Fringe’s Udderbelly venue moves on to pastures new

Udderbelly, Bristo Square. Picture: Greg Macvean

Udderbelly, Bristo Square. Picture: Greg Macvean

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IT has been one of the most recognisable fixtures on the landscape of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe over the last decade.

But now the huge purple cow-shaped venue at the heart of the one of the main festival arenas is being forced to go on the move.

Fringe promoters have admitted they are having to relocate the entire arena which dominates Bristo Square every August, including the giant “Udderbelly” venue, due to building works.

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The Scotsman can reveal that the area - which attracts tens of thousands of revellers to shows and outdoor bars - will resemble a construction site for at least the next two summers.

Work in Bristo Square and neighbouring McEwan Hall, the university’s main venue for ceremonial occasions, has forced promoters Underbelly to move their operation to a brand new area, on the west side of George Square.

The forced relocation of the 405-capacity Udderbelly - which has travelled to festivals in Brighton and London - is a major blow to the Bristo Square and Potterrow areas, where other promoters Gilded Balloon and Pleasance have major venues. The big purple cow has been one of the most popular venues on the Fringe since Underbelly unveiled it in Bristo Square as part of a major expansion drive in 2006.

However Underbelly has struck a deal with the university to relocate to the garden in the square, which they will now share with a rival promoter, Assembly Theatre, which has ran shows there in recent years.

The university, which says the work to the McEwan Hall will “restore it to its former glory” is creating a new glass-covered entranceway to the building on Bristo Square, with the public space also be overhauled to make it more “accessible and safe.” The work in the square will involve

The historic building - built between 1888 and 1897 thanks to a donation from brewing tycoon William McEwan - is also undergoing a major refurbishment as part of a £3.4 million project, which will mean its annual graduation ceremonies having from the McEwan Hall to the Usher Hall until 2017.

This means Underbelly will lose its biggest venues, which has played host to one of the hottest Fringe tickets, late-night part Hot Dub Time Machine, in the last two festivals.

Underbelly’s plans have been revealed just three months before the final deadline for shows to be included in this year’s official Fringe programme.

However Underbelly director Charlie Wood insisted that the university’s plans for the square had been known about for some time and that it had been made clear from the university that the building work would rule its use out.

Underbelly director Charlie Wood: “We are very grateful to the University, whose far-sighted vision for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and for Bristo Square allowed Udderbelly to be created in the first place, for continuing to support the great work, fun and entertainment that it brings to the Fringe.

“We’ve been aware for quite a long time that this was going to happen and that the extent of the work was such that Bristo Square is pretty much going to be a building site for the next two years. It was always obvious that we were going to have to move for these two years.

“The garden will now be divided in half and Assembly have been very supportive with our plans. The Udder

“Although it’s caused us a short-term problems, when the work is done it will make the square really great and will help transform the McEwan Hall to take it back to its former splendour and also create lots of new facilities for events such as ours.”

Professor Charlie Jeffery, senior vice-principal of the university, said “We are delighted to provide new pastures for the iconic purple Udderbelly cow while development work is carried out at the McEwan Hall in Bristo Square.

“We are proud to continue our strong association with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and are looking forward to what promises to be another exciting year in 2015”.

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