Prague is famous for its live theatre scene, from opera and ballet to black light theatre. But did you know it also hosts continental Europe’s largest – and longest-running – English-language arts festival?
Now in its seventeenth year, the Prague Fringe Festival is firmly established as a major alternative arts event, showcasing a heady mix of award-winning theatre, cutting-edge comedy, genre-bending cabaret and more. Taking place each May and June, the festival offers exceptionally high-quality shows performed within a range of trendy theatre spaces, making it one of our favourite weeks in the cultural calendar.
Here’s our guide to making the most of a visit to the Prague Fringe Festival.
Games © Prague Fringe Festival
Why should you go?
Founded in 2002 by Steve Gove, a Scot living in the Czech capital, the Prague Fringe has quickly become one of the city’s springtime highlights. Visitors will find an eclectic choice of productions – including theatre, comedy, dance, music and spoken word – at venues dotted throughout Prague’s pretty Malá Strana district. And the wealth of talent on display is simply extraordinary, from established, big-name shows warming up for the Edinburgh Fringe to up-and-coming acts looking to shake up the status quo.
Show times run from late afternoon until late evening, with each one lasting an hour on average. That means visitors are able to fit a single performance into an already-busy evening, or set the whole night aside to take in a few shows and enjoy the infectious carnival atmosphere that takes over Malá Strana.
For founder Steve Gove, nothing beats a trip to the city during the festival. “May’s a great time of year to visit, with wonderful spring weather,” he says. “And coming to Prague during the Fringe means you see another side of things. You'll visit places you usually wouldn't, you’ll eat and drink in places you'd never have found, and you’ll connect with people in a way that isn’t possible when just sightseeing.”
Fringe Sunday © Prague Fringe Festival
Why haven’t I heard of this before?
It’s fair to say that when it began in 2002, the Prague Fringe was a niche event. As Steve Gove says, “It was super edgy in the first couple of years; really grassroots, with us all mucking in and doing all jobs.” But over the last 17 years, it has grown into a major European arts festival, part of a global collective of fringe festivals and a popular port of call for acts heading to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. In 2018, Prague Fringe will play host to more than 240 performances, with a total audience in excess of 6000 people. So, while it may not be as well-known as its Edinburgh counterpart among the general population, budding performers and festival-goers around the world know all about the Prague Fringe.
What should I see in 2018?
The festival, which will take place between 25th May and 2nd June this year, is set to be the biggest yet. There are a number of hot-ticket shows lined up, including Games, the true story of a young Jewish fencer competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, written by the renowned playwright Henry Naylor, and Clown Work in Progress, a brand new show from the award-winning silent comic Trygve Wakenshaw.
There are also exciting new acts to enjoy at this year’s festival. Female comedy duo Birds, following success at the UK’s prestigious Leicester Square Theatre Sketch Off competition, will perform their brand of rapid-fire, razor-sharp comedy sketches in their self-titled debut. Three-man physical theatre group The Latebloomers will showcase their high-energy, Lecoq-trained clowning in SCOTLAND! And newcomer Nina Roy will explore sexual awakenings, trauma and fertility in Evolution of a Sexual Bean.
Birds © Prague Fringe Festival
Where does it take place?
The Prague Fringe takes place entirely within Malá Strana, one of the city’s most historic districts. This means venues are within easy walking distance of one another, allowing audiences to take in multiple shows each evening. There are nine different theatres and performance spaces in all, varying from the professional black box theatre Divadlo Kampa to the intimate basement of boutique hotel Golden Key.
Where can I eat and drink?
As one of Prague’s main tourist hubs, Malá Strana isn’t short of great restaurants and gastropubs. For traditional, hearty Czech fare on a budget, you can’t beat Kolkovna Olympia, where dishes including pork knee, beef goulash and roast duck with dumplings and cabbage can all be washed down with a refreshing Pilsner Urquell beer. Alternatively, for a taste of Czech fine dining, opt for the degustation menu at U Modré Kachničky – a rare chance to enjoy duck, venison and veal all on the same set menu.
There are plenty of international options too. Savour simple but sumptuous French bistro fare at Café de Paris. Splash out on authentic and aromatic Asian-fusion cuisine at Spices Restaurant. Or build your own deliciously greasy burger at Jo’s Bar & Restaurant.
Can’t decide what you want? Then head to the swanky Hergetova Cihelna for a choice of exquisite international dishes and a view of Charles Bridge.
What’s there to do outside of the festival?
There are good reasons why Prague is a perennially popular city break. The Czech capital has a wealth of iconic attractions, from the Old Town Square to Prague Castle, Charles Bridge to the Jewish Quarter; you will find them all in our city guide. Prague also offers an array of alternative attractions for those looking to escape the tourist trail. And, as most of the Prague Fringe Festival performances take place after the sun sets, visitors to Prague in May and June can spend their days exploring the city’s winding lanes and cobbled streets, and their nights enjoying incredible fringe theatre from all over the world.
Old Town Square © Adisa/Shutterstock