Killing Eve star reveals she was left penniless after Edinburgh Festival Fringe robbery

Killing Eve and Fleabag actor Fiona Shaw has recalled how she had to sleep on the floor of a church when she made her debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - and was left penniless in the city after falling victim to a robber.

Fiona Shaw made her Fringe debut in 1982.
Fiona Shaw made her Fringe debut in 1982.

The Harry Potter star has recalled how she suffered “agony and ecstasy” during her first trip to the city after prize money she had won at drama school was stolen from her.

The Irish actress had just graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when she won a part in a production of Deborah Warner’s Woyzeck and was in her first job as an actor when she appeared at the Fringe in 1982.

Speaking in a new film celebrating the history of the Edinburgh festivals, Shaw recalled how regular visits to a baked potato shop near her venue helped her survive her first Fringe experience.

However she also tells the BBC Scotland programme, My Light Shines On, which will be shown at 9.30pm tonight, how she had found Edinburgh “the most stupendous city” where you could see “all the heroes you wanted to see”.

She would go on to star in the West End in London and on Broadway, as well as in the Oscar-winning movie My Left Foot.

Speaking in the BBC film, she also describes the “magic carpet” experience of returning to the city to perform at the 2003 Edinburgh International Festival, starring alongside Irish actor Cillian Murphy, now best known for crime drama Peaky Blinders, in The Seagull.

Shaw is one of several big-name performers, such as Scots-born Broadway star Alan Cumming and Mercury Prize nominee Anna Meredith, recalling their experiences of the festivals in the film, which also features new performances staged during lockdown.

Shaw says: “My very first experience of attending the Edinburgh Festival was way back in the early 1980s.

"I suppose I had never been anywhere, certainly not as an actor, because we were just out of drama school. It felt like the very thing that I had always wanted. Edinburgh was just the most stupendous city.

“We were all living in a church hall. We all just slept in sleeping bags on the floor in little rows.

“I had won a sum of money with this prize at Rada and that very quickly got robbed.

“I had this agony and ecstasy of being at the Edinburgh Festival with literally no money. We ate at Spudulike, rehearsed and put on our play and saw everything that was on. You saw all the heroes you wanted to see.”

Recalling her return in 2003, she says: “It was a magic carpet of an experience. Cillian Murphy played my son. I remember performing one night and the doorman saying: ‘There is a very strange lady at the door in a headscarf who looks a bit like an ancient Meryl Streep.’ And of course it was Meryl Streep, sort of disguised.”

“Edinburgh remains a place where experiment can occur in a marketplace where you know you are seeing the new and the moment that something changes.

“The Festival is a huge force for communication, expression, dialogue, pleasure and all the things that make us human in the best sense and without it we would be emptier, barren, darker, sadder and possibly more aggressive.”

Recalling his debut, as one half of the double act Victor and Barry, who would go on to become huge Fringe favourites, Cumming said: “The Edinburgh Festival was where I first learned about showbiz.

“The first time I performed was in 1984 when I did Victor and Barry, a cabaret act I had just made up with Forbes Masson. We performed just off the Royal Mile.

"We had zero members of the audience, except a cat who came in off the street. We did the show anyway. We needed the practice.”

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