Fringe first with early-bird tickets

Big-hitters at this year's Fringe include comedians Rhod Gilbert, above
Big-hitters at this year's Fringe include comedians Rhod Gilbert, above
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THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe has broken with decades of tradition by agreeing to start selling tickets several months before its official programme launch.

A string of big-name shows is already being promoted on the front page of the official website – as the event braces itself to to go head to head with the London Olympics.

Fans of Rhod Gilbert, Jimeon, Alan Davies, Jason Byrne and Craig Hill can now snap up tickets almost five months earlier than normal, while the Festival has revealed it will be launching its full programme in May for the first time to help boost early sales, as well as avoid a clash with celebrations to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

The Fringe’s 2011 run was the most successful in its history, selling 1,877,119 tickets, more than 2.5 per cent up on the previous year. But many Fringe figures are nervous about how ticket sales will hold up this summer with the London Olympics reaching a climax on 12 August – just a week after Festival Fringe previews begin.

The Fringe is following a lead set by several leading venues, including Underbelly, Assembly and the EICC, in selling tickets much earlier than usual. It previously tried to impose an embargo on venues, producers and promoters in a bid to ensure a high-profile programme launch.

However, the Fringe said it was responding to demand and changing audience habits by agreeing to sell tickets when venues and artists were ready to do so.

Some shows had already gone on sale via other ticket sites, including Frankie Boyle at the Edinburgh Playhouse, Jimmy Carr at the EICC and Faulty Towers – The Dining Experience, at B’est Restaurant.

Fringe spokesman Neil Mac-kinnon said: “It’s largely down to audience feedback. More and more shows were being announced and going on sale early and it was no longer feasible for us to hold ticket sales back until the programme came out.

“As soon as a company knows they are coming to the Fringe and venues are ready to put tickets on sale, we can put a show on the website.”

Underbelly director Charlie Wood said: “The Fringe is only doing what every other festival is doing, rather than keeping ticket sales back until just a few weeks before the event.

“But it’s brilliant news and I don’t see how it will dilute the impact of the Fringe launch.

“A lot of shows will still not be announced until then and this way means that anyone can put shows on sale months in advance rather than wait until there is intense competition.”

The Scotsman revealed last month that marketing drives to support the festivals had started much earlier than usual in a bid to cash in on worldwide media interest in the Olympics and help persuade overseas visitors to add on a trip to Edinburgh after visiting London.

Special receptions for foreign correspondents, magazine editors and cultural commentators will also be held in London in a bid to persuade them to cover Edinburgh’s arts extravaganzas, while 20 press trips are planned to the festivals themselves.

The Edinburgh International Festival has already unveiled a string of major productions, including Speed of Light, a spectacular show that will see hundreds of runners fitted with special light suits head around Arthur’s Seat every night. The Scotsman can reveal that 2,500 people have already paid £10 each to take part in the event.

A Polish version of Macbeth and a new Russian adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream being staged as part of the EIF are being heavily promoted as part of a World Shakespeare Festival.