New Princes St Gardens venue announces Fringe programme

EDINBURGH'S biggest Fringe promoter has lifted the lid on the line-up for the major new venue it is introducing to herald its 30th anniversary this year.

• Assembly at Princes Street Gardens: 'a bit of a risk'

Big-name comedians, circus performers, cabaret acts, live bands and club nights will be performing in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, in a brand new Assembly Rooms venue in Princes Street Gardens.

Headline acts include funnyman Frank Skinner, who will host his own talk show, a new show by the celebrated circus clown and former Cirque de Soleil star Julien Cottereau, South African singing sensations the Bala Brothers and cabaret diva Meow Meow.

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The Assembly Rooms will be bringing its "best of the fest" format to the venue for a new afternoon slot, while London-based club night Guilty Pleasures will be taking over the venue in the early hours of the morning.

The Assembly Rooms will build a huge arena which will see ticketed events staged inside one of the Belgian mirrored tents, made famous by the Spiegeltent at the Fringe over the years.

Free outdoor events will be staged throughout the day at the bandstand itself, where outdoor cafe bars will be set up, thanks to a big-money sponsorship deal with cider giant Bulmers.

However, access to the gardens will be restricted after dusk, so that visitors are only able to visit the event arena.

William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of the Assembly Rooms, said: "Every year, we have set out to improve the service we offer to the public, primarily through the quality of the work we present, but as much as what you see on stage is important a festival experience is also about what happens off stage. This new addition to our venues is set in one of the most beautiful locations in the world. It will provide wonderful shows along with a special outdoor experience."

Other acts taking the stage in the gardens will be Scottish piping sensations the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, acclaimed Italian acoustic guitarist Antonio Forcione and American mindreader Marc Salem.

The Fringe venture is the first to be staged for several years in Princes Street Gardens, which most recently played host to outdoor concerts by acts like Simple Minds and Franz Ferdinand.

Assembly and fellow promoter Gilded Balloon tried to run a Fringe venue in East Princes Street Gardens in 2000, which saw the bulk of tickets unsold, leaving acts unpaid. A number of promoters have tried to stage programmes of major events in West Princes Street Gardens, but these were dogged by problems over poor ticket sales, bad weather and wrangles with the council.

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However, Mr Burdett-Coutts said he hoped the new venue would address concerns aired in recent years that the Fringe had become increasingly centred around the Old Town and the south side of the city centre.

He told The Scotsman: "We want to bring a new energy to the New Town with this venue this year. There are a limited number of venues there, so we think this has been much needed.

"It is a bit of a risk and a step into the dark, but that is what we are all about, and we're hugely excited about it.

"The gardens will be open to the public as normal and a huge amount of work has gone into this, as we appreciate it is a very sensitive site.

"However, if everything goes well, we would hope it will become an annual fixture."

The new venue will open on 30 July for several days of concerts as part of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.


SHOWS about Alice in Wonderland's creator Lewis Carroll, an Edwardian occultist dubbed "the most evil man in the world" and tragic porn star Linda Lovelace will be among those staged in Princes Street Gardens.

Veteran writer, performer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth has written Wonderland, which charts the real-life story of the Rev Charles Dodgson, who wrote the "Alice" books under an assumed name. It is being staged as part of the Universal Arts programme.

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Dodgson famously led a kind of double life in 19th-century England. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and, from 1855, lectured there in mathematics. His most famous book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was published in 1865.

Aleister Crowley: A Passion for Evil, which is part of the C Venues programme, will see actor John Burns perform a one-man show about the man who scandalised Edwardian society. He claimed to be a master of black magic and had a penchant for seducing young women, many of them while he lived in the Highlands. He became infamous in the late 19th century and early 20th century for his promotion of the occult and wrote anti-British propaganda during the First World War.

The Underbelly's programme will feature a "rock musical" charting the life of Linda Lovelace, who shot to fame as the star of Deep Throat in 1972, but went on to become a leading figure in anti-porn campaigns.

She claimed to have suffered years of abuse from her husband, Chuck Traynor, and died in a car crash in 2002.