Demand is said to have suddenly exploded for shows at the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) and Fringe ahead of what is now expected to be a bumper opening weekend.
The run-up to the 75th-anniversary season of the festivals had been overshadowed by concerns over slow ticket sales and the potential impact of a post-pandemic industry-wide trend for late booking, the cost of accommodation in Edinburgh, the prospect of disruption from train strikes and the cost-of-living crisis.
However, the dramatic recovery at the box office has seen some venue operators reporting sales falling into line with 2019, which turned into the strongest year for sales in the history of the festivals.
More than 4,400 shows, events and exhibitions are due to be staged in Edinburgh by the end of the month, with nearly 3,500 registered with the Fringe to date.
The hottest tickets in the EIF programme include the plays Muster Station at Leith Academy and Medea at The Hub, as well as Alan Cumming’s Robert Burns-inspired dance show Burn.
EIF director Fergus Linehan said: "It feels fantastic at the moment.
"The city centre has exploded into life over the last few days and so have our bookings. There is just a real sense of everybody being back.
“We have seen a real spike both in terms of ticket sales and industry people who would normally make their plans much earlier.
"There seems to be a sudden last-minute rush from people who don’t want to miss out on Edinburgh and its full festival season.
"Some of the shows that are booking very heavily at the moment are going to sell out, so this is the time for people to really get on it.”
Anthony Alderson, artistic director at the Pleasance, one of the biggest Fringe venues, said: “The huge spike in sales is exactly what we needed to show there is confidence in this amazing event and these amazing artists.“We’ve seen a fantastic bump in sales in the last week. We’ve had lots of shows already on our sold-out board and there’s a buzz and excitement across the city.”
Underbelly director Charlie Wood said: “Our sales are well up compared to our last full Fringe in 2019. We’re expecting our opening weekend to be very busy.
"The energy around town is remarkable – people seem hungry for live experience. We’d encourage people to book now for the weekend.
"Additionally, each Wednesday and Thursday throughout the festival, we are offering local residents with an EH, G or KY postcode a special 20 per cent discount across the entire Underbelly programme.”
David Greig, artistic director at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, said: “We're delighted with Lyceum ticket sales as this is our first year presenting a full programme alongside the Fringe and the Book Festival.
"We're hosting two fringe favourites in the Lyceum studio, both Tim Crouch's Truth's A Dog Must to Kennel and Mara Menzies' Blood and Gold are proving popular with audiences, the reprise of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Heart at the Playfair Library opens this weekend to busy houses - and This Is Memorial Device opening with the book festival is already almost sold out for the whole run.
"People want to see new work, they want to revisit favourites and we are so excited to see audiences are as ready for live, in-person performance as we are - come down and join us.”
Graham Main, executive director at Summerhall, said: “As we head into the first weekend, with many previews already performed, sales continue to be comparative with 2019.
"The venue feels better than normal, our courtyard is buzzing already and our murals celebrating 75 years of the festivals are a huge hit.”
A spokeswoman for the Fringe Society said: “As the Fringe enters its opening weekend, we are pleased to see the collective efforts of artists, venues and the Fringe Society in promoting this extraordinary festival convert into promising audiences, especially with the cost-of-living crisis and travel disruptions across the UK creating uncertainty.
"We know the return of the Fringe is hugely welcomed by audiences and, as the buzz in the city continues to build, we look forward to welcoming them from home and abroad over the next few weeks.”