(Tom Rees’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 7/31. Photo: A street entertainer performs on the Royal Mile during a previous Fringe Festival. Organisers are concerned another bad year for the event will take its toll on the city’s economy and the UK’s wider culture sector CREDIT: Getty.)


Edinburgh’s arts festival returns but will be a shadow of its former self as frustration builds in Scotland


The Edinburgh Fringe is usually months in the making, but organisers this year have had to throw the August festival together in a matter of weeks.

“We’ve pretty much only started putting this festival together three weeks ago, and normally everything would be finished at Easter time,” says William Burdett-Coutts, the artistic director of Assembly Festival, one of the Fringe’s biggest venue operators.

Burdett-Coutts is frantically preparing a slimmed down programme ahead of what Scots hope will be their own “freedom day” on Aug 9.

While the world’s largest arts festival may still be going ahead, it is set to suffer badly from the fallout of Covid for a second year running.

A Yellow Pages-sized programme of almost 4,000 shows in more than 300 venues before the pandemic has been stripped down to its bare bones and many comedians are doing far shorter runs.

“I normally run 23 venues and put on about 250 shows,” Burdett-Coutts says. “This year, I’ve got three stages, and I’m putting about 25 shows on. It’s a very small event compared to what we normally do but we felt it was important to try to keep the flag flying.”

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