The programme has been launched for the 64th annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which runs from the 6 to 30 August 2010.

Among the big names involved this year are Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson, who's producing a show about sex trafficking, glamour model-turned-actress Abi Titmuss, starring in an anniversary revival of John Godber's Up 'n' Under, and Clarke Peters, who leads the cast in a new production of his Olivier Award-winning musical Five Guys Named Moe (See News, 12 May 2010).

This year's programme features a record 2,453 shows, a 17 percent increase on last year - of those, 29 percent are theatre (a one percent increase on last year), while comedy makes up 35 percent.

As well as the shows, there a several venue changes this year. Foremost among them, the Assembly Theatre is creating a new venue in the city's Princes Street Gardens, which will feature music, comedy, theatre and cabaret as well as an outdoor programme of free entertainment.

The Famous Spiegeltent will return this year in George Square, having been absent from last year's festival for “essential maintenance”. But George Square will no longer be the home of musicals on the Fringe – the Musical Theatre @ George Square venues will instead become C plaza.

In her programme introduction, Fringe Society chief executive Kath Mainland says: “The programme about to unfold before you is truly mind-blowing. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest, most engergetic, most brilliant festival in the world … And there truly is something for everyone at the Fringe, whether you're travelling to the festival from further afield, whether this is your first time at the Fringe or whether you're on of the many, many festival stalwarts”.

The cover, featuring a sketch of animals including a monkey, octopus and a butterfly, aims to highlight "the principle of open access", and was created from ideas tweeted by Fringe followers and drawn live by the illustrator Johanna Basford during a "two day Twitter extravaganza". 

Theatre highlights

The Traverse Theatre, one of the festival's most prestigious homes of new writing, this year stages new plays by Enda Walsh (Penelope), Craig Higginson (The Girl in the Yellow Dress, Daniel Kitson (It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later), Polly Teale and Linda Brogan (Speechless, produced by Shared Experience and Sherman Cymru), award-winning experimental company Ontroerend Goed (Teenage Riot), Sam Holcroft (While You Lie) and the transfer of Tim Crouch's The Author, which premiered at the Royal Court last year.

Elsewhere in the theatre pages are new shows from Fringe regular Simon Callow (Shakespeare – the Man from Stratford), John Godber's 25th Anniversary staging of his Olivier Award-winning comedy Up 'n' Under starring Abi Titmuss at Assembly @ George Street and Fair Trade at the Pleasance, a new drama about sex trafficking produced by Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson.

Speaking to the Scotsman, Thompson said: “I'm extremely proud to be involved in this production; it's one of the best scripts I've seen in years. Sex trafficking is a hugely important subject, and I believe we need as much art as we can get to help people understand what's going on out there."

A new play by Gyles Brandreth about Lewis Carroll, entitled Wonderland, gets its premiere at Assembly @ George Street, while the Underbelly plays host to Lovelace - a Rock Musical, centring on the life of porn star Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat.

'Staycation' effect

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, which launched its programme in March (See News, 17 Mar 2010), 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 generating around £75 million for the local economy.

Last year the Fringe achieved record-breaking box office figures thanks largely to the effect of people taking 'staycations' due to the downturn in the economy.

Speaking to the Herald, Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland said: "Last year surpassed all expectations. I think the ‘staycation’ effect was there, and people realised the Fringe was an extremely good way of seeing all kinds of entertainment in one place.

"Those economic conditions of last year, they haven’t gone away. It was a good thing for us because it put us back up there after 2008 (which suffered from the box office crisis) – but I think we would be mad if we expect to do that again."

In recent years, comedy has overtaken theatre as the dominant offering at the Fringe, representing 35 percent of the programme in 2010. In 2008, four of the leading Fringe venues – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly – joined forces to create a “festival-within-a-festival” at the Fringe, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, which showcases their hundreds of stand-up contributions.

To access the full 2010 Edinburgh Fringe programme – including its wide range of comedy, music, dance, opera, children’s shows and other events - visit the festival website.

The Whatsonstage.com team will be heading to Edinburgh again this year to bring you all the latest news, reviews, interviews and gossip from the festival frontline. Our microsite - whatsonstage.com/edinburgh2010 - will be launching in a few weeks (to view last year's microsite, click here).