• The World's Largest Arts Festival?
  • History of the Fringe
  • Fringe Highlights
  • International Festival Highlights

    The World's Largest Arts Festival?

    More than half a million people plan their August holidays around a trip to Edinburgh to take part in the 'world's largest arts festival'.

    And with that statement, the confusion around the phenomenon that is Edinburgh begins. Commonly seen as a singular 'Festival', Edinburgh in August is in reality six different events including the original, eponymous Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, the Military Tattoo (6-28 August), a Jazz and Blues Festival (30 July - 8 August), Film Festival (15-29 August)and a Book Festival (14-30 August) as well as a concurrent a Festival of Contemporary Arts.

    For the second time this year, the two stalwarts - the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe - will be running slightly out of synch. The Fringe will be starting one week earlier than the EIF, running 8 to 30 August. The International Festival will run from 15 August to 4 September.

    With so much going on in a single city, it should come as little surprise that all normal business effectively stops in the Scottish capital as the annual event spills out into every major - and not so major - theatre and concert space (including pubs, restaurants and plots of grass) in the city.

    The event, which celebrates its 52nd birthday this year, aims to bring together an international mix of cultural events for all while also promoting the Scottish arts and culture to international visitors. This is important as 20% of visitors are from overseas and 30% from areas in the UK outside Scotland.

    The event has also proved vital for the local economy. Altogether, the seven events generate £122m each year and sustain over 4,000 jobs in Scotland.

    History of the Fringe

    The most popular component of the seven-headed beast, the Festival Fringe, began by accident. In 1947, the first International Festival, attracted more performers than planned for. Eight theatre groups, who showed up uninvited, would not be deterred by lack of support or venue. They performed on the streets and on make-shift stages around the official sites and earned a reputation amongst press and audiences alike.

    In 1955, the number of non-approved and supported groups had grown and, in order to co-ordinate their efforts, formed The Festival Fringe Society. Today, the Fringe, an eclectic mix of independent bodies, is by far the largest and most well-attended aspect of the three weeks.

    This year it comprises 14,562 performers from 607 companies producing 1,346 shows - from music to theatre, opera, dance, visual and performance art, discussions and children's events. In all, the Fringe will run for 696 combined hours, with a performance beginning every two minutes. The Fringe Press Office has produced some amusing statistics to demonstrate just how mammoth this is. Such as.... If every different show was a meter in height, the Fringe would still outstretch the highest mountain in Scotland, Ben Nevis, by three meters.

    Fringe Highlights

    Theatre fans have a cornucopia of choice this year at the Edinburgh Fringe, with 514 events in this category (the largest by far). The tradition that absolutely no subject is taboo is adhered to closely this year with plays covering a wide variety of topical issues from human cloning to Nostradamus and the millennium bug.

    The Fringe continues to be a launchpad for new work with hundreds of premieres - world, European and British - in this year s programme. That s 75% of the shows which qualify for Fringe First Awards (new drama which has had no more than six performances in the UK).

    Time-honoured works include 23 different versions of Shakespeare including a Caribbean Tempest, Romeo and Juliet seen through the eyes of the nurse, a Merchant of Venice replete with gender wars and discos and Edward Petherbridge, seen last year in the RSC's Krapp's Last Tape, as the playwright himself.

    The party highlight of the Fringe schedule will be Fringe Sunday (15 August) which brings together a cross-section of hundreds of performers for a full day (11am - 5pm) of festival entertainment. The free festivities, held in Holyrood Park, are expected to draw 200,000 visitors.

    International Festival Highlights

    The Fringe's more upmarket parent will itself stage some 167 performances, ranging from premiere theatrical productions through to contemporary Chinese opera, innovative modern choreography and series of concerts featuring the music of the pipes.

    Theatre highlights include Marguerite Duras' India Song, a new adaptation of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths and, via Dublin's Abbey Theatre, a new play by Tom Murphy called The Wake.

    For more programme information on non theatre-related festivals, visit our links page for access to all the festivals websites.