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Has Edinburgh Fringe Finally Hit The Wall? *Reset required*

Where are we with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s slow-motion death spiral.

Even in 2021-22, a recovery year, more than 2.2 million ticket sales were recorded across the fringe: the sixth-highest figure in the event’s 75-year history. 

In 2019, before the pandemic, the eight major producing venues at the fringe sold 1,965,961 tickets, but projected ticket sales fell by 25% in its first full year back to just 1,486,746. The lack of the Fringe app didn’t help. 

There were around 3,582 shows to choose from, playing at 277 different venues. However, most shows I attended were barely at 60% capacity.

Over to William Burdett-Coutts, the artistic director of Assembly, who estimated that venues had missed out on £7m in revenue because ticket sales were down by a quarter, resulting in “significant loss[es]”.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

This “really has hurt” the companies delivering the shows, with the result that some may not survive without fundraising or government support, he said. In a normal year Burdett-Coutts said he would expect 10% of the companies he booked not to be able to cover their costs, but this year it would be more like 60%. It’s telling, too that Royal Military Tattoo in Edinburgh audiences were down around 20% this year. 

It’s also telling that Assembly, Dance Base, Gilded Balloon, Just the Tonic, Pleasance, Summerhall, Underbelly and ZOO collectively condemned soaring accommodation costs as the biggest risk to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s future, it urgently needs to adapt to survive. These 8 venues account for 60% of the tickets sold during the event. 

Meanwhile, premium pricing reached the festival; £107 ‘VIP tickets’ for Ian McKellen’s 75 minute Hamlet. Totally against the spirit of the fringe, and the beginning of a trend to make commercial gains and hoping to go unnoticed. Pure greed.

Its hard to know what to say about arts coverage – The Stage reviewed 178 shows this year, which is less than previous years. Impressive nonetheless.

The Scotsman state that their arts coverage has been pretty consistent for years. Indeed, there are more people with their own platforms writing about theatre than ever before. Unfortunately, due to rocketing accommodation costs many are staying for shorter periods – myself included.

Elsewhere, Edinburgh’s “free speech” venue The Pleasance cancelled the Glaswegian comedian Jerry Sadowitz for being offensive. Sadowitz has long been known for routines that most people would find grossly offensive.

Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, a bin strike left Edinburgh looking like Beirut; Street performers and residents were left litter picking after bin workers began a 12-day waste collection strike.

The bin strike in Edinburgh on its fourth day

 The Guardian went with the headline “The Edinburgh fringe is too long, too expensive, and too gruelling. It must change or die”. The Stage opted for: “The fringe will have to change, or it will wither”. 

Either way, somebody is getting rich, mostly greedy landlords. (Nica Burns unwelcome suggestion that Edinburgh Council waive legislation designed to protect tenants to bring costs down was plain stupid.) 

So, Edinburgh is now firmly the centre of capitalism – should we judge it as big business doing what it does i.e., centralising, synergising, excluding, and closing the shop to the in crowd? Probably.

For at the exact moment culture loving audiences need to be lifted out of an endless cycle of news misery with merriment and laughter, though, the Fringe Society have somehow dampened the mood even further with inaction and the go-to phrase: “It’s out of our hands.”

It isn’t, of course.

It is a very convenient way of transferring responsibility for something that sits with them. 

How long, in fact, can the Fringe Society’s alternative reality avoid contact with actual reality? Indeed, the festival stands at a crossroads, with costs for performers soaring and many younger acts staying away. Everyone blames everyone else – there is no joined up thinking.

Princess Khumalo and Sara Hazemi in A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge

And what about diversity? The fringe talk a good game. However, if you want to know exactly how far this commitment to diversity really stretches, though, read the damning open letter by Nouveau Riche. They highlight incidents of racism experienced during the 2022 Fringe and call for a fundamental overhaul of the event to reflect the diversity of wider society. 

The theatre company said that it was surprised “little had changed in terms of diversity and safety” for black and global majority artists since it performed at the fringe in 2018, despite the wider industry taking steps towards inclusion and anti-racism.

Organisations such as Fringe of Colour and Best in Class are working hard to address this, but a reset is now urgently required. But what’s impossible to stomach is Fringe Society spokesperson, in all apparent sincerity, telling us: “The fringe is an open-access arts festival’. 

Access is and continues to be a total disgrace. The Fringe Society boasts that ‘60% of fringe shows are in accessible venues to wheelchair users’ – that still leaves over 1,400 spaces that are inaccessible to disabled audiences.  

So that’s the venues. There will be those of you feeling pessimism is the rational response, and it’s hard to disagree. The question is not just whether the world’s largest arts festival is elitist: the question is whether it is sustainable.

Samuel Barnett in Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going to Happen at Roundabout @ Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

The simple solution would be to get tough with the greedy landlords, introduce a diversity quota to level the chaotic playing field, cap the festival at 2,000 performances and grow a spine. By putting artists first, the creative industries have a chance to reshape itself into a business that makes money and passes it on the creative people who deserve to be paid fairly for their work.

Against this backdrop, the rich – whose wealth swelled during the pandemic – remain unaffected. But young people see no rational incentive to back a system that seems to offer little other than insecurity, debt, and personal crisis- and that fact is surely becoming ever more obvious. The fringe’s model promotes the concentration of wealth among a select few at the expense of everybody else’s.

But for all the barbs I aim at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I hope it endures, not just as it fills a big hole in a quiet month, the stars of tomorrow are there, everything is up for grabs. The city is so completely beautiful. The people are, too.

Miraculously, the under-fire figurehead of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society Shona McCarthy has secured the “full” backing of its board.

As the cost-of living crisis is set to worsen, a new democratic and inclusive festival is waiting to be born – one that breaks decisively with all the failed systems of the past.

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World credit: Jeff J Mitchell

Old habits die hard after 75 years, though. The Fringe Society takes itself incredibly seriously and I sense the leadership void will prevent it from performing such a spectacular 180-degree turn.

If it comes to pass, the festival publicity department is welcome to use some of the tweets I’ve received this week in answer to my question How would you describe Edinburgh Fringe 2022 in one word: ‘Full-of-rubbish’ and ‘Enraging’ and ‘Over’.

Time to reset. if not now, when?

The first steps towards recovery as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe comes to a close

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe draws to a close today having brought together artists, international arts industry and media, and both loyal Fringe fans and new audiences.  After some of the most challenging years on record for the sector, the hard work and effort of the artists, venues, producers, promoters, arts and media industry, and staff should be recognised and celebrated.

The lead up brought with it understandable anxiety, as Fringe-makers took on the risk and uncertainty of returning in a year like no other. Audience patterns have changed, industrial action caused significant disruption to rail travel and refuse collection, and affordable accommodation in Edinburgh was at crisis point. This year’s festival has been a colossal and collective effort.

We recognise and thank the residents and businesses of Edinburgh and the Lothians, home to the Fringe for the last 75 years. Residents of our historic city accounted for 39% of all tickets issued (+4% on 2019), and their support and commitment to the festival is evident.  Overseas audience attendances also increased, accounting for 10% of all tickets issued (+2% on 2019).

While the number of tickets issued is testament to the commitment of those who put on the shows and the audiences who came to see them, far beyond what we could have imagined at the start of the year. The growing cost of Edinburgh for artists points to the need for long-term recovery, investment, and support to ensure the sustainability and longevity of one of the world’s most important cultural events. Some clear challenges have emerged, and we need a collective approach to address these, or the future of this long-running beacon for cultural connection and development will be in jeopardy.

This year’s Fringe saw an estimated 2,201,175 tickets issued across 3,334 shows which were performed by artists from 63 countries. The festival welcomed diverse work from Scotland, the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, with 13 showcases including work from Canada, Finland, Belgium, Taiwan, South Korea, Ireland – North and South, Denmark and Australia.

The 2022 programme tackled themes and issues such as mental health, gender and gender identity, neurodiversity, disability, feminism, lockdown, experience of migration, LGBTQ+, politics, race and racial identity and work for children; with upcoming talent showcased alongside well-known performers and international work.

The Street Events programme was extended into new sites, with 3,284 performances by Street Performers across the programme.  These included 650 Taster Stage slots on new sites in St Andrew Square and Cathedral Square in St James Quarter.  170 shows were represented, with five additional slots given to community groups and schools.   

Over 35 professional development events for Fringe participants were delivered in partnership with 16 external organisations in Fringe Central, our dedicated centre for artists at the heart of the Fringe, and on Fringe Connect, our online home for artists. The Arts Industry office accredited 1,354 producers, programmers, bookers, talent agencies, festivals and others from 45 countries, looking to find work, tour it and support artists beyond the festival itself. They were joined by over 770 of the world’s media, and 147 delegates who participated in Screen Fringe.

The communities, learning and access team worked on a number of key initiatives, including loaning out 150 sensory backpacks for autistic children and adults.  BSL interpretation took place in West Parliament Square on five days of the festival, and a dedicated Changing Places toilet was located beside George Square.

The Society worked with over 30 Edinburgh charities and community groups to distribute over £60,000 of Fringe vouchers and Lothian bus tickets, enabling residents from across the city to experience the festival, many for the very first time.  In addition, over 900 schoolchildren came to the Fringe as part of our schools’ outreach work.

Shona McCarthy, CEO of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: “Our enormous congratulations go out to everyone who came together to create the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  This year’s festival is the first step in what will be a long road to recovery and renewal.  The hard work of thousands of artists, and hundreds of venues, producers and staff has combined to deliver the 75th anniversary festival during one of the most challenging summers on record.

We recognise the significant amount of work that is still required to support the long-term sustainability of this phenomenal Festival.  As we review and discuss all the learnings from this year, our focus this autumn will be on planning for the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe.   Collectively we will work to advocate for greater support for those at the heart of the Fringe – our artists.  The eyes of the world look to this historic city every August, and we need to work together to ensure the Fringe is the best place for creatives to express their ideas, audiences to support them and for people across the sector to develop their skills and careers for the next 75 years.”

Benny Higgins, Chair of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, added: “I add my congratulations to those that worked tirelessly this August to deliver the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  The importance of this festival cannot be underestimated.  Artists use the Fringe as a place to perform, connect and springboard onto their next career opportunity. 

Recovery takes time, and that is why in June we launched our future development goals.  The Society acts to offer anyone a stage and everyone a seat, and there is much to do in the coming months.  We need to ensure the Fringe is the best place for thriving artists, while ensuring fair work and good citizenship.  Our digital experience will be key to delivering our climate action targets, and we need to do more to ensure who you are, and where you’re from, is not a barrier to attending or participating in the Fringe.”

As a charity, the work of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society would not be possible without the valuable support of our partners, sponsors and funders. We are hugely grateful to the support of partners City of Edinburgh Council, EventScotland, Creative Scotland, The Scottish Government, British Council, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, St James Quarter and Nuveen.  Our thanks to sponsors TikTok, Johnnie Walker Princes Street, Edinburgh Gin and Cirrus Logic. Our continued appreciation also to our Fringe Angels, Patrons, Friends and supporters who help make the Fringe happen each year.

Next year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe will run from 04 – 28 August 2023.

New Diorama & Underbelly Announce Return of Untapped Award for Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

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·       Applications are now open for Underbelly & New Diorama’s 2022 Untapped Award, newly supported by Methuen Drama.

·       After missing two years, the Award is expanded to support four companies with greater cash investment and support than ever.

·       Nationwide search commences for exciting, new talent, following the Award’s hitmaking record with companies including Breach and Nouveau Riche.

Applications open today (Tuesday 15th February, 2022) for the return of the Underbelly & New Diorama Untapped Award,supported by Methuen Drama. With a deadline of 14th March, a nationwide hunt is now on for exciting, new early and mid-career artists from across the UK, looking to present bold ensemble theatre at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022.

After missing the 2020 & 2021 editions, the Untapped Award’s post-pandemic return is bigger and better than ever, making up for lost time with more support and companies receiving even greater investment than before. Up to four companies will each receive; a £5,000 cash grant provided by Underbelly and New Diorama, brilliant programming slots at Underbelly at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on an enhanced deal, paid-for PR & marketing support, plus the option for publication by Methuen Drama and rehearsal space at New Diorama’s acclaimed NDT Broadgate hub in London.

The deadline for applications is 10am, Monday 14th March, 2022.

The Untapped Award has a trailblazing record for supercharging ambitious new work at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and propelling companies to national profile. Previous Untapped recipients and productions include Breach Theatre’s Fringe First Award-winner It’s True It’s True It’s True which went on to a sell-out London run and BBC TV broadcast; Nouveau Riche’s Stage Award-winner Queens of Sheba, still touring nationally and currently enjoying a third sell-out run at Soho Theatre; and Burnt Lemon Theatre’s Tokyo Rose which has transferred to some the UK’s largest musical theatre houses.

“The Untapped trio ranked among the best of the entire festival, proof that support from organisations like Underbelly and New Diorama can pay off in spades.”Matt Trueman, WhatsOnStage

Full details and application portal are now live at

David Byrne, New Diorama Artistic Director, said: “Through lockdowns, the most consistent email I received from new artists was asking if we were going to bring back Untapped. I couldn’t be happier to announce our most substantial package ever, with a brand-new partner. Summer 2022 is going to culminate in a legendary Edinburgh Fringe, I’m delighted NDT will be there with some of the UK’s most exciting new theatre.”

Underbelly Co-Directors, Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood said: “Underbelly has always been committed to supporting and developing new work at the Fringe and the Untapped Award plays a crucial part in achieving this, which is why we are thrilled to be able to bring it back this year after a two-year hiatus. The brand-new partnership and support from Methuen Drama will enhance the Untapped Award further, making it one of the best offers available to theatre companies wanting to present their work at the Fringe. We cannot wait to see what 2022 will bring.”


New Diorama Theatre is a pioneering venue dedicated to providing a home for the country’s best independent theatre companies and ensembles. Based on the corner of Regent’s Park in London, over the last 10 years New Diorama has been at the heart of a movement in British theatre, with work commissioned and produced at the venue frequently touring nationally and internationally, including regular transfers Off-Broadway.

In February 2022, New Diorama was named Fringe Theatre of the Year at the Stage Awards, marking the second time the venue has won that award in its short history. New Diorama has also previously won three prestigious Peter Brook Awards and seven OffWestEnd Awards for their programme, been named Fringe Theatre of The Year at The Stage Awards, OffWestEnd Artistic Director of the Year, and won The Stage’s Innovation Prize for our radical programming model.

In 2021, New Diorama opened the revolutionary NDT Broadgate, a brand new 20,000 square foot rehearsal and development complex offered entirely free to independent artists to support post-Covid recovery.


Underbelly is a UK based live entertainment company that specialises in producing and programming ground-breaking theatrical productions and the creation of city centre the creation of city centre cultural events and festivals. Established in 2000 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Underbelly has since produced shows and events in locations from theatres to roundabouts from London and Edinburgh to Asia. In 2019, we welcomed more than 9 million people to our productions, events and festivals. 

Underbelly is one of the leading venue producers at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Highlights of our 21 years at the festival include presenting Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag in 2013, Marlow & Moss’ SIX in 2018, Manual Cinema’s Ada/Ava in 20161927’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea in 2007and Life Jacket’s America is Hard to See in 2019.On the West End, Underbelly is co-producing the celebrated revival of Cabaret, starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley, with Ambassador Theatre Group Productions.

Current London festivals include Underbelly Festival, London Wonderground at Earls Court and Christmas in Leicester Square. Underbelly is also the event production partner for West End Live in Trafalgar Square (on behalf of Westminster City Council and Society of London Theatre) and Pride in London. In Scotland, we produce Underbelly at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh’s Christmas, and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. In 2020, in lieu of live events, we produced the Fare Well drone film for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay which was seen by a global audience of over 1 billion. 

Other recent credits include Five Guys Named Moe (Marble Arch Theatre) Olivier Award nominated for Best Entertainment; Austentatious (Fortune Theatre); and La Clique (London and Singapore, 2021).

Contact information is:


Methuen Drama, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, has been publishing landmark works of dramatic literature for over a century, beginning in 1889 with the publication of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Today, Methuen Drama provides a thriving frontlist of leading contemporary playwrights, theatre scholarship, performance and backstage guides as well as the award-winning digital library Drama Online for playtexts, audio and video resources.