Fringe targets will not be easy to meet but are well worth pursuing - Brian Ferguson

Two years on from its inevitable cancellation in the face of the Covid pandemic, there seems little doubt that the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is about to bounce back.

Any concerns it would take up to five years for the event to return to its previous scale appear to have been dispelled.

More than 3100 shows have now been registered ahead of its 75th anniversary and the launch of the official programme next month.

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Given that the Fringe only broke the 3000 show barrier in 2014, this year’s edition is already guaranteed to be one of the biggest in its history.

With registration open until the end of August, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the record-breaking 2019 tally of 3,841 shows will be beaten.

It is all a far cry from the tortuous limbo Fringe venues were left in last year over what Covid restrictions would be in place in Scotland by the time the festival came round. In the end, distancing restrictions were only lifted well after the festival was underway.

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There was considerable angst, and quite a few alarming headlines, about how many venues, companies, performers and artists would turn their backs on Edinburgh in the wake of the pandemic.

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy. Picture: Lisa FergusonFringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

How times have changed. The demand to perform and put on shows in Edinburgh appears to be as strong as ever, with all of the main Fringe venues appearing to be pulling out the stops to come back in style.

It was against this backdrop of excitement, optimism and recovery that a long-awaited new vision aimed at shaping the festival’s future was unveiled, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge returning to Edinburgh to launch the Fringe Society’s blueprint in her role as honorary president.

There was much to chew over in the various commitments, which have emerged after two years of talks over how to change the event for the better, and passionate debate over how this should be achieved.

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Even the Fringe’s harshest critics would have to concede that all the main issues it has been in the firing line for were addressed in some way, even though the pledges may not go far enough for some.

The most significant was a promise to introduce a three-stage “red-card” system to tackle unfair or exploitative working practices, which could see venues banned from the event for the first time.

Equally important was the messaging on these issues – a clear signal that some of what has gone on in venues is now seen as unacceptable.

While the new vision also set a target for the Fringe to become a carbon net zero event by 2030, it will be fascinating to see if it has less of an impact on the environment this year under efforts to promote digital flyers, cut the print run of the programme and even ditch paper tickets.

The Fringe Society also deserves credit for acknowledging the “valid concerns” that have been expressed about the scale of the festival and its impact.

Making good on promises to spread its benefits around the city, introduce a free family event in a different location each year, and ensure that “everyone who lives and works here feels like the Fringe is for them” will not be easy, but they are all aims well worth pursuing.

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