The Adelaide Fringe was going to be huge even before the Festival shrank. With over 300 productions listed in the Fringe’s printed programme, and more shows only on the Website, Fringe events are drawing record numbers to their three-week run. Adelaide would have had a great festival even if the main events had been cancelled.

Adelaide gets five stars from “Tiger Lil” of “The Happy Sideshow” which has been around the world’s Fringe Festivals in the past year. She rates its weather, which lets her mix with other performers between shows, and its flatness, which lets her ride her bike between venues. Edinburgh, by contrast, was bleak and hilly.

But what gives this year’s Adelaide Fringe its edge of excellence over other Fringes is The Garden of Unearthly Delights in the East Parklands. There, the big venues are the Spiegeltent, which was there last Festival, and the innovative Lunar Tent. Also different this time is that the environs have been transformed into a twilight zone of entertainments, with bars, food stalls and a multitude of diversions.

Although the Garden is fenced, its atmosphere is as inviting as that associated with the Writers Week marquees. On the outside is a trapeze from which anyone with ten dollars can launch themselves into space. Buskers draw crowds before they pass through the painted gates.

The Garden feels as if it is The Fringe. The Fringe organisers had designated venues on Adelaide University Campus as The Hub but that area works more like a transit lounge between theatres in a multiplex. Down at the Red Lion centre, which had been the equivalent of the Garden in 1992, a set of Japanese shows provided earthy delights.

The Garden is an experimental space. At five dollars for fifteen minutes in The Tiny Top, an audience of ten or twenty will see tyros test their talents or a professional try out new routines. Even tinier is the studio of “Love TV” which interviewed passers-by bout love. Those transmissions have been a catalyst for countless discussions in the ever patient queues.

As part of the vision of erstwhile Festival director Peter Sellars, workshops by top trainers are available to Fringe participants during the day. “Tiger Lil” would be perfectly content if the Garden had the mundane delights of more space in which to warm up, and for yoga and massage. The high risk of the physical theatre in the Lunar Tent demands focus from its performers.

The Famous Spiegeltent is a dream to work in as its crew create and extend the enjoyment across its fourteen-hour nights of cabaret, comedy and musicians, ranging from The Stiff Gins to panel discussions on the environment and on asylum seekers.

“Acrobat” in the Lunar Tent flew away with the award for the best Fringe show when these trainers of the Fruit Fly Circus demonstrated that you are never too old to break a leg. Funny and frightening by turns, the Albury aerialists are so skilled that you leave feeling that you should join the queue for the trapeze.

“The Happy Sideshow” stars the double-joined Captain Froddo and the sword-swallowing Space Cowboy, who takes my prize for the most talented performer among the 30 shows I saw. I made myself watch him by telling myself that he was faking. He wasn’t, which became undeniable when the plugged-in neon tube he had swallowed glowed red through his throat and household irons dangled off fishhooks in his eye sockets.

At the center of the Lunar Tent’s triumphs is thirty-year old Scott Maidment, from ‘Strut&Fret Productions in Brisbane. The catalogue of overseas bookings that his shows have picked up showed, yet again, that Brisbane has moved to the fringe of the global art market, and is no longer at the outer edge of the Australian scene.

Most significantly, the Garden is attracting a new audience, not the usual theatre goers, and perhaps not even regular Fringe followers. Many seem to be from pub culture, and thus find the Garden’s informality an entry into the realms of art.

Adelaide pubs housed other Fringe Events such as the Tingle-Tangle Cabaret at which a pair of bra-brandishing feminists performed their own songs of how they love passing motorists to ask them to show their tits. The night I heard them they invited Doris from Sydney’s Hollywood Hotel to celebrate her 72nd birthday by giving us two of her songs. After flashing her thigh, she exposed a range of talents that the mainstage Barbara Cook no longer possesses. Doris deserves her own show at the Garden in 2004.