Going to Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows on your own is perfectly acceptable - Gaby Soutar

I wandered lonely as a cloud. Not your average cloud though. Instead, I imagine myself as a very cultured and slightly smug cumulonimbus. Or maybe a stratus, since they’re described as puffy and lumpy, and that’s how I feel on the last leg of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Anyway, it seems that enjoying this annual event on your own has no stigma attached.

After compiling a straw poll of pals – OK, acquaintances, because if I had friends, I wouldn’t be writing this column – it’s no longer a big deal to go see shows solo. Everyone does and often by choice, rather than because you can’t find a buddy who also wants to go see a Murder She Wrote cabaret homage on ice-skates.

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It’s not like being a solitary diner eating in a restaurant, which is a treat, but can be a bit awks.

If you feel a bit conspicuous in that situation, then in the sweaty pitch dark of The Traverse, Monkey Barrel or Pleasance Grand, you’re all but invisible.

There are benefits attached to navigating the festival alone. For example, in my household, as the resident control freak, I am always the one to book tickets. That doesn’t always work out, even though I will read all the reviews and dodge anything under three stars.

When something does turn out to be rubbish, I feel that I am supposed to take responsibility. Afterwards, while we’re doing the obligatory show post-mortem, he’ll mention the price an awful lot. “Well, THAT was £30, and it’s an hour of my life that I’ll NEVER get back,” he says.

Should I give him a refund?

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In order to avoid that, I’ll start to big up the show that I didn’t really enjoy either. “BUT, they were good at emoting with their eyes, weren’t they?” I’ll say. “And one of them had some very smart shoes on”. Nah, it was a dud. My bad.

But I’ve been on the other end of that. I’ve had friends make terrible choices. There was a particularly memorable show, a few years back, which involved people dancing in Morph suits. I didn’t know what was going on. It was like a Tony Hart fever dream.

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I pretended to enjoy it, and my pal was very apologetic afterwards, but I still lightly applied the guilt trip thumb screws. No refund though, not even partial. I’ll bring it up again, next time I see her.

Also, when it comes to doing things as a couple, my other half likes seeing the tried-and-trusted favourites. I prefer new stuff.

He’s happy with somebody wearing jeans who’s spraffing on a stark stage, but I want production value – costumes, set, eye candy, dancing dogs, sparkle, spinning hamsters.

When he’s not there, I can do whatever I like, I can see whoever I choose etc. In that anti-Nothing-Compares-to-U spirit, I’ve taken a few holiday days this month, just to experience Festival freedom, and I started with a couple of random shows last week.

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As I have a very middle-aged brain, the hardest bit was being the sole person who needed to remember the name of the show, time and venue. I looked at my tickets about 89 times, but nothing would sink in.

I also didn’t have anyone to persuade me not to arrive an hour early, so I could pop to the Gilded Balloon loo three times before the theatre opened and buy a cinnamon bun in case I needed a snack in the non-existent interval.

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Then, because I was right at the front of the queue, I mindlessly bimbled into the front row. You never sit there in a comedy show, unless you want to be picked on, and they always choose me. That’s because I am unthreatening. I’m like the quiet runt of the litter, who’s chosen because the potential owner feels sorry for it.

Indeed, writer and comedian Ange Lavoipierre did make me rummage in a plastic bag, as part of her surreal Your Mother Chucks Rocks and Shells show, which is based on my two favourite things, The Exorcist and 2am insomnia. (Nobody would’ve come to that with me).

It made a strange noise, when I put my hand in it, and the audience laughed. However, I can’t remember what the sound was, since my “oh no, they’ve chosen me and now if they ask me to stand up, my legs won’t work” adrenaline had kicked in.

Then I thought I’d go see something else, just because there was nobody to tell me that I can’t afford it.

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I chose Kuan-Wen Huang’s Ilha Formosa, based entirely on the comedian looking like a nice smiley boy on the poster. He wasn’t gurning or doing anything silly, with whatever random object was in the prop cupboard. Take all my money, Huang, purely for not wearing a hat.

Again, straight into the front row, by mistake. I felt exposed, but another solo Festival goer – see, it’s normal – sat beside me. We chatted. She was from Berlin, staying in a hostel, and doing the festival alone over the course of a weekend.

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It was quite nice, as we laughed in unison at the set, which is about Taiwan and Huang’s tiger mother. I didn’t get picked on. She did. Ha ha. Afterwards, there was the awkward goodbye on the steps of Teviot. “Have a good rest-of-Festival,” we both said.

Alone is good, but meeting another cloud is OK. And off we floated, in separate directions.



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