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Previews and variety shows

If you're the type of person who likes to see things for yourself, there are several opportunities to catch short previews of shows once you're here in Edinburgh. Depending on how you do it, they're either free or grouped together into good-value variety shows; either way, you can sample a number of performances before you commit your time and money to a single one.

 The try-before-you-buy concept has only really taken off for the Fringe, and the other Festivals generally don't offer previews. One notable exception is the Jazz and Blues Festival: it kicks off at the tail-end of July with two days of free events. If that tickles your fancy, see our article on free summertime jazz. 

Royal Mile stages

Royal Mile Stage
Free performance on the Royal Mile
Every afternoon during the Fringe, you can catch short extracts from a mix of shows at temporary stages on the Royal Mile - the cobbled street which runs from Edinburgh's castle right down to the palace at Holyrood. The stages are set up outside the Fringe box office and easily-identifiable St Giles' Cathedral, where the road is closed to traffic for the Festival.

Each stage does have a programme for the day written up beside it, but previewing a particular show requires a super-human level of organization; it's far easier just to turn up and see what's on offer at the time. You never know what you'll find - a musical chorus on one stage may be drowned out by the rock band just next door, while behind you two slapstick clowns vie for laughs from the fickle crowd.

The experience isn't that rewarding in itself, not least because the Mile is always hopelessly crowded, but it's free and it's a good way to pick up some ideas for acts you want to see. You won't need to take notes - as soon as their segment is over, the performers will appear in front of the stage to hand out their flyers.

Variety shows

An alternative way to pack in a few quickfire previews is to go to one of the Fringe's variety shows, where a series of performers strut their stuff and have a chat with the compere on stage.

Variety shows
"The original and, many would say, still the best is Mervyn Stutter's Pick Of The Fringe, which has been running for an incredible 20 years"
The original and, many would say, still the best is Mervyn Stutter's Pick Of The Fringe, which has been running for an incredible 20 years. This lunchtime event packs in seven or eight short extracts from the whole gamut of Fringe entertainment - and, as well as giving ideas for future ticket purchases, makes a good-value show in its own right.

The principle is dusted off again at the end of the day at each of the Fringe's main comedy venues - this time, with the emphasis squarely on the stand-up segment of the programme. These alcohol-fuelled late-night parties, which can run for several hours, are a bit like the kebab at the end of a pub crawl: not something you'd choose when sober, but somehow irresistible at the time. The running orders change nightly, and typically feature one or two well-known names together with an extensive under-card. Examples include Late and Live at the Gilded Balloon, and the cheekily similar Late and Free at Espionage.

<< Choosing from programmes   Flyers >>

Edinburgh 2013

Coming to the Fringe this year?  We can help you make the most of your time.  Learn about Edinburgh's summer Festivals and plan your visit around the city's major events. 

Find out more >>