EDINBURGH FRINGE: A few closing words
August, 2000

There has been a lot of solid work on this year's Fringe in all kinds of areas, but it has been two or three years since I found a show to fall in love with in that way that makes the whole Fringe experience pay off so luminously. It's possible that, in my twelfth year as a Fringe reviewer, I have grown to play it rather safe in my selection of shows; still, wherever two or three meet together, it is decreed that one will ask, "Seen anything good, then?", and there has been a marked absence of passionate replies this year. The various lists of award-winners have been generally unsurprising, and in particular the Perrier comedy award verdicts (Rich Hall as Otis Lee Crenshaw taking the big silver bottle, with Noble & Silver as best newcomers) are unlikely to have bankrupted many bookies.

The consensus among both the Fringe community and the city's inhabitants is that visitor numbers are noticeably down; in part, perhaps, the result of the strong pound. It has certainly been striking at by midnight on weekdays even main streets have been all but deserted. In 1998, the average number of spectators per Fringe performance was eleven; I would not be surprised to find it back to single figures this year.

The "supervenues" have continued to dominate, but with their own problems; the Assembly Rooms, having overcome hostility from the city fathers to the renewal of William Burdett-Coutts's licence, were bailed out by sponsorship from The Scotsman newspaper which raises questions of conflict of interest for the paper that offers the most comprehensive reviews coverage, albeit rather slimmed down this year. Meanwhile the Pleasance found its reputation as the most popular late-night hang-out torpedoed by a refusal of late licenses for its outdoor courtyard bars; representations from local residents about nocturnal revellers may turn out to have resulted in the same amount of noise simply being telescoped into a slightly earlier but much shorter period of time.

The apparent decline in numbers and excitement might, however, have at least partially arrested the growing "trade fair" atmosphere in which theatre and comedy artists come to Edinburgh not as an end in itself but to get signed up for further and bigger things. It is probably too early to predict with any certainty a return to the individual rather than the corporate experience, but one can only hope. For when it happens, it is a transcendently joyous experience. On my brief trip back to London in mid-season, I met a number of colleagues spending their first August away from the Athens of the North and professing not to miss it a bit. Although I often feel during the rest of the year that I spend too long and try to do too much every time I'm here (this year's tally of six dozen shows in three weeks is, for me, a little on the light side), when the summer rolls around I know in my marrow that I don't really want it to be any other way

That concludes the voting of the Edinburgh jury. Merci, Londres, et bonsoir.

Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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