Brian Ferguson's Festival Diary - could this year's Fringe break audience records?

True, the vast majority of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe will be happening online this year, but that gives it access to a potentially vast audience, writes Brian Ferguson

Bernie Dieter

IT’S ONLY the first official weekend of festival activity, but social media is awash with melancholic posts mourning the absence of live performances in Edinburgh. Fringe cabaret queen Bernie Dieter, a favourite with Edinburgh audiences for shows including La Clique and Little Death Club, perhaps captured the mood among performers best. She posted: “Summer in the rain, dancing in the Spiegeltent, making new friends, connecting with old ones, celebrating this beautiful art form that we all live for. It’s breaking my heart not to be embarking on another Fringe. I love you all, I miss you all, we will all be there again.”

She told me: “I’m in Melbourne under curfew, drinking gin and writing two new shows. So many people are fantastic with filmed projects, but I’ve always needed that live energy in a room and thrived with the directness of that. I’m trying my best to imagine a world where we can connect again as audience and performer in the same room.”

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ASSEMBLY Theatre founder William Burdett-Coutts has been raiding his archives to post a picture a day throughout the shutdown of events this year, including images of Rik Mayall, Rory Bremner, Julian Clary, Rich Hall, Mark Thomas, Mark Lamarr, Rhona Cameron, Lenny Henry and Harry Enfield as total unknowns.

But it was an overhead shot of George Square Gardens in full swing from a couple of years ago that was a reminder of what the Fringe will be missing this month. Burdett-Coutts told me: “I’ve been doing a picture a day since the start of this and will keep it up until the next festival in 2021. People seem to love them and they revive a lot of memories.”

WRITER Natasha Tripney was missing the prospect of the Fringe so much she has continued her tradition of writing a poem from fragments of the programme. Undaunted by the absence of one this year, Tripney has intriguingly chosen to imagine what the Fringe will be like when it returns.

She writes: “In a time of upheaval. In a city full of memories. In a Technicolor coronavirus dream-zone. In a totalitarian state. In a post-Trump America. In a rebooted universe. In the bowels of the Traverse. As dawn approaches. Two weary theatre-makers. Crawl towards each other. With only their eyes visible. Tainted by a dark secret. Trying to remember what it is to be human. Can we just start again?”

BUT wait. There is a Fringe programme, after all. In the nick of time, listings have appeared to highlight the array of online versions of shows available to watch. One spreadsheet has more than 200 entries, no mean achievement for an event officially called off in April – but less than a tenth of what was in the 2019 programme.

However, given that new events are being registered all the time, it’s anyone’s guess how big the 2020 Fringe might end up. And who is going to try to work out if this year’s online audience for this year’s festivals will be larger than the 4.4 million last year?

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