We're officially half way through the fringe people - HALF WAY! Two weeks down, two to go. That's two weeks without watching the news or reading a newspaper (besides scouring them for reviews). So apart from Tom Daley getting a medal for doing some sexy showering and Louise Mensch fecking off to America, we have no idea what's going on in the rest of the world. Not that'd matter if we did know. Literally anything could happen south of the border and the 'good' people of the Fringe would still stand around asking each other how many they had in that night, what reviewers have been in and could you sign me and my friend into the Abattoir. Yes, the Abattoir - Underbelly's very own private members club, smack bang in the middle of Bistro Square. Underbelly isn't the only venue to have it's own secret room of curiosities; Assembly, Pleasance and Gilded Balloon all boast similar artists' bar. So we thought we'd take you on a journey behind the scenes and allow you, the great unwashed, to vicariously rub shoulders with the glitterati, comederati and of course, the cabarati that frequent a couple of these backroom bars.
To begin, here's what you need to know. To get into the exclusive entrails of a particular venue you need a pass. You get a pass by either working for the company; tech, FOH, marketing etc, or working on a show at one of their numerous theatres; as performer, director, PR, lighting/sound designer, chimney sweep etc. When a performer, creative or techie works in multiple venues then they get a pass for each of the venues. The purpose of the game is to collect as many passes as possible allowing you entry into all the bars. This may entail befriending someone of the same sex, who looks a little like you and is only at the festival for two weeks and then while waving them off at Waverley Station on the 15:15 to Kings X, snatching their souvenir lanyard from their necks through an open carriage window or, you could sexually persuade a middle aged comedy promoter to add you to their company roster as brand manager. The choice is yours.
So, dems da rules as they say. Are you ready to play? First stop on our whirlwind tour of the festival crème de la sour crème is Assembly's artists' bar, where, in our shared flat, Up & Over It, Jonny Woo and one half of Bourgeois & Maurice have passes. This old boys' club is located in the bowels of Edinburgh University on George Square, and when we say bowels, we mean underground car park. To gain access you must first present your pass to a rather pleasantly nonchalant Assembly staff member. Considering the celebratory gold that's being mined behind those doors, this isn't the strictest of security posts at the fringe. Usually a doe-eyed plea from a pass bearing thespian is enough to secure entry for a swathe of unauthorised carnies. Once inside, the first thing that hits you is the décor. It's like walking into the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall - in the 80s. All that's missing is a portrait of Thatcher and a cumulonimbus of cigar smoke. Who ever thought a bunch of liberal lefties would enjoy relaxing in a Thorpe Park version of the staff room at Eton has to be off their meds. To make matters worse, they also insist on dribbling Norah Jones out of the speakers. But scratch the surface and you'll see that while the birdcages and leatherette sofas are real, the lined bookshelves and woodblock flooring are just vinyl thin reimaginings, unlike the very real celebrities you might find in this celebritorium. Brookside's Claire Sweeney, You Bet's Matthew Kelly, nursery rhyme purveyor Edward Reid and telly pundit Amy Lamé can all be found enjoying a post show lounge in Assembly's salon de decadence. Enough to send mere civilians into a blubbering mess.
Onwards and upwards we must go to the aforementioned Abattoir at Udderbelly. Unlike Assembly, the gates of the Abattoir are manned by a monosyllabic giant, however don't let appearances fool you; if you're sober, polite and rational then he won't stand in the way of you and the 60 metres of white trellis that awaits you. Once inside, middle class children of the 90s will feel right at home as the interior of the Abattoir has conveniently been based on a Garden Centre café. Our mothers could spend hours there, but we'd prefer to wait in the car. As far as celebratory spotting goes, I'd keep Safari open and Google at the ready as while you may not immediately recognise the faces, they have no doubt been on some panel show or t'other and might just be the next big thing. It's here at the Abattoir that people speak to each other as we'd imagine gymnastic coaches chat during the Olympics; "Touch wood, this is our best Edinburgh/'lympics yet", "We worked our arses off but all we got was 3 stars from The List/Ukrainian Judge". It's like Strictly Ballroom with comedians, Toddlers and Tiaras for grown ups, or worse, the hotel bar at an Irish Dance Championships, and we love it. There's no better way to enjoy this post-show chitchat than in the Abattoir smoking area. This little balcony boasts a panoramic view over Bistro Square where you can also see who's coming up the ramp into the bar and like a cowardly king, engage your exit strategy.
We've yet to frequent the private bars at Pleasance or Gilded Balloon but it'll happen. We're in no doubt that over the coming weeks we'll find ourselves outside the Pleasance Dome on our hands and knees begging a freshman with a laminate to let us sample the delights of their celebrity bounty on the off chance of rubbing shoulders with the boys from Cardinal Burns. In fact, we're rather looking forward to it.