Edinburgh Fringe 2023: Final Thoughts

The Recs’ editor shares his final thoughts on a successful 2023 Fringe and looks to the future

Today, the Edinburgh Fringe 2023 closes officially and by any standard, it has been a return-to-form success. The Fringe Society has confirmed that an incredible 2.4 million tickets have been sold this year – less than 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 – but an arts festival is never simply about numbers. It’s always a feeling and from our perspective, it felt like Fringe ’23 finally was able to shrug off the limitations imposed in recent years by the global pandemic. 

Before we turn the page, it seems like the perfect time to look back in preparation to go forward. Therefore, here is the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe through The Recs’ gimlet eye…or should that be a margarita eye?

How Good!

There was a point a few days in to the main block of our review time when I experienced another show that compelled another 5-star review where I hopped on social media for reassurance that I had not left my critical faculties at the border. 

When you go to the Fringe, you usually hope for the best, expect the worst and take what comes. This year it was an embarrassment of riches. From a Scottish company remembering a Scottish legend to a different Scottish company looking at Scotland’s history and future, from American solo artists crossing the Atlantic to share their work to  English companies heading North to perform heart-felt dramas, from Queer performers making a breakthrough and soaring high to Queer performers outgrowing the Fringe to Queer performers making their home in Scotland and finding what should have been award-WINNING humour in it (not naming anyone but hello, Edinburgh Comedy Awards – four award nominations for Kieran Hodgson and still not a win?), from shows that converted musical-theatre-phobes to enjoying musicals to the randomness of a juggling show converting a jugglerphobe into not quite hating juggling shows by their sheer idiosyncrasy, Edinburgh Fringe ’23 has delivered a ferociously high standard.

We questioned every 5-star review we gave out and found each entirely worthy of the high praise we were giving.  Considering quite why so many #EdFringe shows were so outstanding, our pet theory came down to one thing. The Fringe is so ridiculously expensive, it necessitates that acts give Edinburgh their absolute best shot, resulting in a standard of creativity higher than we are used to in London (if that’s any litmus test). A very timely reminder that while the UK capital is deemed the cultural epicentre, the standards are often soaring higher elsewhere. 

There Is Nowhere Like It

You need to be there to get how much of a buzz there is in the air. To have so many artists from across the world bringing their talent and congregating in one city for a month – can’t be underestimated.

And credit to the Fringe venues – thinking back to the 90s, it was such a ramshackle affair. Now, it’s so impressive the effort put in – from getting shows up on time, treating punters with respect, to a range of eateries and bars, the effort pays off for audiences. 

You simply cannot understand what it is like to enter the Fringe bubble…until you do. And if you can, you definitely should take that opportunity.


There’s no escaping it. Edinburgh is eye-wateringly expensive – both for performers and audiences (and reviewers). This will come as a shock to absolutely no one but the cost of accommodation is prohibitive and runs the risk of excluding too many working-class voices from participating.

There’s a lingering question mark that hangs over this successful festival. Is the Fringe only for those who have money or for those who care about theatre, comedy and art?  A Fringe only open to middle-class acts, middle-class critics, middle-class audiences would do a disservice to the Fringe’s avowed motto “to give anyone a stage and everyone a seat”

In this regard, The Recs must thank the Fringe Society for their innovative scheme without which we would not have been able to attend this year and many shows wouldn’t have received our detailed reviews. Maria, Cameron and the Media team were so supportive and The Recs is grateful for all they’ve done this year.

The Review Debate

With a certain inevitability, the debate about reviewers continued. Some of it was the usual gatekeeping discourse and yet, other opinion pieces rang true. The “hobbyists” vs “professionals” argument strikes me perhaps as one for a decade ago. The fact of the matter is there are not enough reviewers from print publications left to offer anything but the most limited Fringe coverage as few publications retain sufficient full-time Arts correspondents. The rise of online review sites has ensured that many shows do get an appraisal of their work that otherwise would not happen.
The Fringe’s sum-up press release claimed “840 professional media accredited from 25 countries” with “the number of reviewers up 10% on last year” but the report didn’t reference how long these accredited reviewers stayed in Edinburgh. For many, a week’s reviewing rather than a month’s was all to which budgets would stretch.
Looking across the board, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that all reviewers are not created equal. There are too many sites who sign up members of the public on the eve of the Fringe with the promise of “free tickets” knowing that their sites can get these newbies accredited and without pointing fingers, some of these “reviews” can be woeful. A rehash of a press release with “I thought it was amazing” or “really, really good” added at the end plus 5 stars offers no insight, analysis or objectivity. It gives review sites a bad name and untrustworthy guidance to the public.
The question remains how to raise reviewing standards but still ensure as wide coverage of shows as possible. It’s impossible to see who or how anyone could pre-judge the quality of reviewers. However, perhaps a helpful suggestion might be: the Fringe accreditation process could insist that any reviewer needs to have had at least 5 reviews published ahead of the Fringe, perhaps over a period of at least three months, in order to be accredited. This would be a measure that would eliminate those “reviews for free tickets” first timers who are signed up at the end of July/ start of August who have no experience, given little editorial support and allow sites to boast of the quantity of reviews.

The Fringe is Tough

Fringe doyenne Karen Koren with Georgie Greer

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 started with a divisive story. Georgie Greer, subsequently known as “crying girl”, posted a tearful picture on social media after her first show had only one person in the audience. Receiving encouraging messages of support from the likes of Dara Ó Briain and Jason Manford, the story went viral with fellow performers sympathising and industry types suspecting a PR stunt – not least when it emerged that she had posted a similar teary image on the first day of the previous Fringe. 

From the safe distance of London when the “crying girl” story broke, I was fairly agnostic about the ensuing debate. Had a passing thought of “why doesn’t she just flyer more?” But then arriving in Edinburgh myself, away from home comforts, in shared accommodation, I finally remembered how daunting the Fringe can be. Especially for those solo performers who are producing their own show, who are their own marketing team. Hurled into this overwhelming crucible, spending a lot of time in your own head, you begin to understand how emotions can be turned up to the max.

Even as a reviewer arriving at the Fringe, it does take time to acclimatise. For me, Day 2 was mentally a challenge. Lack of sleep, a three-show day (and of course the first show was much more complicated than expected so there’s the added pressure of knowing it will take longer to write than you’ve scheduled for) and you find yourself traversing Edinburgh amidst the hustle and bustle and not having a single proper conversation with anyone the whole day. You begin to understand how easy it is to be happy one hour and down the next at the Fringe.
So I take my hat off to all Fringe performers for their resilience and well done for simply getting through your run. And again, appreciation to the Fringe team and the charity Health in Mind for providing a range of mental health support services throughout August.

Last Thoughts

As a creative force, the Edinburgh Fringe offers a creative range of entertainment that cannot be matched. We owe a debt of thanks to the performers, technicians and producers for the considerable effort they put in to be part of the Fringe. It’s a truism that sometimes gets lost that without the performers, there is no Fringe. 

So our abiding hope is that governments, both North and South of the border,  would funnel some of that not insubstantial revenue (estimated at between £200million and £1billion) to the Scottish and UK economy back into the Fringe to reduce the financial barriers to participation for those creatives who might struggle otherwise to participate. 

As a review site, The Recs leaves the Edinburgh Fringe impressed, inspired and happy. Please note this picture represents the joy of the Fringe and is not a snap of our editor out of the lash.