Edinburgh Festival to get dedicated circus arena

Some of the performers who will be performing inside a new purpose-built arena on the Meadows. Pic: comp
Some of the performers who will be performing inside a new purpose-built arena on the Meadows. Pic: comp
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THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe is to get its own dedicated showcase for international circuses for the first time – with an all-day venue hosting 12 different shows.

Acts from Canada, Australia, France, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Palestine will be performing inside a new purpose-built arena on the Meadows.

Circus Hub, which will also showcase five UK-based companies, will have two big tops, with a capacity of 750 and 250 and named after the Great Lafayette, a celebrated German illusionist who died in a fire at the city’s Empire Theatre in 1911, and his dog, Beauty.

The new arena, which is being created by promoters Underbelly in the Meadows, will operate for 15 hours a day from as early as 9am.

They say it is being created in the wake of growing audiences for circus shows at the Fringe in recent years and will allow them to bring in international companies who have been unable to come to Edinburgh due to a lack of suitable venues or because one-off shows were not financially viable.

Circus Hub will host a mix of spectacular acrobatics and aerial shows, family entertainment and circus skills workshops, late-night cabaret and a show billed as an “exuberant circus rave”.

We want to create a hub for the broad genre of circus

Ed Bartlam

Underbelly, which started life on the Fringe 15 years ago in a makeshift venue in the Cowgate, will take over the long-running Meadows site used by the Ladyboys of Bangkok.

The promoters have already announced plans to share nearby George Square Garden with another promoter, Assembly Theatre, after the long-time home of its purple cow venue in Bristo Square was put out of commission for two years due to building works on the McEwan Hall, which is also unavailable until 2017.

Highlights of the Circus Hub programme include Czech outfit Cirk La Putyka with a show inspired by childhood dolls and toys, the towel nappie-clad French company La Meute with their spectacular “Russian swing” displays, and Palestinian show B-Orders, billed as “a poetic search for inner peace and the liberation of prejudice”.

There will also be the European premiere of Canadian family troupe Cirque Alfonse’s new show, Barbu, said to combine eccentric contemporary circus with electro-trad music and cutting-edge video effects.

Underbelly director Ed Bartlam said: “Over the last five years we’ve produced and presented more and more circus shows, which we love. We sold 16,500 tickets for one show at the McEwan Hall last year.

“It’s become apparent that, for a variety of reasons, a lot of really top-drawer international shows haven’t been able to come here before. We’ve had a general feeling from lots of very good companies that if we could create the right environment, both commercially and technically, there is huge potential for a venue like this in Edinburgh.

“We want to create a real focal hub for the very broad genre that is circus and in that present a really high-quality programme of different styles.”

The family workshops at Circus Hub will be run in conjunction with Edinburgh’s new year-round circus centre, Full Cirqle, which opens next month.