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Five of the best things to see at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2021

After last year’s collective breather, the Fringe is back for 2021. Here’s all the great stuff you should see and do

Arusa Qureshi
Written by
Arusa Qureshi

Edinburgh felt eerily quiet last August. The world’s largest arts and culture festival had gone into hibernation to help curb the spread of the virus. There were no nightly fireworks, no street performers and certainly no once-in-a-lifetime shows in cramped shipping containers. While devastating for so many Edinburgh residents and visitors that rely on the Fringe for both work and play, the pause was also useful: it gave us all a collective breather from an event that takes over absolutely every nook and cranny of the city for one month every year.

Arts festivals have generally been slow to return to the UK this year, but this August the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is back – albeit on a much smaller and more socially-distanced scale. It’s not the Fringe as we know it; there won’t the be usual thousands of shows taking place all over the city. But hey, for many of us it’s been well over a year since we’ve been to a show, so we will gladly take what we can. More than anything, it’s heartwarming to see major events returning to our lives and taking up space in our calendars once again. 

There might be a lot less on the programme this year, but there’s still plenty stuff that’s definitely worth your ticket money. Here are the best things to see at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2021.

Best things to see at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2021

Entertainment in a car park below Edinburgh Castle? Sure, why not. There have certainly been stranger venues that have popped up in the Fringe’s long history, but this one is pretty special. 

MultiStory is a collaboration between Edinburgh Fringe stalwarts Gilded Balloon, ZOO, Traverse and Dance Base, with comedy, theatre, dance, family, music and poetry all on the programme so far. This new festival hub will be taking over the NCP Castle Terrace Car Park from August 6 to 30 and will provide open-air performances as well as local food and drink stalls to keep you fed and watered.

There are already too many amazing-sounding shows on the schedule to mention, with more to be announced, but we’d recommend checking out Alice Rabbit’s Aye-Cons (which brings together the best of Scottish drag), comedy from Leah MacRae and Jason Byrne, and Welsh new writing company Dirty Protest Theatre’s Double Drop.

Australian-born, Glasgow-based dance artist Penny Chivas was inspired to create her autobiographical dance-theatre work ‘Burnt Out’ after the Black Summer fires hit Australia in 2019 and 2020. She had just spent time in Australia and by the time she returned to Scotland, things had gone from bad to worse, with people being rescued, killed and forced to flee and animal habitats totally destroyed.

Burnt Out, which takes place at Assembly Roxy, is a rumination on climate change which takes us on a journey through Australia’s turbulent experience of bushfires. With original music by Paul Michael Henry and lighting by David Bowes, Penny’s piece is extremely personal but has something universal to say in its handling of this weighty topic. 


Many people consider Summerhall to be their favourite place during the Fringe, and it’s easy to see why. For years, the arts venue has been home to some of the finest shows and performers around, from multi-award winners to international icons. We might not be able to file into the old lecture theatres and basement spaces this year as usual, but the team at Summerhall are setting up the ‘Secret Courtyard’ so that we can enjoy some in-person music, theatre, dance, spoken word and storytelling once again.

Highlights include Mamoru Iriguchi’s Sex Education Xplorers (S.E.X.), which offers a playful take on gender identities and sexualities; Turner Prize-winning artist-performer-composer Martin Creed’s Everything is Going to be Alright; and John Osborne’s My Car Plays Tapes – Live. Also, Summerhall’s year-round flagship music programme, Nothing Ever Happens Here, is back in August with some terrific Scottish acts taking over the Secret Courtyard. Don’t miss the likes of Stanley Odd, Sacred Paws, Carla J Easton and Kapil Seshasayee. But be quick – tickets are already selling out.

If you, like most of the country, spent a significant chunk of your summer getting hyped about the football, this might be an interesting one. This Is My Story Productions, who brought the popular promenade show ‘A War of Two Halves’ to the Fringe in 2018 and 2019, will be presenting the world premiere of new show ‘Sweet F.A.’ at Tynecastle Park football stadium.

Written by Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow, and directed by Bruce Strachan, this musical play features a company of eight performers, and tells the story of a women’s football team in 1916 Edinburgh, fighting for their right to play. Expect a mix of comedy, history and live music in the open air on a specially-built stage and hear a story you may be unfamiliar with in the process. 


In normal Fringe times, getting out of the city and having a bit of a breather elsewhere comes highly recommended for both visitors and performers alike. Fringe by the Sea has provided a great opportunity for that since 2008, temporarily taking over North Berwick with an always-interesting line-up of acts that range from family-friendly to strictly adult.

This year, the festival is back with more than 200 events taking place from August 6 to 15. Big names on the line-up include Lulu, Basement Jaxx, Gail Porter, Irvine Welsh, Ed Byrne, Reginald D Hunter, Janey Godley, Lemn Sissay, Mica Paris and ten-metre-tall mythical goddess of the sea, Storm. 

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