Festival Diary: Seeking a name for Edinburgh’s big screen answer to Wimbledon

It’s been a week of getting used to the new surroundings for the Edinburgh International Book Festival for authors and audiences at its art school home.

A big screen for broadcasting live events is one of the main features at the new home of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

I meekly accepted the fate of journalists told they would not be able to attend any events due to limits on audience numbers and effectively banished to our bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms to watch proceedings online and dream of the beloved press tent in Charlotte Square.

An alternative option is on offer in the art school’s courtyard, where a giant screen broadcasts proceedings as they are happening on stage. Comparisons with Wimbledon are unavoidable and I have been seeking suggestions for a name for Edinburgh’s equivalent. The best so far? McDiarmid Mount.

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Much has been missing from my usual August, including staying out past midnight, old friends like Underbelly’s purple cow, the Playhouse and the Assembly Rooms, and even being flyered on the Royal Mile (despite regular visits).

The book festival has relocated to Edinburgh College of Art this year. Picture: Shutterstock

I’ve been holding onto a bit of pre-Covid nostalgia by dusting off my ‘Festival Bag,’ a humble rucksack in which I’ve been able to fill all my essential gadgetry and kit, a full change of clothes and some emergency snacks.

New essentials for this year are a woolly jumper and hat thanks to a combination of the increasingly unpredictable August weather in Edinburgh – no matter how warm a sunny Royal Mile seems.

Extreme measures have been taken by the Edinburgh International Festival at Edinburgh Park, where shipping containers have been erected down one side of the open-air venue to try to make it less draughty.

The vagaries of the weather were perfectly encapsulated by violinist Nicola Benedetti, who was dressed up as if she was going for a winter walk for an EIF photocall. A few days she was apologising for the heat as her Old College Quad concert kicked off – and to anyone who had left their sunglasses at home.

Nicola Benedetti has been performing as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Jess Shurte

A final doff of the cap to all those involved in Fringe by the Sea, which actually increased its ticket sales this year after programming events in a big top circus tent. Planned to accommodate socially-distanced audiences of just 200 back in February, restrictions had eased enou gh for that to be raised to 800 by the time the festival opened and 1200 Peat and Diesel fans were able to see the band’s triumphant first lockdown gig in Scotland after the lifting restrictions a few days before the show.

My only slight niggle, after opting out of Heuy Morgan’s NCY Block Party circus tent show in favour of the more mellow double act of Rab Noakes and Jill Jackson, was that the latter regularly had to compete with his circus tent show, prompting a baffled Noakes to enquire of his audience: “Is that the bingo?”

Playwright and publicist Laura Horton’s lockdown-inspired campaign to collect and amplify stories about theatre – and the people whose lives are impacted by it in some way – is about to arrive at the Fringe. If you’ve been missing taking part in or going to shows you can tell Laura all about it at Assembly Roxy next week. Email [email protected] to book a slot for a chat between Monday and Monday.

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