Edinburgh Festival Fringe promoters Underbelly reveal plans for 'big top' circus on the Meadows this summer

Edinburgh Festival Fringe operators Underbelly have revealed plans to run a “big top” venue on the Meadows this summer.

Four shows a day would be staged at the Circus Hub site throughout the Fringe under plans to showcase a mix of “Scottish, UK and international performers.”

A programme of “world-class circus performance” is promised by Underbelly which is understood to be planning to operate other venues in the city when the Fringe returns in August.

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It has hailed the planned venture, which is due to run from 5-29 August, as “an important beacon for this iconic festival.”

The Edinburgh International Festival has already revealed plans to run outdoor venues at Edinburgh Park, Edinburgh University’s Old College Quadrangle and Edinburgh Academy’s sports fields.

It is hoped up to 567 festivalgoers will be able to attend performances at the Circus Hub site between 12 noon and 11pm over the three weeks of the festival.

Underbelly will be offering around 3500 local residents the chance to buy discounted tickets for Circus Hub shows.

The Meadows has a long history of hosting Fringe shows and events, and was home to the Ladyboys of Bangkok for 17 years before the city council introduced a new tendering process for the site.

Underbelly is planning to bring its Circus Hub venue back to the Meadows this summer. Picture: Scott Louden

Underbelly, which first created a Circus Hub venue with two tented venues at the site in 2015, is bringing in a bigger main venue this year to accommodate possible social distancing restrictions in August.

However it insists that the footprint of the site will be the same as previous year, with a capacity of 1024 at 1m distancing. The venue will only go ahead if the current 2m distancing restriction on events in Scotland is relaxed.

Although Underbelly has not needed planning permission to operate the Circus Hub in previous years, it was advised to do so this year due to the time needed to build and dismantle the venue.

In the plans which have been lodged with the council, Underbelly states: “Circus Hub will feature a world class circus performance programme which will ensure that big-scale live shows are placed back at the heart of the festival presented to a physically-distanced audience. This is an important beacon for this iconic festival.

Circus Hub performers with Underbelly founders Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood. Picture: Scott Louden

“This Fringe hub will welcome international, Scottish and UK performers back to the stage and will also welcome back to work Underbelly staff and freelancers with an accrued, home-grown, Fringe knowledge.

“This work will sustain this key staff resource for future festivals, and also provide much-needed income for Underbelly's event supply chain within Edinburgh and Scotland.

“The event will be led by a big top performance space and external seating area. The Big Top is a pre-booked, ticketed performance venue with allocated seating.

“The external seating area is non-ticketed but managed to ensure Covid-19 safety. The walls of the ‘big top’ will be removed to the extent necessary to ensure that the space is designated an open air space providing appropriate natural air ventilation throughout the venue.”

An acrobat from La Meute flies over the Circus Hub, the Meadows venue first launched in 2015 by Underbelly. Picture: Jane Barlow

Underbelly director Charlie Wood said: “Circus Hub has been a great part of the festival since we started it in 2015.

“It has been a hub for international circus from around the world and has had a great response from audiences in Edinburgh. We think it would be great to see it as this year’s festival.”

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