Brian Ferguson: Edinburgh Festival should look west

Bridges has five Edinburgh shows on sale, and another 14 at the SSE Hydro. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Bridges has five Edinburgh shows on sale, and another 14 at the SSE Hydro. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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What do Kevin Bridges and the Edinburgh International Festival have in common? On the face of it, absolutely nothing, unless I have accidentally second-guessed the unlikely addition of stand-up comedy to its programme.

Yet, oddly, it was the Glasgow comic I thought of after news emerged that the EIF had abandoned the idea of having a full programme launch every spring.

Until now, everything was under wraps until at least the middle of March and it could be early April before shows went on full public sale.

A decade or so ago, the EIF had the jump on the Fringe, the film, book and jazz festivals, none of which released any tickets until at least June. But times have moved on and not just in terms of the landscape in which the EIF operates in Edinburgh every August, which has seen the film festival move to June and Fringe shows now go on sale in January.

Fergus Linehan, the EIF’s new director, has already brought forward his event by a week to ensure it runs alongside the Fringe for the first time in 18 years. Then last week he announced that dozens of classical concerts will go on sale almost two months earlier than normal.

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Linehan seems keen to put these shows on even earlier in future years, if this year’s “experiment” proves successful. In another radical move, tickets will go on sale later this month for actress Juliette Binoche’s eagerly-awaited appearance in the play Antigone.

Linehan’s justification for releasing tickets early is that once key shows are booked and confirmed in the festival’s diary, perhaps those who regularly buy tickets might want to know about them and even secure their seats. Also, if rival events and concert halls around the world are already selling tickets for concerts next year, why not Edinburgh?

I do wonder, however, how much issues closer to home have played a part in the direction the festival is heading and whether Linehan has highlighted a wider issue about the way Edinburgh’s festivals market themselves.

The reason Bridges sprang to mind is that currently he has five shows at the Edinburgh Playhouse next year already on sale, not to mention another 14 at Glasgow’s new Hydro arena. Yet, as I write, I’m pretty sure you still can’t buy a ticket for anything at the Edinburgh International Festival next year. There is a school of thought that the EIF’s audience is unique, a mix of local diehards who devour large chunks of the programme, along with international visitors.

I’m not so sure. The vast majority of people I know who buy a healthy number of tickets in Edinburgh each August spread their spending across several events, including the EIF.

And I imagine that those involved in the running of those other Edinburgh festivals are watching Linehan’s little “experiment” very closely.

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