When it comes to the realm of fringe festivals, the usual suspects will undoubtedly spring to mind (Edinburgh, I’m looking at you).
Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of the Dublin Fringe Festival before we were invited up to the Irish capital to experience it for ourselves. Nevertheless, given the success of its counterparts around the world, we couldn’t wait to submerge ourselves into the performances showcased by this year’s festival.
We were only up in Dublin for the weekend, but the Dublin Fringe Festival runs for a total of 14 days every September. Over the course of these two weeks, there’s a show-packed itinerary of music, comedy, dance, theatre and just about any other form of performance art you can imagine.
Expedia set us the task of taking in five of these shows during our weekend, with the idea behind this being that we’d get a taste of the variety on offer at Ireland’s biggest fringe festival.
Would it compare to other such festivals around the world? We were just about to find out.
Getting to and Getting Around Dublin
Given that it’s the capital, Dublin is well connected to other major hubs in Europe and the UK, as well as within Ireland itself.
But once you get to Dublin, what’s the best way to get around? If you have the time, the prime option is to walk, as the city is compact and it’s the best way to get acquainted with the sights, sounds and smells. If you’re short on time (or more likely – if it rains), there are numerous transport options to take advantage of.
There’s DART, the city’s electric rail system, as well as the tram, which both cover central parts of Dublin as well as the outer suburbs. The city’s bus network is extensive as well. If you’re planning on relying on any of these during your time in Dublin, it’s worth buying a Leap Visitor Card, which provides unlimited access to all of the above transport options for a 72-hour period – perfect for a visitor wanting to see as many Dublin Fringe shows as possible.
If you want even more options, you’ll be able to spot taxis everywhere, and the city also has a bicycle hire scheme for those wanting to be more active on their commutes.
Should You Plan Ahead?
Yes, especially if you are planning to visit on a weekend! The shows for Dublin Fringe book up quickly once the year’s programme is released to the public, especially for the weekend performances.
When we were there, the audience was almost always at full capacity and appeared to be mostly made up of Dubliners or those who had travelled into the city from other parts of the country. It’s therefore worth going through the performances on the festival roster and book ahead for the shows that take your fancy.
Since the Dublin Fringe Festival welcomes over 30 000 people every year, it’s also worth booking your accommodation well ahead of time.
What Can You Expect from the Dublin Fringe?
2015 was a landmark year for the festival, as it’s officially been running for 21 years. And the organisers pulled out all the stops. There was the reintroduction of the Spiegeltent, a brightly coloured circus tent in the middle of the city’s Wolfe Tone Square. There was also the experimental undertaking of asking a group of 21-year-olds to celebrate their 21st birthdays at this year’s festival – by putting on the show of their choice.
This trend towards the ‘different’ and ‘experimental’ is what Dublin Fringe is all about.
In our case, in just five shows, we attended a high-energy drama, a circus-group-meets-jazz-band extravaganza, a women-led story collective, a 30-minute rave in a sea container and a post-10pm aerial acrobatics performance in the dark. And these were some of the best performances I’ve ever seen anywhere, never mind at any other fringe festival.
Dublin Fringe Festival subtly overtakes the city during its two-week stint, with shows filling up the rosters at diverse venues including theatres, parks, halls and even parking lots. The organisers invite both local Irish theatrical groups and international acts. It may be an over-used statement elsewhere, but there really does seem to be something for everyone at Dublin Fringe.
On the international front, there was Scotch & Soda, from the Australian Company 2. A mix of trapeze, circus tricks and music from a live band, this was one of the most lively – and one of our favourite – performances from Fringe this year. A play by George Brant, GROUNDED had its Irish premiere, with Dublin-born Claire Dunne in the lead role. This particular story has gathered global acclaim, where – in New York – the well-known actress Anne Hathaway once played the key character. And Dublin Fringe’s production is just as mesmerising; played out on a stage similar to a fashion runway, with the audience sitting on either side, Dunne captivated the audience for 90 minutes.
When it comes to the local productions, the list of highlights could go on and on. It Folds, staged by a collaboration between junk ensemble and Brokentalkers (both based in Dublin), walked away with a number of this year’s Fringe Awards. Describing itself as ‘a poignant and humorous portrait of life in a modern city and the tragicomic events that shape our everyday lives’, this was a favourite with the critics. On the comedy side, Skiddlywup saw comedy Irish trio and YouTube stars, Foil, Arms and Hog, in what was deemed the festival’s most hilarious offering. And, at-times funny, at-times tragic, Red Bear Productions’ emotion-teasing HARDER FASTER MORE tackled issues like sex and expectations of female behaviour, sometimes to the whooping of the audience as the cast delivered their witty punchlines.
To show just how diverse your festival can be, in the span of three hours, we went from raving with a group of locals in a sweaty sea container (aptly called Contain-a-Rave and much more fun than it sounds!) located in a parking lot to being transported into the heart of Phoenix Park for the most unusual performance I’ve yet seen. The latter was a unique show put on by locals loosysmokes and, even though I’ve been sworn to secrecy about the actual contents of the show, I can say that it took place after 10pm in the middle of a dark clearing in the forest. Dance, circus, drama – none of those labels feel like they fully describe Behind the Dark.
Why You Should Go
For 14 days, it feels like Dublin is taken over by the Fringe Festival and it’s hard not to get carried away by the same spirit. In between the shows and gigs, you’ll be able to visit other creative spots in the city, whether it’s the best independent coffee shop, a new foodie pop-up, an impromptu art exhibition or street art. Check out our insider’s guide to Dublin for more inspiration.
But don’t get distracted; the team behind Dublin Fringe has gone above and beyond to find the city’s – and world’s – most edgy, fresh and exciting shows and you should splash out to see as many of these performances as possible.
If the 21st year of Dublin Fringe Festival is anything to go by, the next few years’ festivals promise to only be bigger and more outrageously innovative than their predecessors.
Ready to experience the Dublin Fringe Festival for yourself? Plan ahead and check out our Dublin hotels.
About the Author: Kasha Dubaniewicz is a travel writer at Lines of Escape. With a focus on all things quirky and discovering off-the-beaten track destinations, follow her misadventures as she explores the world.