Pleasance goes west with new Ghillie Dhu Fringe venue

ONE of the "big four" venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is to launch a major expansion into the capital's West End this year after signing a deal to temporarily take over Glasgow tycoon Stefan King's new nightspot.

• The new Ghillie Dhu venue will host, among other stars, Tony Award winner Frances Ruffelle

The Pleasance is to join forces with Mr King's G1 Group to run shows at the new Ghillie Dhu venue at Rutland Place.

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The deal will see live music, cabaret, drama and comedy held at the venue during the Fringe for the next few years.

Ghillie Dhu – which is adjacent to the Caledonian Hotel and only opened to the public last month – will boast two performance areas, in the bar and the main auditorium of the venue.

The G1 Group, which runs more than 40 bars, restaurants and nightclubs across Scotland, started searching for a Fringe operator to work with last summer.

The firm, which created 70 jobs with the opening of Ghillie Dhu, snapped up the former Berkeley Casino more than two years ago and spent around 10 million transforming the B-listed building.

The three-storey property in Rutland Square dates back to the 1840s and was originally St Thomas's Episcopal Church. It later became the offices of the Scottish Tourist Board until the late 1960s, when it was converted into a casino.

The new Pleasance venue will be open from 8am until 5am throughout the festival, closing much later than the promoter's venues on the south side.

The Pleasance's expansion is the latest shake-up in venues to emerge in the wake of news that rival promoter Assembly is planning to erect a huge tented arena in nearby West Princes Street Gardens and the failure of the Spiegeltent to resolve problems over its site before this month's Fringe programme deadline.

The Pleasance has been based in the area of the same name in Edinburgh's south side for 25 years. It was founded by impresario Christopher Richardson, who stood down as artistic director five years ago, to be replaced by Anthony Alderson. Among the stars to appear at the venue as unknowns are Graham Norton, Frank Skinner, Steve Coogan, Paul Merton and Omid Djalili.

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Acts due to appear at Ghillie Dhu this year include veteran singer Peter Straker, a member of the original cast of Hair and who collaborated with Freddie Mercury on a number of songs, and Tony Award-winning stage star Frances Ruffelle.

Innes Wishart, general manager at Ghillie Dhu, said: "We're absolutely thrilled to be working in partnership with the Pleasance.

"With the city being the home of the Fringe, it was always our intention to create a striking venue and flexible events space that would appeal to all kinds of performers.

"Ghillie Dhu will provide a fantastic backdrop in the city's West End for the Pleasance to showcase their tremendous programme of renowned and illustrious artists alongside new work and innovative talent at this year's Fringe."

Mr Alderson said: "We are really excited about this new venture. This kind of luxury has never been experienced at the Fringe before. We're utterly delighted to be hosting this new cabaret venue within the gorgeous surroundings of Ghillie Dhu on the Fringe this year and in the future."

Full details of this year's Fringe programme are due to be unveiled in early June.