Brian Ferguson: Lack of combined effort at Fringe

An ALMOST impossible task which just got more difficult: that is the best description I can give to describe trying to keep tabs on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, as, several weeks ahead of the official programme launch, there has been such a haphazard release of information on shows.

2014 could well be a vintage Fringe year. Picture: Ian Rutherford
2014 could well be a vintage Fringe year. Picture: Ian Rutherford

I’m sure very few of the thousands of annual Fringe ticket-buyers are aware more than 2,400 are already on sale. Some tickets have been on sale since January, but around 1,800 of them were added to the Fringe website on Tuesday. If you can face trawling through the listings on the Fringe website, it’s all there for you. Take your pick and beat the rush for tickets, but only if you have time and patience on your side. Not every venue is selling tickets yet, but a lot are. And the five biggest promoters have put their entire programmes on sale.

My early impressions are that this could well be a vintage Fringe year. This is without seeing the largely under-wraps line-ups at Summerhall and the Traverse. There are some fascinating and timely theatre productions, big-name comedians, actors returning in impressive numbers and at least a dozen shows inspired by the independence debate, while a major new arena will be created in the heart of St Andrew Square.

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But there has been little publicity generated on the back of the Fringe so far – a strange state of affairs for what is still the world’s biggest arts festival. Many shows have gone on sale without the kind of fanfare that would have accompanied them in the past. With the majority of the Fringe programme now in the public domain, it will be a challenge for the festival to generate excitement at its official launch.

Part of this is down to the approach of the so-called “Big Four” venues this year and last. Traditional forms of media are now largely bypassed in favour of social media channels. After all the criticism of their ill-fated “Edinburgh Comedy Festival” brand, finally ditched this year, the new ploy was to hold a launch event in London, rather than Edinburgh. The only piece of coverage I’ve seen generated on the back of it, on a leading comedy website, berated the promoters for a “frankly embarrassing” programme cover attempting to pass it off as the official Edinburgh Festival Fringe brochure.

Even the Big Four’s arch-rival, Tommy Sheppard, a canny publicist, delayed having an official launch or making a proper announcement, despite a clutch of new shows going on sale last week.

No doubt there will be the usual invasion of publicists and PR gurus in August, but much of their activity will be targeted at people already in the city. Where is the collective effort to promote the Fringe months beforehand, when people around Britain, and further afield, are deciding which summer festival to attend? Do I detect an air of complacency hanging over Scotland’s biggest and most economically important festival?