Fringe set for record despite Olympic clash

A RECORD number of shows are to be staged at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, despite a clash with the London Olympics.

A RECORD number of shows are to be staged at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, despite a clash with the London Olympics.

A rise of at least 1 per cent is expected to be unveiled at the programme launch on Thursday, despite fears the Fringe could suffer this year due to a ten-day overlap with the London Games.

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The reopening of the Assembly Rooms, the longest-running Fringe venue, the return of the Famous Spiegeltent, and extra venues opening in the area around Edinburgh University’s main campus are all thought to have boosted this year’s total.

The rival Free Fringe and Free Festival programmes are also thought to have snapped up new venues this year. Their shows count towards the final tally, although they do not count audience numbers.

A record-breaking 2,542 shows were staged last year, 3 per cent up on 2010, while 1,877,119 tickets were sold, up 2.57 per cent on the previous year.

Although the McEwan Hall, which was missing last year, is still being refurbished, promoters Underbelly will be unveiling three new venues at the back of the building. Both Gilded Balloon and Assembly Theatre will be running new spaces.

Last year’s major new arrival, Summerhall, in the former vet school overlooking the Meadows, will also return with a hugely expanded programme.

Charlie Wood, director of Underbelly, said: “The fact that so many performers, producers and promoters are as keen to come as ever this year is a real endorsement for the Fringe.

“It would certainly have been a real issue if there had been a 10 per cent drop in the number of shows being staged.

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“However, it is much more important to see how ticket sales do. The shows that we have already put on sale are doing really well, but it will be really interesting to see what kind of impact the Olympics do have.”

William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of Assembly Theatre, said: “There is definitely a hope that a lot of people will be wanting to get out of London when the Olympics are on and we are hoping many of them will go to the Fringe. A lot of work has already gone in to try to persuade people to come here.”

Both the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee have inspired shows at this year’s Fringe, as well as the Leveson Inquiry and the travails of the coalition government at Westminster.

Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Sir Jimmy Savile, Adolf Hitler and Tommy Sheridan are among those whose lives will be played out across Fringe stages in August.

The horrors of war, both historic and modern-day, will be brought to the stage in several productions, including The Trench and The Two Worlds of Charlie F (both Pleasance), and Glory Dazed (Underbelly), the latter of which will explore the impact of war on a soldier’s life after he returns from service in Afghanistan.

Olympics-inspired productions include Bitch Boxer (Underbelly), about a women training to compete in the boxing competition, while comedian Al Murray will be hosting a specially themed pub quiz.

Among the high-profile Scottish actors appearing at this year’s Fringe will be Bill Paterson, Blythe Duff, Maurice Roeves, Richard Wilson and David Hayman.