Brian Ferguson: A possible new schedule for Edinburgh Festival season

Dancers from Ballett Zurich at the Edinburgh Playhouse during this year's EIF. Picture: Jane Barlow
Dancers from Ballett Zurich at the Edinburgh Playhouse during this year's EIF. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IT is not all over until the last firework tumbles down the castle rock and the final performers leave their stages tonight.

But by any standards, this month’s exhilarating and exhausting Edinburgh Festival season has been a triumph.

The city’s streets have been thronged like never before, the sun has shone more than anyone seriously expected and events have basked in the limelight without distractions like the Commonwealth Games.

I am not exactly sticking my neck out by predicting that the main events are all likely to post record ticket sales today. Fringe venue have already been reported box office increases of 25 per cent and while I doubt the overall rise will be anything like that, there seems a strong chance of at least matching 2014’s 12 per cent hike, especially with an additional 121 shows and 14 venues.

There is no doubt the Edinburgh International Festival has benefited from its realignment with the Fringe after an incredible 18-year gap.

This has helped blur the boundaries between the two events, with new EIF director Fergus Linehan’s contemporary music strand doubtless attracting a whole new audience. Ensuring longer runs for high-profile plays like Lanark and Antigone will likely have paid huge dividends too. Although the relocation of the fireworks concert to a Monday night has caught many people on the hop, it is a blessed relief that the EIF is not lumbering on for the best part of another week when the Fringe carnival has packed up and gone. But anyone thinking the two events are now happy bedfellows would have been given a rude awakening at last week’s Fringe AGM. Comedy promoter-turned-MP Tommy Sheppard threw down the gauntlet with a keynote speech peppered with challenges and suggestions for future debate.

Inevitably, the one journalists seized on was the prospect of the Fringe moving its own dates again - one that its wary chief executive Kath Mainland did nothing to encourage afterwards.

Sheppard’s suggestion – to take full advantage of the school holidays in Scotland – was part of a wider call for all the festivals to do more to improve their relationship with the city and take serious steps to open up access.

Calling for this in the very month that the EIF has finally come back into line with the Fringe, which has traditionally ended on an English bank holiday, may seem bizarre.

But no-one thought the EIF could possibly be staged any earlier until Mr Linehan arrived and swiftly rewrote its rule book. I doubt many Fringe folk will want to consider such an idea on today of all days, but starting shows early - at least a few days clear of the EIF’s launch - next year to capitalise on the holiday crowds might be one way of seeing if Mr Sheppard’s idea will catch on.