Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Pillow fights and laughter with Fringe return

It was the knockout blow landed by a particularly over-excited six year-old that really hit home how much I have missed the Edinburgh Fringe these past few years.

Under the vaulted ceiling of a dimly lit backroom in the Three Sisters pub on the Cowgate, he was one of dozens of children given carte blanche to assault me with an endless supply of pillows.

In theory, I was allowed to trade blows, but I barely had time to focus beyond the stage lights before another projectile came hurtling towards me.

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A street entertainer performs on Edinburgh's Royal Mile during the city's Festival Fringe. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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Looking back, it was a rookie error to sit in the second row of the show by Australian kids’ comedian Matty Grey. Equally, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Could there be a better reintroduction to one of the greatest arts festivals in the world than being plucked from the audience and helping the room boom with laughter?

Wandering through the city at the weekend with my family, it was a joy to see the energy and spontaneity return after the disruption wrought by the pandemic.

Every nook and cranny seemed full of life as the capital one again served as a magnet for the ingenious, the inscrutable, and everything inbetween.

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The Fringe is such an inextricable part of Edinburgh’s identity that the absence of a full-programme robbed it of so much. Only last year, there were questions over whether it would ever fully bounce back, given the impact of Covid-19 on countless tiny venues.

It will take time to provide a definitive answer, but if the opening weekend is any guide, there are plenty of reasons for optimism.

Of course, the feelgood factor at the festival’s return cannot and should gloss over the wider structural problems that threaten its long-term future.

The affordability crisis in the city is a barrier to less-established performers, and there are still too many organisations which are profiting from the Fringe without giving enough back. This wonderful gathering was already fragile before the pandemic, and now that we are coming out the other side, little has changed.

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So let us hope that everyone invested in the Fringe takes seriously the need for reform while celebrating its return.

As for Leo? A word of warning, wee man – I’ll be back next year.

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