Full Edinburgh Fringe programme 2019 announced
An eye-watering 3841 shows will head to this year's Fringe. Kathy Burke, Eddie Izzard, Nick Offerman and Rose McGowan are among the performers, while climate change and migration are among the major themes
The Fringe is gargantuan. And this coming edition is particularly massive. With the full programme launched this morning, the world's biggest arts festival will this year consist of 3,841 shows from 63 countries, spread over 323 venues across Edinburgh. This is roughly 300 more shows than last year, and will result in 59,600 performances, which The Scotsman estimates should see the Fringe audiences topping three million for the first time.
“The Fringe is a remarkable feat of engineering and human endeavour," notes Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, while launching this year's programme, which comes together under the banner of 'Make Your Fringe'. "It's basically a call to people to make their own Fringe by going out, to book one more show, to be adventurous and try something they haven't seen before," said McCarthy.
She notes this growth is partly down to the city's smaller venues embracing the Festival more than ever. "It's about those smaller venues in the city opening their doors and seeing the festival as something they want to be part of," she says. "That's everything from small bars to distilleries to everything from a pop-up greenhouse to the upcycled pianos in the Pianodrome to Tollbooth on the Royal Mile, which is a new venue this year, to The Old Bells Baths, a converted swimming pool in Leith. So more and more this city is owning its festival and opening its doors."
The affordability of the festival is also at the forefront of the Fringe Society's mind. "The average ticket price is still £10.26," McCarthy notes, "which is something we try to sustain; we're trying to keep that level of affordability and access."
The number of nations taking part in this year's Fringe is a record too, and it's the biggest participation ever from European nations. "That's a really exciting and amazing thing, given the times we're in," says McCarthy. There's also plenty of homegrown talent in the lineup: 963 shows are from Scotland and 744 are specifically from Edinburgh. Collectively, along with the 62 other nations taking part, "they make for the greatest celebration of arts and culture on the planet".
Famous faces heading to town: Eddie Izzard, Stewart Lee, Rose McGowan, Nick Offerman and, erm, Basil Brush
This opensource festival thrives on new talent, but in this egalitarian stramash they're rubbing shoulders with plenty of established stars too. In among the wealth of famous names coming to town with new work is comedy legend Eddie Izzard, who's here with Expectations of Great Expectations, his one-man version of Charles Dickens' classic novel. Other stand-up titans with shows this year include Nish Kumar, Reginald D Hunter, Stewart Lee and Nina Conti to name just a few.
We're drawn to #HonestAmy, a curious-sounding ukulele comedy directed by Kathy Burke. Author, actress and #MeToo activist Rose McGowan will make her Fringe performing debut with Planet 9, which will combine memoir and music. Also coming to the Fringe for the first time are Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman and cult comic Eric Andre, who both bring new standup shows.
If you're after some 80s nostalgia, anarchic hand-puppet Basil Brush makes his Fringe debut with two shows: Basil Brush's Family Fun Show and a decidedly more adult late night chat show. Talking of chat shows, In New Town Theatre's In Conversation With... series will feature plenty of local celebs like crime writer Ian Rankin and much-loved actor Elaine C Smith as well as politicians like Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson.
You'll find Ruby Wax in town too with her show How to be Human, while Phil Wang returns with Philly Philly Wang Wang. Craig Ferguson's appearance this year will mark 25 years since he was last at the Fringe, and Akala is back with his sure to be politically potent show Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.
Music based shows: musicals featuring work my the Pet Shop Boys and Bob Dylan
You couldn't find a more apt venue for The Piano Women, Australian pianist Emma Knights' show in which she performs works by some of the great female pianists – think Nina Simone, Carole King and Clara Schumann. It's taking place at the aforementioned Pianodrome, the amphitheatre made from upcycled pianos, which this year will be erected at the Pitt. Another new venue is The Old Dr Bells Baths, in Leith. The Victorian Swimming Baths will play host to, among other things, An Audience with Kyle Falconer, The View frontman's show of acoustic songs and stories.
There's the show Songs from Almodóvar Films at Leith Depot, which is exactly what you think it is: jazz and Latin-tinged music from the acclaimed Spanish director’s films. You'll also find Frances Barber's one-woman show Musik, which is scored by original songs by the Pet Shop Boys, and Girl from the North Country, a jukebox musical featuring tracks by Bob Dylan.
Major themes: climate change, space, migration
It'll come as no surprise that the threat of climate change is emerging as a major theme this year. "From comedians to theatre companies to improv, the green agenda is high on everyone's agenda, and for good reason," notes McCarthy. For those truly committed to the cause, there's 1.5 Degrees Live!, where the IPCC report on climate change is being read in full by 100 different people over 50-hours spread over five days. For people concerned with the Fringe's carbon footprint there's How to Save a Rock, a carbon-neutral comedy powered by bike and solar power.
Being the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landings, space features quite a bit too. Apollo 11 is a historical recreation of the UK broadcast of the moon landing while less reverential is Apollo: Take 111, a farce exploring the various conspiracy theories claiming the moon landings were faked. Russian space exploration is also represented in Space Junk: A Soviet Musical, a musical about Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
Migration has also emerged as a focal point for shows too. Summerhall's Pizza Shop Heroes, for example, is performed by four former child-refugees from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Albania who came to live in the UK; Traverse's How Not to Drown tells the true story of Dritan Kastrati, who at 11-years-old journeyed to the UK in the aftermath of the Balkans war, ending up in the British care system. Kooch, meanwhile, brings together music from around Iran that evokes the migration experience, and the award-winning A Migrant’s Son focuses on a tale of migration from Greece to Australia during the 1930s – guests will be treated to a Greek feast during the show.
Is the Fringe getting too big?
At this morning's press briefing, a perennial Fringe concern was raised by several members of the local media: namely, the impact of the Festival's tourists on the people of the city. McCarthy suggested Edinburgh is in danger of becoming anti-tourist, and also noted that the popularity of the city to visitors can hardly be laid at the Fringe's door. "It's June now and Edinburgh is really busy. It's a city with a castle and medieval history, and it's bloody gorgeous: people come here all year round." She says the idea that a three-week festival has to take on responsibility for an issue that's a year-round concern for this city is wrongheaded: "the tourist issues are about better management, I think, rather than an anti-tourist agenda."
McCarthy also made the point that the Fringe's biggest growth group in terms of audiences is local people. "We've been 8% for international visitors, and that's stayed the same for the last three years. The idea that the Fringe is responsible for over-tourism in Edinburgh is just a bit weird to me." McCarthy's message is clear: "It's very important for the city to be international and outward looking, and have cultural diversity and a mix of different peoples."
We heartily agree. This is what makes the Fringe so special, even if it means it takes forever to cross South Bridge in August.
2-26 Aug, various venues, Edinburgh. For full programme details, head to www.edfringe.com