THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe has recorded its highest ever ticket sales – and is set to top two million sales next year.
Organisers revealed that 1,943,493 people flocked to shows this year – 3.5 per cent more than the previous highest tally, set two years ago.
The final figure, revealed hours before the final Fringe shows ended, marked a significant recovery from last year, when the early part of the festival suffered from competition with the London Olympics.
The 2013 ticket figures, which do not include attendances at the vast majority of free shows, were 4.6 per cent higher than last year. There were 2,871 shows staged this year, 6.5 per cent up on 2012.
The Fringe first topped ticket sales of one million in 2003, when just 1,541 shows were staged. If a rise similar to this year is recorded in 2014, the two million barrier will be broken.
Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland said: “Our loyal and enthusiastic audience has once again been treated to the most amazing cultural experience and has been both challenged and entertained by spectacular work across all artforms from all around the world.”
Several venues reported a record year this month, thanks to expanded programmes and prolonged good weather.
There was also a substantial revival in the staging of shows in the New Town, where the city council had agreed to close off much of George Street to traffic.
The Assembly Rooms, Summerhall and Underbelly all had much larger programmes, while new sites included Scottish Opera’s first major Fringe venue at Paterson’s Land and the NoFit State circus tent at the old Fountainbridge brewery, which staged the hit show Bianco.
Summmerhall, which claimed three Scotsman Fringe First Awards in only its third year, reported a 275 per cent increase on 2012 ticket sales, with 36,000 people flocking to the venue in the city’s south side.
General manager Sam Gough said: “We’re very proud to be presenting world-class work to brilliantly enthused and impassioned audiences.”
This year’s Fringe saw a major expansion of the pedestrianisation of George Street, following a pilot in 2012 when the middle section of the street was closed off to accommodate the Famous Spiegeltent, outside the revamped Assembly Rooms. The two venues attracted more than 121,000 festival-goers this year – 25 per cent up on last year’s Fringe.
The Stand Comedy Club, run by the same promoters, Salt ’n’ Sauce, reported its best-ever box-office performance in August, with 60,000 tickets sold – 30 per cent up on last year.
The New Town Theatre, where Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern’s country-folk outfit Sadie and the Hotheads and radio veteran Johnnie Walker’s chat show were major attractions, said it had seen a 50 per cent increase in ticket sales compared with 2011 – the last year the venue was in operation.
Ralph Bernard, chairman of the New Town Theatre, said: “This year has been excellent in terms of sales. We think George Street’s part-pedestrianisation has helped, but the high quality of the programme has been the main reason.”
The Pleasance said it had attracted more than 420,000 people to its shows over the past month. Underbelly, which added the 1,500-capacity Mc-Ewan Hall to its line-up this year, has reported ticket sales 18.9 per cent up on a five-year average.
Gilded Balloon said its sales were 10 per cent up on 2012, while Pleasance said figures were roughly in line with its all-time record year in 2011.
Underbelly director Ed Bart-lam said: “We haven’t seen the slowing in sales that we’ve traditionally expected in the final week. Any comparison with 2012 is anomalous because of the Olympics. However, one statistic says it all – we are 18.9 per cent up on a five-year average.”
While the standard at the top-end of the Fringe is as good as ever as far as The Scotsman’s chief theatre critic is concerned, audiences, theatre companies and venues may all be keeping an eye on costs.
Joyce McMillan said: “It has been a tale of two Fringes. At the top end, in terms of quality, it’s been an exceptionally good year. The programme at the Traverse, for example, was as good as any over the last 30 years.
“However, at the other end of the scale there has been a rather long tail. There’s been a noticeable trend towards more solo shows. With the costs of productions rising, there is a temptation to do these.
“I think, with the impact of the recession, people tend to look for the sure-fire hits when booking tickets.”
Comedy, drama and a dash of circus make it a five-star year
• The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, Pleasance: There could not have been a better time to look at the WikiLeaks whistleblower’s troubled life.
• Bianco, old Fountainbridge brewery: Another Welsh production has seen the NoFit State circus troupe draw sell-out crowds to its spaceship-shaped tent for a five-star spectacular.
• Ciara, Traverse: Blythe Duff has wowed the critics in David Harrower’s one-woman play as the daughter of a Glasgow gangster, which will return to the venue in the autumn.
• Bridget Christie, Stand Comedy Club: Christie emerged from a clutch of feminism-themed shows to claim the main Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award at the Fringe.
• The Events, Traverse: After winning the Carol Tambor Award, New York now beckons for Scottish playwright David Greig’s moving work, partly inspired by the Anders Breivik massacre in Norway.
• Kiss Me Honey Honey, Gilded Balloon: Panto stars Andy Gray and Grant Stott conjured up a box office smash with their comedy drama – and a Scotsman Fringe First award.
Comment: Cultural feast a key motivator for boom in August visitors
As THE 2013 Festival season draws to a close, visitor statistics and ticket sales are showing a marked increase.
Edinburgh has been fit to bursting for the past few weeks, with every nook and cranny evidencing the growth of both the Festival programmes and the audience.
But what have been the key contributors to this growth?
For a start there were the endless days of Scottish sunshine, accommodation innovations such as those out at Ingliston, new venues and expansion of the old stalwarts.
There has also been increased sophistication on the part of both Edinburgh’s festivals and Festivals Edinburgh in how to engage with audiences, and promote the festivals and the city, with more advanced and developed social media platforms – including real-time apps – to help demystify the ticket-buying process.
Despite the prominence of the Edinburgh brand as a summer destination, one key factor was a recent Travelodge report, which saw Edinburgh climb from fifth to second as the most popular “staycation” destination in the UK, with four million domestic tourists expected to visit the city in 2013.
It is clear is that visitors want to come to Edinburgh in August – its cultural offer is the key motivator.
However, challenges do lie ahead – the continued challenge of over-capacity in hotels, high accommodation and transport costs, inflated ticket costs and maintaining visibility in 2014 amid the myriad other events happening across the UK.
What is clear is that Edinburgh has a great ability to constantly reinvent itself and rejuvenate its audiences.
• Jane Ali-Knight is director of the festivals, events and tourism institute at Edinburgh Napier University.