Edinburgh’s festivals have been a triumph against the odds and problems stacked against them – Brian Ferguson

With a full week of events still to be staged at the time of writing, delivering a verdict on this year’s Edinburgh festivals may seem a tad premature.

But it is doubtful anything dramatic will happen to shift the impression that, perhaps as ever, they have been something of a mixed bag during their first full-scale season for three years.

At times, it has felt as if Edinburgh was hosting a festival of moans and groans, just as it did back in the record-breaking summer of 2019.

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But the complaints have had very different targets this time round.

Ethiopian troupe Circus Abyssinia show off their skills beside Underbelly's Circus Hub on the Meadows. (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
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This August, the impact of the festivals on the city seems to have hardly registered. The people of Edinburgh have warmly embraced their return and flocked back in huge numbers to events across the board.

My overall impression has been of an against-the-odds triumph in the face of more problems for the festivals than I can recall in 25 years of covering them.

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Particular credit is due to the thousands of people working behind the scenes to get the festivals back on their feet – particularly those that have not previously been involved in these events in any way, shape or form.

However their efforts would have been in vain if audiences had not returned in the numbers they have.

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We will have to wait until next week to see how the final audience tally for the Fringe compares to 2019, when it topped three million for the first time.

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However the figure is rather meaningless given the number of factors which were stacked against all the festivals this summer.

Although Covid has undoubtedly kept some festivalgoers away, the pandemic-enforced hiatus has created a feel-good factor about the festivals. Absence seems to have made hearts grow fonder.

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The weather, particularly in the first half of the festivals, has been an unexpected bonus. I can’t recall a better season at a time of year when festivalgoers are usually dodging downpours.

Audiences have been remarkably stoic and determined to enjoy themselves despite obvious difficulties that they, event organisers and the city in general have encountered.

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Despite the cost-of-living crisis and the price of hotel rooms in the city acting as a deterrent to many, Edinburgh has felt remarkably busy.

The majority of events I attended had full houses, although they have admittedly been at the higher profile end of the scale of shows on offer.

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Industrial action on the railways had less of an impact on the festivals than some had feared after Scotland agreed a deal with train drivers union Aslef in the summer.

But the city’s inability to head off or properly handle the obvious implications of an escalating cleansing staff dispute created all the wrong headlines at exactly the wrong time. A defining image was the Ladyboys of Bangkok leading a clean-up.

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With so many shows and events reliant on late ticket sales, images of rubbish-strewn streets and overflowing bins have been excruciating for Edinburgh.

It is hard to avoid the impression that those scenes could have been avoided if elected leaders at local and national level had taken the issue more seriously and pulled out all the stops to find solutions – rather than pointing fingers and participating in pathetic blame games.

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