From Iceland — Fringe Bangs Again: Gird your loins for a wild week at the 2024 RVK Fringe Festival

Fringe Bangs Again: Gird your loins for a wild week at the 2024 RVK Fringe Festival

Published June 15, 2024

Fringe Bangs Again: Gird your loins for a wild week at the 2024 RVK Fringe Festival
Photo by
Joana Fontinha for The Reykjavík Grapevine

There’s something creeping up on Reykjavík’s cultural scene this week. It lurks on the edges of the city’s nightlife, getting ready to explode into the bars and basements, clubs and theatres, nightspots and goth bars.

It is, of course, the RVK Fringe: a wild and weird carnival of experimental music and dance, bawdy burlesque and curious cabaret; clown and comedy, and much more besides.

Andrew Sim is the festival’s director and he radiates enthusiasm as he runs through the programme. “We have some of the best international Fringe performers from all around the world this year,” he says. “There’s a beautiful aerial performance, an ‘80s-themed hypnotist show and an all-female improv group. Ari Eldjárn will perform comedy, MSEA will perform music. There’s the Austin Powers Shagadelic Variety Hour, and we’ve got drag, burlesque and a horror show — there’s so much to see!”

Fringe is for the freaks, the weirdos and the outcasts.

With over 50 different shows on offer, Andrew is certain the festival has something for everyone. “I’m looking forward to introducing it all to the Icelandic audience, which I find to be so interested and receptive.” He grins. “And they’re weird. I love the weirdness of this country.”

The roots of Fringe

Andrew’s exuberance comes from his passion for Fringe culture. A working comedian since the age of 17, he spent 10 years in Edinburgh, learning the ropes and immersing himself in the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

“I did performing, directing, street team, front of house — all of it,” he says. “I lived and breathed Fringe. Then I came to Iceland six years ago for a comedy festival called Scotch on Ice — it was all Scottish and Icelandic comedians — and I just kept coming back, until I had a whole life here.”

All of this experience has made Andrew something of a Fringe Festival historian. “The first ever Edinburgh International Arts Festival was in 1947,” he says, warming to the subject. “It was a response to the time after the Second World War. They were trying to boost morale after losing so many people. There were actually 20 theatre companies that wanted to be part of it — but they only invited four.”

The snubbed majority decided to set up a festival of their own and the concept of the Fringe Festival was born. “They did it all themselves, in pubs, bars and all kinds of places,” Andrew says. “It grew bigger and bigger until eventually it was bigger than the Edinburgh International Arts Festival itself.”

Innovation station

Times have changed since then, and the RVK Fringe works closely with the Reykjavík Arts Festival to avoid clashes in programming. But it still carries that same counter-cultural outsider spirit.

“The Fringe is for the weirdos, the freaks, and the outcasts,” says Andrew, “We’re sometimes described as lowbrow entertainment—but everything is accepted. We think about how innovative every performance is. We’re always looking for originals—the innovators of the next generation.”

The festival is inclusive by nature, and operates a policy of keeping spaces safe for everyone, while not holding performers back. “For me, ‘safe space’ means the audience feels safe—and so do the performers,” Andrew explains. “We are trying to allow space for innovation, so it can’t be too restrictive.”

Andrew also prides the festival on booking LGBTQIA+ performers of all stripes. “We have a lot of trans, queer, and nonbinary performers,” says Andrew. “I’m bisexual myself, so there’s an openness and a will to be as diverse as possible. We’re trying to push forward the idea that any voice can be accepted.”

Playing the bouffon

Bringing such a wide variety of acclaimed international performers to Reykjavík also helps to nourish and nurture the local scene.

“There’s a sharing of education and training,” says Andrew. “One of the performers, Elf Lyons, did a clown workshop here earlier in the year. It went down really well and she’ll be doing a workshop in bouffon (a French style of comic performance). So it’s also about helping the performers here on the island to learn and grow.”

I guarantee you’ll find something that’ll just blow you away.

The festival also brings opportunities for local performers to connect with their international peers. “Iceland-based performers make friends and gain contacts in major cities around the world,” says Andrew. “So if they go to London, they have a contact. If they go to New York, they have a contact. It’s a way of being able to network, right on your doorstep.”

A moveable feast

There are lots of opportunities for curious Reykvíkingur to dip a toe in the water. The Fringe performers will take part in the Icelandic Independence Day parade on June 17, ahead of the opening night party.

It will also operate a “moveable hub.” “We have a double decker bus that will be driving around town,” Andrew says with a smile. “It’ll be down by Tjarnarbíó most of the time, but also rocking up and parking in different spots.”

Another way to see what’s on offer is the free Preview Night at Tjarnarbíó on June 18 — a kind of speed-dating variety show for the performers and the festival crowd. “Everyone gets exactly two minutes to pitch their show to the audience,” says Andrew. “So people can go and get a taste of what’s on and choose what they want to go and see. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or how you got here — you’ll find something that you’re intrigued by.”

“You might also see something you hate,” he laughs. “That’s also part of Fringe. But I can guarantee you’ll find something that’ll just blow you away.”


RVK Fringe happens June 17-23. Events are ticketed individually and advanced booking is advised. Find the programme at rvkfringe.is.

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