Edinburgh Festival U-turn over early ticket sales

Blythe Duff and Sofie Grabol in this year's The James Plays. Picture: Julie Bull
Blythe Duff and Sofie Grabol in this year's The James Plays. Picture: Julie Bull
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THE Edinburgh International Festival has abandoned plans to sell thousands of tickets earlier than normal – after being bombarded with complaints from disgruntled supporters.

Organisers have been forced into an embarrassing U-turn over plans to release details of some shows and open sales before the final programme is available.

New festival director Fergus Linehan announced a surprise move to lift the lid on his concerts programme at the start of February – and start selling tickets almost two months early.

But just weeks after he revealed the new strategy to raise the event’s profile earlier in the global festival calendar to lure new audiences to the city, a major rethink has been ordered.

The Scotsman has learned dozens of regular attendees protested at his plans, which he said would also have given festival-goers more time to plan their diaries. But he has now been forced to issue an apology for the “confusion” his plans caused.

The move would have stepped up competition for ticket sales with the Fringe, which has allowed promoters, venues and companies to start selling tickets on its site in January for the past three festivals.

Mr Linehan insisted he was still planning to release details of his debut concerts and recitals programme at the beginning of February, but tickets will not now go on sale until the end of March, to allow festivalgoers to go through the full programme before choosing their shows.

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However, tickets are being kept on sale for one of next year’s flagship theatre productions, Antigone, starring Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche.

In a letter to the festival’s supporters and regular ticket-buyers, Mr Linehan said: “As you may be aware, we recently sent out information outlining changes in the way we planned to announce our 2015 programme. This was in response to customers both from Edinburgh and around the world, who were keen to receive information as early as possible.

“While customers welcomed the prospect of additional notice on this part of the programme, many were concerned that having to book one half of their Festival without knowledge of the full programme would complicate their festival planning.

“I would like to apologise for any confusion caused. I hope by making this alteration now we will be able to address the concerns that have been raised.”

Arts blogger Finn Pollard said: “As someone who travels some distance to attend the festival, and whose booking is a complex jigsaw trying to fit in concerts, staged opera, theatre and a bit of dance, I was especially concerned that the new arrangements would make much harder my kind of festival. Personally, it’s a relief that an obstacle to my festival planning has been removed.”

A spokesman for the Fringe said: “We know from experience that the audiences that come to the Fringe every summer tell us that they want to be able to make their plans very early, especially those that are coming to Edinburgh from far afield.”

Meanwhile new figures have revealed the number of tickets sold for Edinburgh Festival events has grown by 25 per cent in the space of just two years.

Almost 2.8 million people flocked to shows this summer, compared to 2.2 million in 2012, according to a report for the city council’s culture committee.

And the 2014 figure soars to nearly 3.5 million when attendees at free events such as the film festival’s opening air screenings, the jazz festival’s carnival and Mardis Gras, and free visual arts exhibitions are counted.

All events except the Edinburgh Mela - which was forced to close early in 2013 after its site was battered by high winds - have reported increases, some as much as 40 per cent, in the past couple of years.

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