If you’ve been to Edinburgh in August, chances are you’ve seen a show at one of the Assembly venues. Finding yourself at the Assembly Rooms instead of Assembly Hall or Assembly George Square five minutes before your pre-booked show is due to start, is a rite of Fringe passage. Not least because they’re so far apart with an obstacle course to navigate in between (so many steps, hills, passages, cobbles and dazed wandering tourists), a last minute mad dash probably won’t cut it. Stand-up comedians often ask latecomers if they went to the wrong one. It’s an inevitable occurence.
So I was very sure to be certain of the venue for this year’s programme launch – at the biggest of them all: Assembly Hall, on the Mound. Offering over two hundred shows and featuring big names year on year, there’s a sense that a piece of London arrives and owns a chunk or our fair city for a while. However, the variety and quality of the selection which always includes umpteen five star pieces, cannot be denied. This showcase was suitably grand – high tech sound and lighting rigs, slick and glamorous acts and an address from one of our national treasures: the wonderful Simon Callow (not to be missed in De Profundis, 12.30pm at Assembly Rooms).
Many favourites have returned to the red venues this year: including American cabaret diva Lady Rizo with Red, White and Indigo (Assembly Hall), Jess Robinson the funny and skilled musical impressionist with No Filter (Assembly George Square Gardens), all singing all dancing hit Choir of Man (Assembly Rooms), all of whom presented superb excerpts at the launch. Opening proceedings was the visual spectacle of Briefs – Close Encounters, male burlesque – comedy – stripping – drag – circus combined to impressive effect.
Imagine a blend of Bjork, Pink and Cirque and you have Wrenne (I Said Yes to Everything at Assembly George Square Studios). Her stunning set of eerie, soulful music alongside multimedia, set an alternative tone to the otherwise fairly mainstream line-up of the night and is one to check out – if you like that sort of thing. Also well worth going to see, are Jonny Woo (Jonny Woo’s All Star Brexit Cabaret) and Le Gateau Chocolat (Icons – both of these are at Assembly George Square Gardens). This pair of hilarious, talented and delightfully silly drag acts, masterfully led the show as the night’s mesmerizing and deliciously fun hosts. I could have watched them all night and not stopped smiling for a second.
So it’s another stellar year from Assembly. That said, you’re arguably a lot less likely to find a hidden gem here than you are at a smaller venue and the tickets are pricier. This makes the experience feel a lot more commercial and less earthy than the hot, sweaty, grungy basements elsewhere. But each has its place and Assembly continues to bring both quality and quantity to the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe.
For more on the Assembly Festival programme take a look here.