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Edinburgh Fringe Shouldn’t Exist In A Civilised Society

The 76th Edinburgh Fringe festival has begun but there is concern some parts of the event may be under threat because of the financial climate.
Organisers of the Edinburgh Fringe have declared the situation has reached a “crisis point” and also admitted the event’s long-running financial model is “no longer viable for anyone”.

The boss of one of the Fringe’s biggest venue operators, Assembly Festival has warned the company may not survive another year due to a £1.5m debt and was surviving on a short-term loan.

The Stage Awards and The Total Theatre Awards, both key opportunities where talent is discovered, won’t go ahead this year. Indeed, ministers respond to growing hardship by telling the public to just work more hours.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh International Festival director Nicola Benedetti has cautioned that the city is facing an “identity crisis”

Does it matter? This year marks the second largest programming on record, with 3,535 shows registered in 248 venues, it is the Fringe that dominates the city each year and nothing seems to stand in its way. Furthermore, according to a report from The Scotsman, local business and hotels indicate demand for accommodation suggests that the attendance rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

Business as usual. 

But I would say it does matter for several reasons. My real concern, in viewing the ecology of the Fringe are for performers and audiences from low-income backgrounds – incurring debt and making huge sacrifices to be there – accessing the festival. 

What record breaking tourism ignores is that, in the complex ecology of British theatre, everything is interconnected.

In some ways, the “crisis point’ feels most emblematic of all the current systemic failings and their knock-on costs to ordinary people who simply cannot afford them.

Since right now, civilised long weekend accommodation would set you back £1,300-2,000 for four nights – flats are being listed at around £10,000 for the month – that is before travel, food, and theatre tickets.

In a sobering read, The Guardian ran a piece recently that featured performers considering the financial risks. 

As one act puts it: “If you break even that’s a bonus… It’s not just about bums on seats, the more important thing is using the fringe to generate relationships with people interested in the work. We should end up with tour dates for 2024. That’s why you go. It’s an investment.”

Anyhow. Times critic Clive Davis, meanwhile, summed it up in his column: “For the past couple of days I’ve been staying in a run-down student block near Holyrood. My room is cell-like and the soundproofing so flimsy that I can hear the woman in the next room clearing her throat. Four of us are sharing a shower and toilets; on the first day I was here there was no hot water.”

Oh dear.

If all this wasn’t implausible enough, I can only congratulate a group of performers who travelled from the US staying in a disused Cold War bunker after being quoted £30,000 for accommodation in the city centre of Edinburgh for the month of August.

For that you can blame the greed of Edinburgh City Council who, by disobeying the simple rules of supply and demand, have reduced the market value of the Fringe to the point that, sooner or later, it will inevitably collapse.

Too little too late. Sigh.

Anyway, I will be in Edinburgh for 4 nights (17-21 Aug). If you have show tips, email mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com – I’ll be updating this blog daily. 

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Here’s Your Definitive Guide to Edinburgh Fringe 2022 (you’re welcome)

It’s nearly that time again: Edinburgh is set to host more than 3,000 shows when it starts next week.

The Fringe was cancelled completely in 2020 because of the pandemic but made a limited return last year with about 600 shows. But, top venues have warned that ticket sales are down by about a third relative to pre-pandemic levels, with the cost of living crisis, summer’s travel disruption and Covid cited as reasons.

I have no idea why the bone brained bosses made the horrendous decision not to have an app for this year’s event. And don’t get me started on the scandalous accommodation costs. Not a great look. Removing barriers to attending the Fringe for artists and audiences is a key priority for the Fringe Society.

(There’s always the Free Fringe, though, if you are feeling the pinch.)

Gulp.

First up: Lauryn Redding’s terrific Bloody Elle. First seen at The Royal Exchange, this gig musical is full of quirky original music performed live on stage. At Traverse, obvs.

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

Next, I’m curious to see Uma Nada-Rajah’s new dark comedy Exodus, at Traverse, too. It’s about politicians and posturing, and exposes systematic deception and indifference to human suffering.     

I am looking forward to seeing Afghanistan is Not Funny by Fringe veteran Henry Naylor at Gilded Balloon, Teviot. 

Elsewhere, Silent Faces ask why half the world’s population is excluded in a funny, pop-culture piece Godot is a Woman, at Pleasance Dome. If you need to laugh (don’t we all) don’t miss fleet-footed Nina Conti’s hilarious The Dating Show at Pleasance Courtyard

Horizon – Performance Created in England is back with its second showcase, this year focussing on tour-ready performancesa curated programme of ten artists making vital, genre challenging work. Check it out.

Feminist and female-led Rash Dash are always up to something daring. This year, they present Look At Me Don’t Look At Me – a two-hander featuring a piano, a synth, two microphones, a shaky egg and 14 original songs. 

Over at Assembly Checkpoint is Americana – A Murder Ballad – an intriguing premiere by leading Scottish playwright Morna Young. 

At Gilded Balloon Justin Huertas’s wildly original musical Lizard Boy unpacks self-love and acceptance, and particularly finding love today as a gay person of colour.

Lizard Boy

Indeed, Summerhall is essential for any Fringe visit. While you’re there go and see Invisible Mending; a show about love, grief, and knitting. Also: grab a ticket for Maimuna Memon’s Manic Street CreatureBill Buckhurst (Sister Act) directsCarly Wijs (Us/Them) returns to Summerhall with Boy. Don’t miss it. While you are there, have a G&T and head over to Luke Hereford’s fun autobiographical queer cabaret, Grandmother’s Closet.

Among other highlights, Caligari at Underbelly Cowgate, I’m sure, will be a riot: Five actor-musicians reimagine the seminal silent film, with the doctor’s victims taking centre stage. While you are there, go and see Max Fosh’s bonkers but brilliant drama-comedy Zocial Butterfly. I really want to catch Cassie and the Lights; a spellbinding play with music about children and the care system, too.

Paines Plough’s Roundabout is usually good value for money. Get along to world premieres Sami Ibrahim’s A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain – a poetic fable of an immigration system that mirrors our own. In Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s play Half Empty Glasses, a young Black student who auditions for a prestigious music school, but becomes disenchanted by the lack of Black names on the curriculum.

Half Empty Glasses – photo by Paines Plough

Over at Greenside, storyteller Kim Kalish’s The Funny Thing About Death looks like a tonic. Brain and Hemingway  piece about a songwriter with severe writer’s block – also looks fun.

If you missed the laddish Olivier Award nominated Choir of Man originally here in 2017, or last year in London, you can catch it once more.

Succession fans will want to take a walk over to Assembly George Square to catch a glimpse of legend Brian Cox. The actor and his wife have teamed up to produce new play She/Her. A hot ticket. 

So, there you have it, that’s the end of my Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022 guide.

It’s good to be back, isn’t it?

Choir of Man

Anyway, I hope you have found some use in this guide to what the Fringe world has on offer. 

If you have show tips, tweet me: @mrcarl_woodward – I’ll be updating this blog weekly.