Festival chief insists audience distancing will not be eased to release more seats for sell-outs

The director of the Edinburgh International Festival has insisted social distancing rules will not be relaxed at any of his shows this month - in case it upsets people who have already bought tickets.

Edinburgh Academy's Junior School is playing host to a new Edinburgh International Festival venue. Picture: Ryan Buchanan
Edinburgh Academy's Junior School is playing host to a new Edinburgh International Festival venue. Picture: Ryan Buchanan

Many of the festival’s shows have sold out well in advance of this weekend’s curtain-raiser, including appearances by Blur frontman Damon Albarn, violinist Nicola Benedetti, singer-songwriter Karine Polwart and stage and screen star Alan Cumming

Much of the festival is being staged in temporary outdoor venues this year to try to ensure the safety of performers, staff and audiences during the pandemic.

However two of the venues – at Edinburgh Academy Junior School and Edinburgh Park – will have a capacity of just 670, while the third, at Edinburgh University’s Old College Quad, will be only be able to accommodate 230.

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    Sold-out shows being staged in indoor venues, such as the National Theatre of Scotland play Lament for Sheku Bayoh, Irish writer Enda Walsh's new play Medicine and Scottish Opera’s production of Falstaff will be performed before a fraction of the usual audience sizes at the Royal Lyceum Theatre and the Festival Theatre.

    The festival has decided to maintain two metre distancing at all performances, in line with the restriction which was being imposed on live events when tickets went on sale in June.

    Mr Linehan said: “I wouldn’t think we will be releasing any extra tickets for sold out performances.

    “We have sold seats on the basis that they will be socially-distanced.

    Festival director Fergus Linehan says audience bubbles will be kept two metres apart during all events this month. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

    "This will be the first time people have stepped back into an auditorium, so we can't change that.

    “It’s obviously in my instincts as a kind of impresario to want to have people hanging from the rafters.

    “Half the people you speak to are like: “That’s it, restrictions are gone, let’s all pack in.’

    "But the other half are like: ‘I’m still quite nervous about this. This is my first concert back and I want it to be done this way.” We have to respect that.

    Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan visited the new venue at Old College Quad ahead of its first performances this weekend. Picture: Jane Balow/PA Wire

    “If we were six weeks back into people going to shows I would be less concerned about it.

    "But we are going to have 230 people at Old College and 670 people at both Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh Park.

    “That will be big crowds for people who haven’t been in a crowd of more than 10 or 20 people. We want to make sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable.

    “I’d guess we would be able to seat about 600 people in the Old College Quad without distancing.

    "If we had people standing shoulder to shoulder in the Edinburgh Park venue we could probably get between 3000 and 3500 in there, which is bigger than the Barrowlands in Glasgow.”

    Meanwhile Mr Linehan pledged that the festival will stage full programme in its traditional venues across the city in 2022, the festival’s 75th anniversary.

    He added: “This year has been amazing and we have learnt a lot, but we do want our venues back.

    “Our first loyalty is to the Festival Theatre, the Usher Hall, the King’s, the Queen’s Hall and the Lyceum. Those venues really need a good strong 2022 festival.

    "We have got beloved and brilliant venues in the city, which are capable of doing remarkable things that other places can’t.”


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