The 2008 Edinburgh Fringe programme, published today (5 June 2008), features a record-breaking 2,088 shows – 38 more than last year. The 62nd annual Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, runs this year from 3 to 25 August 2008 and involves an estimated 18,792 performers from 46 countries presenting 31,320 performances of those shows in 247 venues.

Theatre makes up 29 percent of this year’s programme. Festival organisers have noted a concentration on topical issues and events shaping contemporary life. The unjust realities of current dictatorships are the focus of I Am Robert Mugabe, Requiem for Robert Mugabe (both, Exit Theatre) and The Burma Play - A Comedy of Terror (Northern International Theatre), which is supported by Amnesty International. The recent phenomenon of westerners travelling to Iran for cosmetic surgery is the focus of Plastic (30 Bird) and Blue on Blue (Play Ball Theatre) covers the collision of cultures on the battlefields of Afghanistan. The Virginia Tech University massacre is documented in The Boy from Centreville (Central School of Speech and Drama), Columbinus (Syracuse University Drama Department) returns to the horror of the Columbine High School killings and Architecting (TEAM & National Theatre of Scotland Workshop) delivers a requiem for modern America.

Closer to home, Deep Cut (Sherman Cymru) explores the deaths at Deepcut Barracks using dialogue based on testimonies from the investigation. Charlie Victor Romeo (Scamp Theatre in Association sith Mercury Colchester & Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds) goes one step further, using transcripts of real-life black box flight recordings. Pornography (Traverse Theatre Company & Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company) documents the period between London’s successful 2012 Olympic bid and the devastation of the 7/7 bombings.

Amongst the typically innovative Edinburgh audience experiences this year are: Scavengers (Joshua Sofaer/Escalator East To Edinburgh) where participants contribute to a unique exhibition after 40 teams follow the lead on clues across the city; Death by Chocolate (IMMI HQ), an interactive chocolate-tasting murder mystery; the Liar Show (Liarshow), in which audiences listen to four storytellers and decide which one is telling the truth; The Factory (Badac Theatre Company/Escalator East to Edinburgh in association with the Pleasance), which takes place in a cellar and conveys the experience of the Auschwitz/Birkenau gas chambers; The Caravan (Look Left Look Right), staged in a tiny caravan and conveying the plight of thousands of British people still living in temporary housing after the floods of 2007.

Audiences will be separated into different categories in Beautiful People (Don\'t Travel Economy) (Cattle Class Box Office & Robert Yule) and into different job roles at Office Party (Underbelly Productions and Assembly), two shows where the line between performers and audience is blurred. From interaction to voyeurism, Supper (Puppet Lab) allows people to eavesdrop, through headphones, on the thoughts of two couples at a dinner party.

Other theatre highlights include runs for Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress and Steven Berkoff’s stage adaptation of screen classic On the Waterfront, ahead of planned London transfers. Other big names taking part in this year’s Fringe include Michael Barrymore (reviving his performance as Spike Milligan in Surviving Spike), Ruby Wax, Simon Callow, Britt Ekland and Jill Halfpenny.

Jon Morgan, director of the Fringe, commented at today’s programme launch in Edinburgh: “The wide range of shows that connect with current issues in our world demonstrates that the Fringe is an incredibly flexible platform for artists. The Fringe was founded on the principle of open-access for all performers and it continues to be the best place to showcase new work.” Of this year’s programme, 40 percent are world premieres.

More than half a million people plan their August holidays each year around a trip to Edinburgh. Though commonly seen as one single festival, the event is in reality several different festivals - the main ones being the original Edinburgh International Festival (running this year from 8 to 31 August 2008), the Edinburgh Fringe, the Military Tattoo, the Film Festival and the Book Festival - of which the Fringe is, by far, the largest, representing 75 percent of the overall festival market share and annually generated around £75 million for the local economy.

For the first time this year, four of the leading Fringe venues – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly – have joined forces to create a “festival-within-a-festival” at the Fringe, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, to showcase their 253 stand-up contributions to this year’s event.

To access the full 2008 Edinburgh Fringe programme – including its wide range of comedy, music, dance, opera, children’s shows and other events - visit the festival website.

- by Terri Paddock