Edinburgh Fringe booms as ticket sales up a third

LEADING Fringe figures have reported booming ticket sales – despite the event going head-to-head with the Edinburgh International Festival for the first time in almost two decades.
Korean performers promote the Edinburgh Festival Fringe show Pan on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Picture: PAKorean performers promote the Edinburgh Festival Fringe show Pan on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Picture: PA
Korean performers promote the Edinburgh Festival Fringe show Pan on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Picture: PA

Sales have soared by up to a third at some venues as huge crowds have descended on the city centre, with some promoters reporting their best ever box office performance over the weekend.

Rather than drawing Fringe audiences away, the general consensus has been that the Fringe has benefited from the realignment of the two events for the first time since 1997.

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Promoters insist crowd numbers have swelled dramatically in the space of 12 months, with no distractions like last year’s Commonwealth Games, which coincided with the first five days of Fringe shows, or the London Olympics, which ran for an additional week.

Despite the clash with Glasgow’s sporting extravaganza, Fringe ticket sales were up 12 per cent, with more than two million sold for the first time.

New EIF director Fergus Linehan sprang a surprise last year when he revealed that he had decided to bring his event forward a week for his debut programme as he felt audiences were being left “short-changed” if they came to concerts in the final week of the event only to find the Fringe was over.

The EIF had previously been staged on roughly the same dates since 1983, but the Fringe sparked a bitter row in 1998 when it decided to move a week earlier in the calendar to try to attract bigger audiences. The two events had been running together since they were both launched in 1947.

The EIF has already revealed that its advance ticket sales were up almost a quarter for this year, with £3 million being taken at the box office ahead of its opening night event, a free sound and light show outside the Usher Hall, which drew an estimated 19,000 people onto the streets.

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Anthony Alderson, artistic director of the Pleasance, said: “It’s been an incredible start so far. We’re currently up around 35 per cent on this time last year, which is an astonishing position to be in. By 6pm on Saturday we had sold out every single show in our programme.

“It’s a lot busier this year, there seem to be many more people around and it has felt like the middle week of the Fringe, but we still have a long way to go. The success of the festival isn’t decided until the last week.

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“The one thing we have no control over has been the weather, which has been absolutely fantastic. Our courtyard has been buzzing and shows have been selling out left, right and centre.

“The Commonwealth Games had a big effect on the Fringe last year. It really delayed the start of things properly by four or five days. There’s no doubt that if there’s something else big happening in the country then the festival is going to feel the impact of that.”

Charlie Wood, director of Underbelly, which has launched a new two-venue circus arena on the Meadows this year, told The Scotsman: “We had our second-largest ever gross box office performance on Saturday, and we literally couldn’t fit any more shows onto our ‘sold out’ board.

“We are definitely up, seat for seat, on previous years. We were very pleasantly surprised all of last week. Even ‘Suicide Wednesday’, as it is always called, was great.

“The opening event of the Edinburgh International Festival was fantastic – it brought people into the city, it put it onto the front page of newspapers and it basically said: ‘Edinburgh is open.’ It was a great message to send out.”

William Burdett-Coutts, Assembly Theatre’s artistic director, added: “We are 30 per cent up on this time last year. I think that’s partly down to the dates joining up again. It definitely makes more of an impact when everything is happening in Edinburgh at the same time.

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“I have always felt that the EIF and the Fringe should share the same dates. I’ve always been an advocate of the events working together. But another factor is that there is no big sporting event clashing with us this year.”