Stage is set for most lucrative Festival in history

Alan Cumming. Picture: contributed
Alan Cumming. Picture: contributed
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The director of the Edinburgh International Festival has revealed the event is poised to smash its box office records in its 70th year – even before the first show is staged.

Fergus Linehan said he was hoping for an increase of up to ten per cent on last year’s box office tally ahead of the Festival getting under way on Friday.

This is despite last year’s Festival notching up a record box office tally of £3.8 million – up 19 per cent on the 2014 event – with more than 82 per cent of all tickets snapped up.

Sales are said to be soaring ahead this year thanks to the pull of opera superstar Cecila Bartoli, Alan Cumming’s late-night cabaret show and American actress Cherry Jones, star of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.

The National Theatre of Scotland, Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros, world music favourite Youssou N’Dour, a tribute to the Celtic music pioneer Martyn Bennett and singer-songwriter Karine Polwart are among the biggest draws.

Opera hits include Bellini’s Norma, which Italian mezzo-soprano Bartoli is starring in, and a controversial new French version of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

Mr Linehan, overseeing his second Festival, said: “Things are looking better than last year, not by a massive amount, but we’re definitely ahead.

“Our box office income was by far and away the biggest ever last year. I think we will definitely go over last year by the end of the Festival – unless there’s a bus strike and a snowstorm.

“But I wouldn’t want to tempt fate in any way. It’s not like we’re so far ahead that we don’t have to worry about it.

“A lot of it is down to shows like Norma – which we know people are flying in and out of Edinburgh just to see – The Glass Menagerie, which has a really long run at the Festival, and Cosi fan tutte.

“We’ll definitely be ahead of last year, but that’s not what we’ll be looking at. The question is will we be at our target. We’d be looking to put five or ten per cent on last year’s figure.

Mr Linehan said ticket sales appeared to have been unaffected by the result of the Brexit referendum at the end of June, but said he was wary of tempting fate when the Festival had targeted an increase in income from this year’s event.

He said there was an onus on the EIF to boost income to cope with the impact of predicted funding cuts.

He added: “There’s no doubt the funding situation puts extra pressure on our earned revenue from the box office and fundraising. You either shrink or try to do it through earned revenue.

“Everyone seems to be more or less in the same boat in Edinburgh at the moment. Things are generally quite solid. Everybody seems to be saying that the visitor numbers are going to be really good this month.

“Things are looking good for us, but we still have a lot of tickets to sell.”