Assembly Rooms relaunched as Fringe's '˜most futuristic venue'

It has been a fixture of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for 35 years, providing a launchpad for the likes of Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Jack Dee, Lee Evans, Lenny Henry and Jennifer Saunders.
The Assembly Rooms will host an innovative series of shows. Picture: Lloyd SmithThe Assembly Rooms will host an innovative series of shows. Picture: Lloyd Smith
The Assembly Rooms will host an innovative series of shows. Picture: Lloyd Smith

But now the Assembly Rooms on George Street has been relaunched as the Fringe’s most futuristic venue – and one without any live performers.

State-of-the-art technology has instead taken over its ballroom and music hall for a new venture its promoters believe could put Edinburgh on the map for innovation in the entertainment industry.

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The venue’s transformation has been led by William Burdett-Coutts, the founder of the Assembly Rooms as a Fringe venue in 1981, who lost the right to stage shows there four years ago after a controversial refurbishment.

The world’s first celebration of “event cinema,” a showcase of the latest virtual reality experiences and ground-breaking gaming innovations have been brought under the one roof under the banner of the Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival.

Highlights include a 360-degree “igloo” cinema experience, the chance to take a virtual spacewalk and room which has been transformed into a library of virtual reality short films.

Despite rival competition from more than 3,000 live productions unfolding across the city, the Assembly Rooms will play host to special digital screenings of theatre, opera and dance productions filmed around the world over the next 24 days.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Helen Mirren, David Tennant, and Mark Rylance are among the stars whose appearances will be beamed into the venue, which will showcase productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the Royal Ballet.

Mr Burdett-Coutts said: “We want to instigate a discussion on how the arts world can engage with technology. Digital is one of those strange words. It’s something everybody wants to engage with, but very few people have the money to explore it properly or know what to do with it.

“I hope what we’re doing with this is exploring what’s on offer at the moment, looking at where the industry is and thinking about where it might be go in the future.

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“This is the first time anyone has done an event like this. If it works that Edinburgh could be at the centre of things happening all over the world. We’re already working with Edinburgh University, which has an aspiration to be at the centre of digital innovation.

“The Assembly Rooms hasn’t had the same atmosphere since we moved out. When the whole building was a performance space it was an incredible environment. What we’re doing now is appropriate for the building as it is now and it’s something completely new for the city.”