Brian Ferguson: Fringe must compete with Games

Fringe performers will have to lure back Commonwealth Games crowds. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Fringe performers will have to lure back Commonwealth Games crowds. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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The Edinburgh Fringe will have to work to lure audiences away from Glasgow for a week anyway, writes Brian Ferguson

IT WAS unusual to emerge from a train in Edinburgh and feel that the city had lost some of its usual sparkle, but that was how it seemed after the opening festivities for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

At the time of writing, Scotland’s gold medal successes have outstripped expectations and crowds have packed into venues to see everything from squash, hockey, boxing and badminton to the blue-riband swimming and cycling events.

Revellers have been flocking to the free entertainment laid on across the city, including on the Clyde waterfront alongside the BBC’s headquarters at Pacific Quay, at the splendidly restored Kelvingrove Bandstand in the west end, and on Glasgow Green, where the main “live zone” has been created in a vast swathe of parkland. Throw in the annual Merchant City Festival, which has hugely expanded this year, and Glasgow has invented a truly city-wide festival that is not surprisingly attracting huge crowds.

Amid this frenzy of sporting and sporting cultural excitement, it is quite jarring to think that the world’s biggest arts festival is about to burst into life in Edinburgh on Wednesday, when there will be another five days of the games still to run. Suddenly the Fringe has a lot to live up to.

The build-up to the Fringe has been decidedly low key this year and it does not take a genius to work out the Commonwealth Games has had a lot do to with this. The huge crowds packing on to trains leaving Edinburgh for Glasgow at the weekend tell their own story.

It’s not as if Edinburgh did not have plenty warning. Anyone involved with the Fringe will recall the impact the London Olympics had on ticket sales when the two events clashed two years ago. In the end, the Fringe staged a bit of a recovery and final ticket sales were only 1 per cent down, but the effect on some venues was much more acute.

The opening weekend of the Fringe is traditionally one of the busiest periods for ticket sales and there will be some worrying faces around if the main venues are noticeably quieter than normal.

Mercifully for Fringe venues and promoters, the Commonwealth Games clash is a whole week shorter than it was for the 2012 Olympics, and the sporting extravaganza will actually be done and dusted by the time the Edinburgh International Festival opens its doors and Charlotte Square bursts into life for the book festival.

With a bit of luck with the weather, the Fringe’s genuine star power, the city’s efforts to overhaul George Street and the advent of new-look arenas at St Andrew Square and Princes Street Gardens – which will boast a festival ferris wheel for the first time – will offset any potential damage.