I have spent a large quantity of my first week in Edinburgh standing in various queues. These queues coil through the intestines of the Underbelly, snake up stairs in the Gilded Balloon and line the walls of the Pleasance Courtyard. Even with the privilege (and it is a privilege) of being able to pick up my tickets straight from the press office rather than standing in line at the box office, queuing remains a chief feature of the Edinburgh experience. The turn around for acts is such that audiences will often have to wait outside the venue entrance while the previous production wraps up and lets out and the stage is hastily re-set for the next show.
Edinburgh queues are unlike queues elsewhere. This is not the silent, impatient shuffle one experiences at the post office or on a Monday morning at the bank. People talk. This especially true in the evening when people have had a drink or two to see off any residual inhibitions. Enlivened with the particular atmosphere of the festival people will happily tell you about the show they have just seen or they will spot a flyer in your hand and prod you on the shoulder and ask: have you seen that one? Is it any good?
While a few are plugging a friend or family member’s show, most are genuinely excited about what they have seen and keen to let other people know about it. They deserve a bigger audience, a woman told me about one show (Sweeney Todd: His Life, Times and Execution! at the Gilded Balloon). She described it with such delight that the very next day I followed her tip and went along to see it myself. This is the essence of word of mouth; the ripples are visible.
There is a kind of queue camaraderie. On the days when the sun deigns to shine and some of the smaller venues start to resemble the hot boxes in Bridge on the River Kwai, people cheerfully swap tales of near-faints. Even when it’s sheeting with rain, there’s a buzz of anticipation. Sometimes though there is queue confusion. In the Pleasance Courtyard in particular there are so many different queues that it’s easy to end up standing in the wrong line. On more than one occasion someone ahead of me has suddenly asked: “this is the queue for such-and-such, right?” and then ran off in a panic when they’ve realised they’re not in the right place.
This degree of queuing would border on the hellish in most other contexts, but in Edinburgh it’s just part of the fabric of things, a necessary prologue.