Edinburgh Fringe: Underbelly to run Topside venue

Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Doctor Brown will appear at the new venue. Picture: Kate Chandler
Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Doctor Brown will appear at the new venue. Picture: Kate Chandler
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ONE OF the top promoters at the Edinburgh Fringe has clinched a deal to run shows at a multi-million pound new venue in the city this August.

The 200-capacity theatre studio, which has been built on to the back of the Festival Theatre, will help with a huge expansion of Underbelly’s programme.

The £3 million centre – which is still to be completed – is aimed at creating a new year-round performance and rehearsal space for the ­long-running venue, which has been home to a theatre since 1830.

Underbelly says the ­expansion into the new space, which will be called Topside during the Fringe, will allow it to bring shows to Edinburgh which would have missed out on this year’s festival due to a lack of a suitable venue.

The line-up includes a stage play of Alexander Masters’ ­best-selling semi-­autobiographical novel Stuart: A Life Backwards, which is being adapted for the Fringe by Jack Thorne, the BAFTA-winning writer best known for his work on Skins and This is England ‘86.

The story, which was made into a TV drama starring ­Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, tells of a friendship ­Masters struck up with a local homeless man he ­discovered ­living on the streets of ­Cambridge.

Thorne said: “Stuart and ­Alexander’s story is extraordinary. This is the sort of dream project that comes around only once in a while. I only hope we can do the book justice.”

London-based promoters ­Underbelly, led by Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam, are thought to have won a fierce bidding war with other long-established Fringe firms. Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and ­Assembly all have major venues in the area.

Underbelly, which started life with venues in the ­Cowgate in 2001, has since opened a number of temporary spaces in the Bristo Square area, including the Udderbelly, a huge upside-down purple cow. It has already announced a return to the ­McEwan Hall, one of the ­biggest venues on this year’s Fringe, after a long-term refurbishment ruled it out in recent years.

Fiona McCurdy, Underbelly’s head of programming, said: “We’ve got some ­amazing ­venues in the Cowgate for ­theatre, but there are some shows that are just not ­suitable for ­technical reasons or the space that is ­needed for them.

“Some of the shows we’re putting on wouldn’t be coming this year if it wasn’t for Topside and we’ve filled the programme without even advertising that the venue was available.”

Although the studio theatre is part of the Festival Theatre building, audiences will enter Potterrow, while ticket-holders for Edinburgh International ­Festival performances will go into the main venue via ­Nicolson Street as normal. Plans for the extension were delayed due to the economic downturn.

All the Festival shows the new Topside venue is due to host:

• Le Gateau Chocolat: The larger than life operatic star of the international touring cabaret show La Soiree.

• My Name Is Sue: The cult musical-comedy-show show makes a return visit to the Fringe four years after its debut.

• Stuart - A Life Backwards: The world premiere of Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Alexander Masters’ best-selling novel.

• Doctor Brown: Last year’s winner of the top comedy award on the Fringe will be gracing the stage at Topside.

• Solpadeine Is My Boyfriend: A play about an Irish generation promised a life of financial stability and jobs who themselves queuing at the airport or social welfare office.

• Boris & Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure: An improvised cross-over cabaret and puppet show for adults.

• It’s Dark Outside: The Perth Theare Company returns from “down under” to the Fringe with a brand new play.

• The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: The 2011 Fringe hit is back for 12 performances.

• Tell Me The Truth About Love: Jamie McDermott reinterprets Britten and Auden’s famous songs in Mark Ravenhill’s new cabaret show.