I first came to Edinburgh Fringe from Melbourne in 1994. At the time I managed a comedy duo called Lano & Woodley. From a converted 100-seat dining room, they went on to win the coveted Perrier Award (sorry Alan Davies, Jeff Green, Harry Hill and Al Murray, Owen O’Neill, Robert Schimmel). The Perrier party was at Waverley Station (yes – in the shopping mall) and when Nica Burns announced the winners there was a resounding cry of “WHO?” from the crowd. Admittedly the acoustics were appalling, but mainly the question on everyone’s lips was “who are these little Aussie upstarts who have pranced into town and pinched the big prize?”
28 (!) years later I find myself in a not dissimilar position. Once again, I’m part of a little Aussie cohort that thinks it can just prance into town and do things differently.
Welcome to House of Oz.
First of all there’s our venue. Admittedly, in an Edinburgh Fringe context, a converted 19th century church is not terribly unusual but wait til you see what we’ve done to King’s Hall in South Clerk Street. Our façade features the extraordinary and exuberant artwork of respected late Walmajarri artist Jimmy Pike. Stepping inside The Great Indoors (our 250-seat, galleried auditorium) will take your breath away – swathed in burnt orange velvet, candle-lit, with swanky VIP booths, and chandeliers for days, it oozes shabby opulence but with a decent overlay of laid-back Aussie real-ness that will make everyone feel welcome.
But wait – there’s more! The Outback (which is, literally, out back) sees a long-neglected secret garden lovingly brought back to life. Our walled garden (complete with magical stage, bar and BBQ) will be THE place to be this Fringe – Australian wines, beers and cocktails, an all-day menu, a real Aussie creative hub.
Oh…and did I mention we have a superstar Sydney chef, David Lee, flying in to ensure that our menu reflects Australia’s obsession with great food and unique produce?
David will also be one of the stars of Taste Australia – an unmissable opportunity for curious Edinburgh and visiting foodies. Each Taste Australia event is a unique dining experience, offering a 5-course degustation menu within the sumptuous surrounds of The Great Indoors, which will be glamorously transformed for the evening.
Three intimate dinners, hosted by our favourite Aussie raconteurs (8th: Joseph Tawadros, oud virtuoso, 15th: Reuben Kaye, cabaret icon, 22nd: Michaela Burger, musical powerhouse) offer the opportunity to get up close and personal with Australian artists as they guide you through an immersive dining experience, celebrating (respectively) their Egyptian, Russian-Jewish and Greek heritage. Flavours unlock family memories, stories of immigration and displacement, sprinkled with song, laughter, wine and dancing! These will be a VERY special events. Not to be missed.
Our programme is as eclectic and broad as the wide brown land it comes from. Kids’ stuff (Listies, Circa, Dolly Diamond’s Storytime, Circus Workshops), theatre (John Bell, Erin Fowler’s EGG and FEMME), music (The Grigoryan Brothers, Joseph Tawadros, Mitch Tambo, The Tin Knees, Birdee, Butter Bath), comedy and cabaret (Gabbi Bolt, Geraldine Quinn’s BROAD, OZmosis with Dane Simpson, Haus Party with Otto and Astrid, Dolly Diamond’s Hi T and Bosom Buddies), Herbarium Tales indigenous poetry and Qoya movement workshops!
Some things haven’t changed in 28 years (accommodation costs skyrocketing for August, complaints about how hard it is to make money on the Fringe, etc) and some things have changed enormously. It’s Gabbi Bolt’s first Fringe and she has 170,000 TikTok fans and 3.5 million likes. Similarly, newcomer Leonardo Sunshine from the Tin Knees has 289,000 TikTok fans and 5.8 million views. I struggle to comprehend these astronomical figures and am curious to see how they translate into ticket sales.
BUT – I can guarantee you one thing. In true Fringe style, these artists will be trudging endlessly up and down the Royal Mile trying to engage punters and get bums on seats in the great tradition of Lano and Woodley and all who went before them.
And maybe, just maybe House of Oz, our “little venue that could” will bring a bit of joy to jaded festival goers as we Aussies prance in yet again and try to make our mark. Join us for a drink in the Outback and tell us what you think!