A fourth, and much-maligned, way to find a good show is through flyering - that is, having a leaflet forced into your hand by a member of the cast or production crew. Walk down the Royal Mile on a busy afternoon, and you'll emerge at the other and with a score of glossy cardboard flyers, each exhorting you to spend your time and money at their particular show.
With the average company bringing 5,000 to 10,000 flyers to the Festival - and with more than 2,000 shows at the Fringe alone - the sheer quantity of paper involved would make any environmentalist cry. Nor is it uncommon to see a leaflet team dump a stack of flyers on a table, only for venue staff to sweep them all into the bin a matter of seconds later. If you can get past the sheer wanton waste of it all, though, flyers provide an often-entertaining window into the "personality" of a show - and you can build the picture further by having a few words with the people distributing them, who as often as not are in costume, acting out their roles in the show.
The usefulness of flyers increases markedly as the Festival goes on, and reviews for shows begin to emerge. Those shows blessed with a positive write-up run off a few thousand copies of the kind critic's treasured words, and hand out their flyers with the reviewer's opinion stapled on. (Be suspicious, though, if all you've got is a short quote - an honest company will show you the whole review, negatives and all.)
So among all your carefully-chosen five-star-reviewed premium picks, make a space or two in your diary for something really spontaneous. Go out onto the streets, get some flyers, and choose. Nothing quite matches the feeling when you choose a show on gut instinct from a flyer - and it turns out to be a treasure.
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