2,453 shows make biggest Edinburgh Festival Fringe ever

THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe has announced a 17 per cent increase in the number of its shows, defying the economic downturn and looming funding cuts in the arts.

• THE three covers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme this year were drawn by artist Johanna Basford. In April, Fringe fans were asked to suggest ideas on social networking site Twitter for "the most unusual thing you'd like to see at the Fringe". Basford converted 2,364 Tweets and 1,675 other suggestions into 176 miniature drawings that spread across the different covers. Meanwhile, a redesign of the programme's pages this year will see every show entry carry an image for the first time.

The programme of 2,453 shows for the world's biggest arts festival was unveiled yesterday, running to 330 pages, with its usual mix of high drama, low comedy, and cutting-edge work on impromptu stages from car parks to an Aga shop.

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In what appears a Fringe first, the Traverse Theatre, which has generated a string of hit shows, said it will this year beam one of its productions live to cinemas around the country.

Meanwhile directors of the Famous Spiegeltent confirmed the popular venue will be back in George Square this year with a show, Smoke and Mirrors, which it is hoped could rival the venue's hit production La Clique.

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Organisers said the Fringe's record ticket sales last year had boosted confidence, and helped convince performers, comedians and theatre companies that Edinburgh remains the flagship international performance showcase. Last year a record 1,859,235 tickets were sold – a 21 per cent increase on the previous year.

While the Fringe has typically doubled in size every decade of its existence, this year's increase was the biggest in recent times.

"I'm not surprised that it's up. I'm surprised that it's up by that much," said the Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland. "Last year was a very successful year; the profile was good, audiences were good, shows were critically acclaimed. That success breeding success will be part of it."

The number of shows has risen across the board.

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The number of listed venues in the programme, however, has dropped slightly this year to 259, barely more than the 250 in 2007.

Existing venues have added new performance spaces, it is thought, while others – like the Ballroom at the Assembly Rooms, which was closed by damp problems last year – have been reopened.

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Many of the Fringe's most anticipated shows, from glamour model Abi Titmuss in the rugby play Up'N'Under, to the National Theatre of Scotland's new boxing show, Beautiful Burnout, have already been publicised.

But some themes emerged with the release of the entire programme yesterday. Site specific and moving "promenade" shows are back in strength. One, The Invisible Dot Club, is offering a mix of stand-up and sketches at "a secret location by the sea".

Sports and the World Cup get picked up in shows like All over a Football at the Underbelly venue. Female sexuality is explored in shows such as Lesbian Bathhouse or Your Little Princess is My Little Whore. The sex trade also provides material for the comedy show Sex Traffic – How Much is That Woman in the Window?

There's an Obama musical, Obamamia. Unsurprisingly, there is a lack of shows aimed at the new UK Government, although it is sure to feature strongly in stand-up acts.

In a new-look programme, all shows, not just those for children, were for the first time asked to put an age rating on their productions, from U for Universal to PG for Parental Guidance, or flagged up by age.

A string of late-night and comedy shows carry an 18+ recommendation, although Fringe staff yesterday stressed it was a guide, not a rule.

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One show, Gemma Goggin: Get Laid or Die Trying was rated 16+, while another, Granny's Gone Wild, came in at 18+, as did Swedish comedian Magnus Betner.

One Fringe insider welcomed the move yesterday, saying: "Parents can be quite vigorous in their complaints."

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The Fringe has been considering whether to put its tickets on sale earlier next year, as some venues have done this year with high-profile shows.

Ms Mainland said: "Until this point we haven't been able to do anything earlier. If that's a trend, if that's what companies and venues want to do, that's something we have to respond to."


• Beautiful Burnout. Set in a Glasgow boxing ring, complete with "soul-sapping" bouts, in the new Pleasance Forth venue, this new National Theatre of Scotland show will be one to watch.

• The Famous Spiegeltent is back in George Square this year after being much missed last year. The headline show is Smoke and Mirrors, billed as a "fantasy cabaret" with acrobatics, aerial work, a magician, tap dancer, live band and emerging star Iota.

A second space, Deluxe, will host children's shows and a free lounge bar but the aim is to make the square a "more civilised place" with fewer people, earlier hours, and the focus on entertainment rather than a teaming beer garden.

• The Penny Dreadfuls return with a brand new comedy sketch show in the Pleasance Courtyard. Fans will be anticipating another crop of five-star reviews.

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• COMEDY: There are about 850 comedy shows across the Fringe including some 356 in the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.

Aaaaaaaargh!, the Malcolm Hardee tribute documentary, takes the traditional first place in the comedy programme.

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Look out for the likes of Nina Conti, stand-up and ventriloquist, in a new Edinburgh show, along with the likes of Josie Long, Arthur Smith, Barry Cryer, the Cambridge Footlights, and Emo Phillips, returning after a too-long absence.

• THE EDGE: The rock music strand of the Fringe is topped by Dizzee Rascal, but other names announced yesterday include Tinchy Stryder, Professor Green, Eels, Modest Mouse and Hallo Gallo 2010 (Michael Rother and friends performing the music of Neu!)

THE TRAVERSE THEATRE: The venue has an impressive track record of must-see drama and this year looks set to be no exception.

Likely highlights include While You Lie, a new play by Sam Holcroft, Roadkill, in which the audience is ferried by bus to another location for a show probing the sex-traffic trade, and the return of the Grid Iron theatre company's Decky Does a Bronco.

• en route. In this promenade show, hosted by the Traverse Theatre, a tiny "audience" are guided round a mystery street tour by iPod and mobile phone.

• DANCE: Flawless – Chase the Dream. The stars of Britain's Got Talent 2009 come to the Underbelly to make their Edinburgh debut.

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• Festival in the Sky. Diners are given the chance to eat at a 22-seat table hoisted 100ft above the city by a huge crane.