually drink her own piss? Or did she… I dunno, hide some apple juice "up there" and just really smash the kegel exercises so she had the pelvic floor control to squeeze it out? This is unlikely, so yes, she really must have chugged actual wee. But is it not dangerous to do that every day for the whole month? Feels like a nutritional thing. Watch your own piss escape your body. Could you drink even one drop of it? Let alone a wine glass? You'll Google this in the queue for another show – how much piss human body take? – and the person behind you will see. Three days later you will be quite hungover after another day spent drinking (beer) for 13 straight hours, and suddenly you will be sad for the piss-drinker, because the piss-drinking probably means that she can't go on a mad one (which, as previously established, is basically the point of the Fringe) without being violently punished for it by having to drink extremely concentrated wee – like really strong squash, only wee – but while also hungover. Except perhaps she deserves it because now your every waking moment is consumed with piss-contemplation, maybe forever.
So yeah… make of that what you will. I mean, it ends in a week; you're not going to get it together on time to go this year anyway. But maybe next year! See you then!
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