Underbelly to relocate purple cow Fringe venue to London for the summer

It has been one of the most familiar sights at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for more than a decade.

But now it has emerged that Underbelly’s upside-down purple cow is to spend the summer in London – at a major new festival which it says will “champion the spirit and quality” of the Fringe.

Underbelly, one of the “Big Four” operators at the Fringe, will also be programming a “Best of the Edinburgh Festival” season at its new site at the former Earls Court Exhibition Centre, which will operate from mid-July to mid-September.

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Underbelly will stage shows inside the 400-capacity Udderbelly, which first hosted Fringe shows in 2006, and a 1000-capacity big top venue at the London Wonderground.

Billed as “the ultimate staycation playground for Londoners” its new festival will also boast outdoor bars, street food vintage fairground rides.

However Underbelly insisted it was still hopeful of staging shows in other venues in Ednburgh this August – if official guidelines for venue operators are eased early enough over the next two months.

The plans have emerged weeks after leading venue operators expressed fears over the future of the Fringe over a lack of government support to help the event return this year – amid warnings that artists and performers could effectively relocate to London from this summer.

The Scottish Government has since said it was working to support the return of major events over the summer.

Underbelly announced plans for its new London Wonderground festival today.

However it has yet to publish detailed guidelines for the events industry ahead of an official reopening date of 17 May or give an indication of when social distancing restrictions may be lifted. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a provisional date of 21 June for the possible lifting of limits on social contact in England.

Underbelly said its London Wonderground venues would be able to operate on the basis of one-metre social distancing if restrictions are still in place in England over the summer.

However the company said Fringe operators were being told to plan on the basis of two metre social distancing for venues in Edinburgh this August – which would not be viable financially.

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An official announcement from Underbelly said: “A major programme of circus, comedy and family shows will champion the spirit and quality of the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe and will bring a ‘Best of the Edinburgh Festival’ season of performances to Earls Court this summer.”

Underbelly's purple cow has become one of the best-known venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Greg Macvean

Underbelly directors Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood said: “London Wonderground is without doubt one of our most exciting and ambitious festival creations to


"We’re dancing on toes on hot coals in our excitement to give people that live entertainment experience again and to play our part in bringing some much-needed fun and socialising back to people’s lives this summer.”

Mr Wood added: “Underbelly has definitely not given up on the Fringe for 2021. We are still hopeful and still planning.

Underbelly has been staging shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe since 2000. Picture: Ian Georgeson

“In our view, two metre social distancing is impractical. We’re hopeful that will be relaxed, but the only question is when and if that will give us enough time to plan.

"Udderbelly, our purple cow, was born in Edinburgh and has been on tour around the world ever since, but very sadly she is not going to be in Edinburgh this summer. We’re taking her to London for her summer holidays.”

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