Festival boss will take leaf out of Fringe’s book

Fergus Linehan: New director has amended the dates. Picture: Contributed
Fergus Linehan: New director has amended the dates. Picture: Contributed
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THE new director of the Edinburgh International Festival has vowed to step up competition with the Fringe by transforming the look and atmosphere of the main venues.

Irishman Fergus Linehan, who will official take over the role on 1 October, said he wanted to make venues more welcoming and a proper part of the festival landscape.

He revealed he was seeking ideas to turn the main areas outside EIF venues into major “public spaces” rather than have them appear “resolutely private” and wanted to emulate Fringe venues like the Underbelly, Assembly Rooms and George Square.

Linehan, who has been working on the event since May of last year, has already instigated a mini-revolution at the Festival by moving its dates for the first time in 17 years, to bring them back into line with the Fringe.

Both will be staged from 7-31 August next year after Linehan said he wanted to capitalise on the “electricity” when all the city’s main festivals are running at the same time, although the film festival has insisted it is sticking to its June slot.

Linehan, who will succeed Australian impresario Sir Jonathan Mills, also unveiled plans for a large-scale free public event to open his first programme, which will also act as a 50th anniversary celebration for the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.

The former head of music at Sydney Opera House said any changes to Festival venues such as the Edinburgh Playhouse, Festival Theatre or the King’s Theatre would be aimed at ensuring the environment around them was “in the spirit” of the atmosphere elsewhere in the city.

Edinburgh City Council has accommodated a number of major changes over the last 10-15 years, including closing off the middle section of the High Street to traffic to accommodate street performers, creating more space for events and performers in the Grassmarket and closing off part of George Street during the Fringe.

The latter initiative has been expanded this year to allow a year-long pedestrianisation pilot project, which has allowed cafes, bars and restaurants to spill out into the street, to be carried out. The Fringe has also expanded into St Andrew Square Garden this month with the relocation of the Famous Spiegeltent and the introduction of a new venue run by the Stand Comedy Club.

Linehan raised a number of questions over the future of the Festival at a reception for the Federation of Scottish Theatre, including why “many of our venues remain resolutely private… while almost every other venue in this city becomes a public space”.

He later told The Scotsman: “You only have to look at venues like the Pleasance Courtyard, the Underbelly, the Assembly Rooms and George Square and the way the whole environment around them has opened up. There has been a real transformation.

“These kind of areas have become very much part of the Festival experience in August and the question is what we can do with the EIF venues so that they feel more alive and the environment around them feels more in the spirit of the Festival, if you like.

“This is all very much in keeping with what we’ve already announced for next year’s Festival. I do think it’s very important that we make people as aware of what the Festival does as much as we can.”