Edinburgh Fringe Festival gets cash injection - But will it save UK fringe theatre?

A view of the Edinburgh Fringe shop and ticket office on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Wednesday April 1, 2020.
A view of the Edinburgh Fringe shop and ticket office on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Wednesday April 1, 2020. Copyright Jane Barlow/AP
By Jonny Walfisz
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Edinburgh Fringe Festival gets cash injection. But will it save UK fringe theatre?

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The latest UK budget announcement has provided new funds for the internationally famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. But will it be enough to maintain Edinburgh’s position as a renowned cultural hub?

UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled £8.6m (€9.6m) in extra funding for the Fringe comedy and theatre festival that takes place every August in Scotland. The festival in turn brings in around £300m (approx. €341m) to the UK’s economy.

“Millions of people flock to Edinburgh from all over the globe for its festivals, creating opportunities for incredible comedians, musicians, artists and more, as well as thousands of jobs each year - all contributing immensely to the UK's shared economy,” Hunt said.

It’s heartening news for the festival which saw a downturn in ticket sales in 2022, the first Fringe since 2019 due to successive lockdowns.

The rising costs of attending the festival and a lack of infrastructural support from the organisers caused last year’s festival to attract criticism that it was pricing out smaller acts.

Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP/AP
Phoebe Waller-Bridge holds the Most promising Playwright award at the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards 2014, held at the Prince of Wales theatre in central London.Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP/AP

The Edinburgh Fringe made its name through introducing the UK to many headline talents like Tom Stoppard and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the early days of their careers. One particular criticism last year was the lack of a Fringe App, to help attendees find smaller acts.

A Fringe App and a permanent headquarters for the festival are all potential upsides to the recently announced extra funding.

Waller-Bridge recently announced a £100,000 fund to help performers stage new shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Troubles outside the Fringe

The money injection for the Fringe hasn’t extended to the other culture festivals Edinburgh hosts.

In October last year, the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) was shut down with reports that rising costs and lowered attendance was behind the decision.

Positively, the EIFF announced that it would return in August 2023 for a special one-year iteration as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. The EIFF is a separate entity from the Edinburgh Fringe and won’t receive any of the new funding allocated.

“The Edinburgh International Film Festival is an important cultural touchstone in our festival city, and we are pleased to be able to support its return. Over the last few months the EIFF programming team have been developing a plan for an ambitious film programme to add to the International Festival's world-class dance, theatre, music and opera programme, ensuring that the Film Festival has a bright future,” Francesca Hegyi, Chief Executive, Edinburgh International Festival, said.

Speaking to Euronews Culture, a EIFF spokesperson explained that: “Screen Scotland will work across the summer with a working group of industry experts to deliver a long-term future for a stand-alone Film Festival, which will be presented annually from August 2024.”

Outside of Edinburgh, this week is the final week of the VAULTS Festival, a similar fringe theatre and comedy event in London. 

The VAULTS Festival was cancelled in 2022 at the last minute due to Covid-19, and is to be resurrected in 2023 only to face new financial pressures from venue landlords, making this year its final edition. 

The extra funding for the Edinburgh Fringe is, of course, welcomed. But until there is a healthier ecosystem for culture across the UK, it’s hard to keep a rosy outlook for the scene.

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