Passions: There are many hidden gems to be uncovered in Edinburgh’s Free Fringe

You should take a chance on the Free Fringe this year, writes Allan Crow

Peter Buckley Hill started something rather special when he launched the Free Fringe back in 2004. Adopting the approach of buskers who put down a hat and let folk chuck in what they think the act is worth, he opened doors to many performers who otherwise couldn’t afford to be part of Edinburgh’s festival month.

Some of the best, most bewildering and occasionally bonkers shows I’ve seen have been on the Free Fringe. Without it, I’d never have found Phill Jupitus’ doing his superb Porky The Poet shows which became an annual date in my Fringe diary, and I doubt I would have encountered Dave Alnwick, a superb magician whose Voodoo Rooms’ shows are gobsmackingly brilliant.

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And I’d certainly never have discovered the subversive brilliance of the Creative Martyrs who are a must-see every time they visit.

I’ve enjoyed some great stand-up comedy in back rooms small enough to be officially deemed a cupboard, watched theatre in the basement of a pizza restaurant off Princes Street, and once saw a variety show so poor the host actually declined to accept any cash at the end. He nearly handed out refunds.

Some acts certainly push a suggested donation in lieu of a ticket, while others make it clear they’ll shake your hand and say thanks whether you chuck in 50p or £15. That’s how it should be.

Jupitus no longer does the Fringe, content instead to enjoy life in the East Neuk of Fife as an artist, but he was one of its greatest champions. He argued if you were famous and doing a show in a big venue, you should put something back by also gigging on the Free Fringe. He’s right. A sprinkling of stardust can only help as it hurtles towards its 20th anniversary.

It may not have the razzamatazz of the Fringe, but dig through its guide, pick some shows at random, and you’ll be surprised at the breadth and quality on offer.

And if I can make a recommendation, Mister Meredith’s Singalong Pub Quiz (Fingers Piano Bar) is simply magnificent - so good they turned folk away last year. Not many Fringe shows manage that.

Allan Crow is Editor of the Fife Free Press, sister paper of The Scotsman