The programme has been launched for the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which runs this year from 3 to 27 August 2012 at venues across the Scottish capital.

The 66th annual Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, involves over 20,000 performers presenting 42,096 shows in 279 venues. It features a record-breaking 2,695 show – 153 (6%) more than last year.

The Fringe box office opens today (31 May) at 12.00pm on 0131 226 0000 or online at www.edfringe.com.

The festival faces competition this year from the London Olympics, though several productions are running as part of the 12-week London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the cultural Olympiad. As a way to encourage more local audiences to attend the Fringe tickets will for the first time be sold in Glasgow (at the city’s Queen Street Station) as well as Edinburgh.

Theatre highlights

The programme features 36% comedy and 28% theatre. Marquee names in the latter category include the transfer of the Menier Chocolate Factory's revival of Educating Rita starring Matthew Kelly and Claire Sweeney to Assembly George Square. The same venue also plays host to Re-Animator The Musical based on HP Lovecraft’s seminal piece, which will sees George Wendt, better known as Norm from Cheers, make his second trip to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 

There is satire aplenty this year: comedians Jo Caulfield and Alistair Barrie star in Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky’s show Coalition (Pleasance) while, in a piece of new writing from Rab C Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison, Des Maclean will tell the story of former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan in I, Tommy (Gilded Balloon). Election: A Silent Comedy (Bedlam) takes a slapstick approach to policy and campaigning and in Tony Benn: Will and Testament (Assembly Rooms) the former Minister shares some of his life experience. 

Two shows talking about the media and the ongoing Leveson Inquiry are One Rogue Reporter (Pleasance) where former tabloid journalist Rich Peppiat spills the beans of his former employers and Journos (The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall) is the world premiere of Adam Jordan Donaldson’s new play about the world of journalism.

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee will be marked with La Clique Royale - The Queen’s Selection (Famous Spiegeltent) which promises to be "better than the Royal Variety Performance". Maurice’s Jubilee (Pleasance) sees Julian Glover and Sheila Reid in a brand new play by Nichola McAuliffe and Tea With The Old Queen (C venues) tells the true story of the Queen Mother’s butler ‘Backstairs Billy’.

And as more and more media attention in Scotland is consumed by the forthcoming 2014 referendum there are a number of shows dealing with Scottish identity. Two of Scotland’s comedy perennials tackle the big questions in Vladimir McTavish and Keir McAllister Look at the State of Scotland (Stand Comedy Club).  Glasvegas – The Original 1977 Musical (Zoo) tells the story of Scotland’s other city and Communicado’s Tam O’Shanter (Assembly Hall) brings together different pieces of Burns poetry to create a raucous piece of theatre.

Traverse and Northern Stage

The Traverse, under new artistic director Orla O'Loughlin, will once again be a top destination for theatrelovers with a programme including new plays by Simon Stephens (Morning), Daniel Kitson (As of 1.52GMT on Friday April 27th 2012, This Show Has No Title), Mark Thomas (Bravo Figaro!) and Phil Porter (Blink). It will also stage a double-bill of works by Scottish writers David Greig and David Harrower: Greig's The Letter of Last Resort, starring Belinda Lang and Simon Chandler (which premiered as part of the Tricycle Theatre’s The Bomb cycle) and Harrower’s Good With People, featuring Blythe Duff, which started life at Òran Mór and Paines Plough’s 2010 season of A Play, a Pie and a Pint.

Elsewhere, Newcastle's Northern Stage have secured Arts Council England support to establish their own venue this year. Northern Stage at St Stephen’s will allow them to present their work alongside performances from other companies from the North East of England. Shows at the venue include Best in the World which promises live darts while Oh, The Humanity and Other Good Intentions is a collection of five New York plays and Tea is an Evening Meal sees "Lancashire lass" Faye welcome the audience round the teatime table.

And for the first time Old Vic New Voices have joined forces with Underbelly to bring a season of new work to Edinburgh.  Glory Dazed tells the story of a squaddie trying to re-adjust to civilian life and trying to win his ex-wife back. One Hour Only is a debate in a brothel between a first time punter and a first time prostitute.

The Olympic effect

With this year’s Fringe happening between the Olympic (27 July-12 August) and Paralympic (29 August-9 September) Games, a number of shows and events will have an Olmpic theme. The "world’s biggest burlesque club" will see 2,000 people gather for Club Noir Burlesque - The Games (HMV Picturehouse); Chariot: The Eric Liddell Story (Edinburgh Elim) tells the story of one of Scotland’s greatest Olympic athletes while Al Murray the Pub Landlord: The Guv’s Olympic Pub Quiz (Assembly George Square) promises to be the "ultimate Olympic Pub Quiz".

For children Jo Jingles Gets Fit for the Olympics (Craiglockhart Parish Church) is a Games-themed "musical extravaganza", while in Champion of Champions! (National Museum of Scotland) Scots storytelling duo Macastory will be hosting a mythological Olympic Games.

Chief executive Kath Mainland said: "This is the year of Creative Scotland and it is the year in which the world’s greatest sporting event, the Olympic and Paralympic Games, happens in London while the world’s greatest cultural event takes place in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is still the first choice for performers, producers, artists and creators to come and tell their story; we are proud that the Fringe is still the place to bring your work, with opportunities to amaze, enthral and excite audiences from both far away and close to home."

For full coverage of Edinburgh - including news, gossip, reviews, blogs, features and video - visit www.whatsonstage.com/edinburgh.
Full countdown coverage begins mid-July…