Assembly left scrambling to plug gap as Frank Skinner pulls out of show
The Assembly Rooms claims it was left in the lurch by Frank Skinner after he withdrew from its star-studded Talk Show the day before the first performance was due to be staged.
But Skinner has blamed bad organisation from Assembly, claiming there were too many gaps in the schedule for the show, which was to be staged in its major new venue in Princes Street Gardens.
He claims he was "excited" about fronting the show — in which Alan Cumming, Ardal O'Hanlon, Mel Smith, Steven Berkoff, Omid Djalili, Jenny clair, Jo Brand and Julian Clary were all booked to appear — and is "gutted" at having to pull out.
Assembly admitted yesterday that an official contract had never been agreed with Skinner, who made his name in comedy after winning the Perrier Award at the Fringe in 1991.
Skinner's involvement with the show was announced in June, before the official Fringe programme went on sale, as one of the major highlights of Assembly's 30th programme.
But although thousands of tickets have been sold in advance, the line-up for Talk Show was not finalised until just days before the Fringe got under way. Skinner was understood to have become concerned after an un-named act pulled out on Sunday.
Skinner told his management he was unwilling to go ahead with the show on Monday morning, forcing the cancellation of the opening show the following day.
Comedian Stephen K Amos has agreed to step in for the entire run, starting with yesterday's show, which featured Steven Berkoff and Linda Marlowe.
Talk Show is being held every lunchtime at Assembly's Princes Street Gardens venue until 29 August. Other confirmed acts include Red Dwarf star Robert Llewellyn, TV presenter Clive Anderson, impressionist Alistair McGowan, and the writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth.
William Burdett Coutts, artistic director at Assembly, said Skinner had simply "changed his mind" about appearing and said he had not been given a full explanation by his management.
But Skinner, who presented a "credit crunch cabaret show" at last year's Fringe, said: "It's a great shame about Talk Show.
"My bags were packed, my train ticket was in my pocket, and I was very excited about the whole thing. It became apparent there were some brilliant people lined-up but way too many gaps. It seems it was harder to put together than anyone thought. I'm genuinely gutted about it."
However, Mr Burdett Coutts said: "It was not exactly ideal. We had sold a lot of tickets and had to contact everyone to offer them a refund. We have a fantastic line-up of performers, including many people like Jo Brand, Julian Clary and Mel Smith, who are not doing anything else at the Fringe this year. I don't really see how he could say there were too many gaps.
"We had agreed terms with Frank Skinner, but not agreed an actual contract, which is pretty normal for these kind of shows.
"The whole nature of a show like this is that you don't sign and seal the whole line-up, you finalise things as the Fringe is going on. I just feel it's not really in keeping with the spirit of the Fringe for him to pull out."