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Assembly Changes the Landscape

It is weird to find Assembly on the other side of town, forced out of George Street to make way soon for offices and a Jamie Oliver restaurant.

The debate over whether this makes the "fringe village" of Assembly, Underbelly, Gilded Balloon and Pleasance an ideal agglomeration or a nightmare collision has yet to begin.

But it does concentrate critics and public alike in one comparatively small area. And even the pounding hell hole of C Venues is only just up the road in Chambers Street.

Everything seemed pretty hellish anyway in yesterday's torrential rain, and Edinburgh and Lothian are on red alert flood warnings again today. Damp critics and soggy copy are predicted in all areas, with a few rays of comedy sunshine if you're lucky later on.

I was drawn to a marquee by the Gilded Balloon proclaiming "Well Hung and Tender." Taking this to be a reference to Warren Beatty or some local Casanova, I was intrigued. Turns out they're just selling burgers. But what burgers! Make a beeline, people.

I was seeking sustenance with my colleague Theo Bosanquet after the Pleasance launch across the road, where I found artistic director Anthony Alderson in chipper form and smartly turned out in a dark suit and pocket handkerchief.

The Gilded Balloon launch on Thursday was the usual chaotic but highly enjoyable scrum, Phil Jupitus giving it large with Steve Frost, and luscious publicist Sally Homer getting me snapped with her in a compromised pose that could yet cause trouble.

No sign yet of Bill Burdett-Coutts of Assembly, though I know he's busy and bustling, nor of Jim Haynes, the father of the fringe.

There are two new bars for the pros: the Assembly at the bottom of a hideous university building, hopefully done up as a dank Victorian salon, but not busy. The Underbelly's new Abattoir is a bit nicer, even if it does look like a garden centre; there's also a smoking area out back, but that was no comfort to the inhalers last night as the rain was extinguishing anything they lit up.

I found producer David Johnson smooching with Dillie Keane of Fascinating Aida, and Herald critic Neil Cooper, happily recovered from having impaled his own armpit on his bed head at home. Neil was off to catch the second performance of What Remains in the glorious Medical School of the University.

I'd just seen the first one and all I can say is, I needed a drink. Grid Iron's production makes Punchdrunk look like modern masters, and I'm not all that keen anyway on badly acted installation theatre with whimsical, unexplained exhibits.

The Traverse has only scored one out of four for me so far, but I shall soon be pulling on my waterproofs to swim to the other end of Princes Street and see if that strike rate improves on a big Sunday programme including Zinnie Harris's latest and Mark Almond in Mark Ravenhill.

Talking of Princes Street: the WH Smith has gone, and you are very hard pushed to find newspapers or books anywhere around town. There's a real sense of recession and closing down. How will the city, and the festival, survive another few years?



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