Edinburgh Fringe programme 2018 announced

This year’s Fringe is as huge and sprawling as ever, with the future of the NHS and sex and consent in the age of #MeToo among the themes emerging from the programme of over 3500 shows

Article by Jamie Dunn | 06 Jun 2018
  • Fringe - Royal Mile

Today, the programme for the biggest art festival in the world has been announced. From 3 to 27 August, a total of 3548 shows will take place in 317 venues throughout Edinburgh, from Assembly Rooms to a big purple cow to the dankest pub basements known to humankind.

Quirky New Venues

There are also some quirky new venues in the mix this year. There's Cranston Caravan Club, which will offer a mix of performances and exhibitions in a repurposed 1960s caravan; the “Pianodrome” in the Botanic Gardens, which is made out of 55 recycled pianos; the supposedly smallest Fringe venue ever, which will occupy a city centre-based chicken coop for The World’s Smallest Comedy Show; and something called a Theatre Bath Bus, which will park up on the Meadows.

Leith Dockers Club is also involved in the Fringe for the first time, and should build on Leith’s increased involvement in the festival in recent years.

Fringe 2018 stats

While the Fringe brings a huge wave of innovative talent to Edinburgh, there are plenty of homegrown shows in this year’s programme, with 967 Scottish companies bringing work to the capital.

As has come to be the case, comedy makes up the bulk of these performances, with 35% of shows taking the form of stand-up or sketches. A further 27% of the programme is theatre, with the final 38% an eclectic mix of dance, circus, spoken word, music, cabaret and exhibition. Overall, 55 nations have work in the programme.

'Leap into the unknown'

Launching the programme today, Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, encouraged people planning to attend this year’s Fringe to “leap into the unknown.”

“Whether this is your first or your 50th time visiting the Fringe as a performer or audience member, this is a place where new discoveries wait around every corner,” said McCarthy. “There is no other festival in the world that offers such a broad or diverse range of cultural experiences. The Fringe is a festival that empowers its audiences to create their own adventure.”

The Fringe’s five year plan

This morning McCarthy also announced a recalibration of the Fringe’s outlook, following the festival’s landmark 70th anniversary last year. Taking the form of a blueprint for the festival’s short term future, McCarthy describes how this blueprint will guide the festival up to its 75th anniversary in 2022. “The Fringe Blueprint identifies new approaches to ensure anyone can participate, regardless of their background,” says McCarthy. “From driving down the cost of attendance to engaging young people in the arts and reaching out to underrepresented groups in Edinburgh and further afield, we want the Fringe to be the greatest festival on earth at which to perform, run a venue, develop a career, see shows and discover talent.”

Will the Fringe keep growing?

The eagle eyed of you will notice that the number of shows are considerably up on last year, and we know that Fringe pundits and commentators love nothing better than debating whether the festival is too large or too small. But McCarthy, speaking at a press briefing this morning, confirmed that this continual growth year on year isn’t a primary concern for her or the Fringe Society. “It’s not part of our agenda that the Fringe must continually grow, it’s not at all,” she said. “What we want to grow is the best possible experience that people have, whether you’re a participant or an audience member coming to the festival.”

Themes of this year’s Fringe

The art at the Fringe can act as a mirror to the world around us, and many themes emerging from this year’s programme reflect the pressing concerns of today’s society. “It’s really interesting that Fringe artists have taken on the 70th anniversary of the NHS,” notes McCarthy this morning. “There are a huge number of shows looking at health, mental health, wellbeing, and directly talking to that anniversary.” Among these vital shows are Mark Thomas – Check Up: Our NHS at 70 (Traverse), A Fortunate Man – a mixed-media collaboration between New Perspectives and Michael Pinchbeck concerned with how GP practice has changed in the last 50 years (Summerhall) – and Where It Hurts, which sees Jeremy Weller bringing together 18 local non-actors to share their experiences of seeking and providing care in the NHS.

Sex and consent is also on many Fringe performers’ minds. “Of course, given everything that we already knew, and that has come out particularly in the last year or so, the #MeToo theme will be large across the Fringe footprint this year,” notes McCarthy. The most eye-catching of these shows might be Cock, Cock... Who's There?, Samira Elagoz’s look at desire, the power of femininity and the male gaze in a world in which the virtual and the real are inextricably intertwined (Summerhall). There’s also Ayesha Hazarika: Girl on Girl, described as “a searing interrogation of where feminism finds itself in the wake of #MeToo” (Gilded Balloon) and Harriet Kemsley: Slutty Joan, which is concerned with the culture of slut shaming, and asks why sexual promiscuity carries such negative connotations (Voodoo Rooms).

As many people across UK continue to struggle in this climate of cuts, shrinking wages and limited job opportunities for young people, class, poverty and social mobility are also high on the agenda of performers at the 2018 Fringe. KillyMuck, for example, explores the trials of being a child in a housing estate built on a paupers’ graveyard in 1970s Ireland (Underbelly). The Political History of Smack and Crack, meanwhile, sees Ed Edwards channel personal experience to explore the story of the heroin epidemic of 1981 and its fallout on communities across the UK (Roundabout @ Summerhall). Rap artist Darren McGarvey, aka Loki, also explored these themes in his recent book, and he'll be challenging outdated political notions of poverty in his show Loki, the Scottish Rapper: Poverty Safari Live (The Stand).

Famous faces heading to Edinburgh

As ever, a plethora of well-known names from the world of film, TV and comedy appear in this year’s Fringe Programme. Cult American comedian and actor Janeane Garofalo will be crossing the pond (Gilded Balloon), while iconic Hi-de-Hi! star Su Pollard comes to Edinburgh with her Fringe debut, solo show Harpy (Underbelly).

Another blast from the past is Jason Donovan, who's coming to Edinburgh especially for you with a show addressing the many ups and downs of his career, which will take the form of conversation and the occasional song (Assembly).

Don’t worry Millennials, there’s some nostalgic appearances for you too, with Saturday morning telly double act Dick and Dom making their Fringe debut with an interactive show featuring games, song and mess (Underbelly).

Fringe comebacks and anniversaries

Scottish comedian Jack Docherty returns by making his first Fringe appearance for 25 years (Gilded Balloon). Around the last time Docherty performed here, Vladimir McTavish was making his debut, and he’ll be celebrating a remarkable 25 years at the festival at The Stand. Also celebrating Fringe anniversaries are standup stalwarts Reginald D Hunter and Craig Hill, who both celebrate their 20th year at the Fringe (both at Pleasance).

The above just scratches the surface of what’s going on at the Fringe this year. For our Comedy and Theatre editors' tips from the Big Four, head here: Edinburgh Fringe 2018: What to see at the Big Four. We also have roundups of what to expect at Summerhall, Assembly Festival, Pleasance, Gilded Balloon, Traverse Theatre, Underbelly, and The Stand. For all other Fringe coverage, keep an eye on theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-fringe