After a pandemic-induced cancellation and a significantly scaled back return, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe returned last month.
The Fringe programme was back to around 90% of it’s pre-pandemic levels. But has the Fringe itself gone too far? Has the sheer scale of the programme eclipsed the whole point of the Fringe itself?
A number of high profile performers complained on social media about a lack of reviewers coming to see shows this year.
That speaks to both a combination of stripped arts coverage in newspapers and the inability for freelance reviewers (like me) to cover the sheer number of shows taking place, especially as we juggle full time jobs and other committees.
Variety is surely one of the greatest joys of the Fringe – you can turn up one morning with no plans at all and by the end of the day, you’ve seen a musical, comedy, had a trip to the circus and listened to music from the other side of the world.
But the immense scale and size of the Festivals – and the Fringe most acutely – could end up being their downfall.
There is a feeling that too much choice isn’t always necessarily a good thing. The programme itself can be so overwhelming it’s easier to just jump through for a few drinks and “soak up the atmosphere” without actually catching a single show.
After the tribulations of the pandemic, it’s been great to see Edinburgh’s streets bustling with tourists from all over the world. These audiences were always going to return – and are crucial to the success of the month-long festival.
But to secure the future of the Fringe, it’s Scotland’s domestic audience that need to be listened to.
For one, the balance needs to be re-struck with local Edinburgh residents who feel that the Festivals happen to them, as they lose their own city for a month of the year. Having a sense of ownership of the Fringe will be crucial in that rebalance.
And for many outside Edinburgh across Scotland, the Fringe is either too big to tackle or feels inaccessible because of a lack of accommodation.
A fellow theatre critic recently questioned why Glasgow has decided to shun the Fringe. Of course, us Weegies won’t ever give Edinburgh the credit it deserves any month of the year… but many in Scotland’s biggest city wouldn’t even know it was on.
There used to be a Fringe ticket booth in Glasgow’s Queen Street Station – now you’d never know the world’s biggest arts festival is taking place just 40 minutes down the road.
My view on this is clear – the Fringe needs a rethink in both its size and it’s accessibility.
Exorbitant rates for accommodation mean you can’t stay in the city to really soak up the atmosphere and puts a stop to staycation breaks for Scots.
And a super-expansive programme means two things; you’ll never get round to see even a fraction of what you want to, so end up seeing nothing – and odds of a show being good are diluted as the number of shows expand.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of the greatest joys to attend each year – and this year has been no different. But let’s bring Scotland on board with the Fringe – or we risk condemning its fate for good.