SA artists: Surviving the Edinburgh Fringe – a diary

British-born and South African by choice, Cape Town-based Joanne Wharmby took her show ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. The show is based on her life story – being run over by a double-decker bus in England, travelling the world on the insurance money and “shagging a United Nations worth of men before meeting a Hellerwork practioner in Sydney who assisted her to re-align her body and cope with the pain.

Humour runs through her show, but Wharmby has a serious aim ¬– to help other women restore their body confidence and sensuality. She kept a diary throughout her Edinburgh run, which we are happy to publish. Here is the first installment:


 I’m sitting at Dubai airport slightly worse for wear, dying for a drink with not enough cash to buy one, R60 for a juice anyone? Wondering what the hell I’m doing selling up and starting a whole new life at the age of 40. I’m sitting amongst all these respectable looking people and I’m off to Edinburgh Fringe to perform a show I wrote about my sex life ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’.

I’ve got the giggles now, I must be mad. It doesn’t help that I got absolutely no sleep on the flight from Cape Town, because I ended up in a middle seat between two rather prim men. Which meant I was terrified of slouching properly in case my head ended up snoozing on their shoulder - can you imagine if I’d drooled on one of them? … Heaven forbid!

My oldest friend in the world Kev picked me up from Manchester airport, of course my flipchart (stage prop) was last off the plane so I was waiting ages, and yes my cheap as chips suitcase was broken already, one wheel is now buggered…what a shocker! So I made a right pigs ear of trying to get myself out of arrivals…whose stupid idea was it to make the trolleys at airports cost a quid to use? How many bloody tourists just happen to have a pound coin on them at that point?

Kev took me straight back to the street we grew up on to see his Mum and Dad, his three kids and all the other neighbors …there must be something in the water round there, everybody I grew up with has at least two kids, it was mildly disturbing to be honest, cos now I’m the weirdo that hasn’t got married and sprogged up! I stayed with my Grandma Alice at her old fogey’s flat, it’s a great complex. It was like being back at Halls of Residence but with way more money and style! There’s a communal lounge where they all get together; mostly women seeing as men pop their clogs earlier as a rule and they were hysterical. Gossiping away asking me all sorts about sex and complaining they weren’t getting any themselves!!! I left them all playing dominos on Saturday night because I crashed totally at 8pm. They were having a great time betting 5p a game.

Sunday morning brought the revelation that all the shops were open, (choice, choice, choice!) and when did Primark get trendy? Saved H&M for Ed, I’ve been dreaming about it quite frankly. Alice and I managed to get my overloaded suitcases plus the huge flip-chart onto the Edinburgh Train into a carriage full of drunk Scotsmen who all waved good-bye to her too. Rowdiness was the theme of the entire trip, these guys had me in stitches in between moments of realizing I really was in England now (oh look cows everywhere -sitting down cos it’s going to rain!) The closer we got to Ed the tighter my shoulders got and I had to brave more than a couple of trips to the train loo with its suspiciously wet floor.

Thank god Adriana (the girl I’m staying with) was waiting for me and my wonky-wheeled luggage at the station. We jumped straight into a taxi and I got my first real look at Edinburgh. Windy, hilly streets and great old architecture, I instantly liked it. Unfortunately I seem to have ended up in a council estate, but the flat’s nice enough despite there only being a bath with that ‘rubber hose pretending to be a shower’ thing going on. Never mind, there’s a chippy at the end of the road. Bliss!

Daniel and Adriana are Polish and lovely, very helpful with maps and bus timetables etc. The first thing I had to do though was very clear…buy an umbrella! It’s August, summer right? Well so far the sun has only hinted at its existence. Arrived at my theatre Monday morning to utter chaos, someone had almost cut their thumb off, there was blood everywhere and the boss had just rushed him to hospital. My theatre is Just The Tonic @The Caves, a labyrinth of rooms under the arches of South Bridge in Old Town. Joe the head technician showed me round and my God it really is likes caves or catacombs, all rough hewn stone and slightly damp smelling…but it’s fabulous!

My theatre was the only one that’s finished so far so I got a good look; its like being in a bomb shelter, I loved it. The acoustics are great too, so I’ll be able to get away without a mike. I’m right opposite the bar and because I’m last on in my room I have none of the pressure of running on time!

I registered at Fringe Central and got my Participants Pass which made me feel so nerdily proud it was ridiculous, I wanted to go outside immediately and walk around the city wearing it! The central office is not exactly ‘central’ but has free internet, cheap printing, advice on everything possible and loads of lectures and workshops happening throughout the month. So I’ve already signed up for everything I want to go to…turns out I am a big nerd after all, I was probably only the 3rd person in there, they’d literally just opened and I was Keeny McKeen to sign up for everything!

Got lots of advice from the Media office and found out that I was already in The Scottish Sun that day, bloody amazing! Though to be honest I was really surprised that they’d called me ‘one of the seven most risqué shows of the Fringe’ I never thought of it like that, call me naïve. Anyhoo, its great publicity. I walked my feet off round the city, being used to driving everywhere in CT my feet where protesting loudly. Sat on The Royal Mile soaking up the atmosphere, the Fringe archways are up, but activities don’t start ‘til Thursday. I’d forgotten how great charity shops are over here, kilts and tartan scarves abound and my god I went insane in Sainsbury’s…bought everything in sight….Frazzles and Tunnocks teacakes! Yum. Now this amount of food would have cost at least R800 in CT, but it only was 31 quid…unbelievable.

So now it’s Tuesday, my 1st rehearsal is midnight tonight, opening party is tomorrow night with another tech rehearsal again at midnight. I’m going to pick up an easel from Daniels’ work later on but otherwise it’s a day of writing to hundreds of journalists again and trying to stay awake til my rehearsal! I’m still waking up at stupid o’clock but I guess that’s just nerves. Ok so just got back from my ‘so called’ rehearsal and my tech guy wasn’t even there…he’d gone home cos they’d all been at it since 9am and have to start again at 9 tomorrow…fair enough, but why the hell call me in then? Seriously I know bugger all about lights and sound and the whole point is for him to get used to my lighting cues. Complete waste of time, which I’m only annoyed about because it was bloody hard work for me to stay awake til then and I could have got my last night of decent sleep instead! I have to be at a meeting for One Person Shows first thing in the morning, so I can’t even stay in bed - Bloody artistic types, they’ve all got long hair and can’t be trusted - whinge, whinge, moan, moan! 

Do ya know what was really great though? I was just waiting for my taxi on a quiet city street corner at 12.30am and didn’t feel in the least bit scared - the whole atmosphere of this city is friendly…it’s bleedin’ marvelous that is. Tomorrow is a day of putting up posters, must buy tape. Oh and my best friend Tif arrives in the afternoon, I haven’t seen her for 2 years and she’ll be here for my first night, words cannot describe the joy.