Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Alex Salmond naked and other oddities unveiled

A SURGE in cabaret, poetry and nearly 1,000 comedy shows has helped push the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to another record year with 6 per cent rise in the number of events planned for this summer’s arts extravaganza.

A SURGE in cabaret, poetry and nearly 1,000 comedy shows has helped push the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to another record year with 6 per cent rise in the number of events planned for this summer’s arts extravaganza.

Launching its 375-page programme, an annual rite in the capital, Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland unveiled a list of 2,695 shows and events across the city.

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“It’s great, it’s important, it’s a good place to get your work seen, by an audience, a media audience, an industry audience, it’s a great place to ply your craft,” Ms Mainland said. “It’s a great place to meet your peers, to get a sense of the upcoming creative identity of this nation.”

The event has expanded its geographic spread, reclaiming Edinburgh’s New Town, with the reopened Assembly Rooms and a major showcase of theatre from the north of England in a former church in Stockbridge.

Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, Donald Wilson, called the event the “lifeblood” of the Scottish capital. “It renews itself every year, and its newness, and its freshness, it’s clear from the size of this programme that even in a period of recession the Fringe is resilient.”

The programme’s exotic mix was as evident as ever today. There is a One Man Lord of the Rings, and One Minute Birdwatching, a piece of “performance art” in West Princes Street Garden. In one show, Lingua Frank, a Scottish fanatic in an Edinburgh language school paints nude pictures of Alex Salmond, in a comedy exploring culture clashes and Scottish independence. In another, the audience decides which character survives the Titanic disaster.

The theatre section of this year’s event includes a list of new work tackling difficult subjects, from The Two Worlds of Charlie F, a documentary drama with a cast of injured servicemen and women, to Mess, a play with songs about anorexia.

But in an event that’s been under pressure to prove it is growing year on year, the number of plays offered this August have fallen slightly, to 757. The comedy line-up increased its grip on the event, to 964 shows, or 36 per cent of the total, to theatre’s 28 per cent.

Ms Mainland insisted yesterday that big comedy shows that have often been attacked for threatening the spirit of the Fringe were a huge asset to the event.

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The overall increase in size, however was helped by a new “Spoken Word” section, including poetry, and a leap in cabaret shows. There was also a giant surge in the number of free shows, from 607 last year to 814 this year.

The director of PBH Free Fringe, Peter Buckley Hill, whose organisation hosts a large share of free shows, said his own numbers had risen by 13 per cent, to 366 shows, though not all appear in the Fringe programme. It has added new venues in bars and restaurants across the New Town, he said.

The comedian Phill Jupitus will stage a free poetry show for audiences of up to 300. Other big comedy names range from Alan Davies, at the event for the first time in ten years, to Paul Merton, Rhod Gilbert, and Sandi Toksvig.

The positive figures should quell fears that the competition from the Olympics, with recession and spending cuts, would shave its numbers down.

Ms Mainland said she welcomed a revival of venues in the north of the city. “It felt very dead last year.

“It is a dynamic shifting thing, it comes and goes.”

With Russian, Polish, South African and French showcases, the event claims that 1,418 shows are world premieres, from 47 different countries.

The Fringe’s marketing campaign this year includes a major push to Glasgow, which currently only accounts for 2.5 per cent of the ticket-buying audience, compared to 22 per cent from London and about 50 per cent from EH postcodes.

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With the backing of Scotrail, and in collaboration with two tabloid newspapers, the festival is promoting the event in the city and through a new box office at Glasgow’s Queen Street Station. The marketing drive is backed by £80,000 as part of the Year of Creative Scotland.

The push for new audiences ranges from Facebook to SoundCloud, the social sound platform that will allow performers to add audio to their Fringe listings – a song, a joke, or a plea for prospective punters. It has seen early sales of shows through the Fringe box office for the first time this year, with over 1,100 productions signed up to do so.

Ms Mainland said the Glasgow outreach was vital to build new audiences.

She said: “We forget, when we are in Edinburgh, about how the Fringe can be daunting, and you need to plan, and navigate, and decide what to do.

“It is our job to continue to refresh an audience, to grow an audience, they are on our doorstep, 2014 is the Commonwealth Games.

The director of the Pleasance venue, Anthony Alderson, said theatre was still breaking bounds at the Fringe: “People are taking on difficult subjects, there’s a bravery about it.

“It’s still the best place in the world to put on a play and be noticed.You can’t do it anywhere else.”