Liam Rudden: Edinburgh Fringe... From London

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Street theatre act Performing Strings, Pascal Ackerman and Sophie Ewer.  Pic Ian Rutherford
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Street theatre act Performing Strings, Pascal Ackerman and Sophie Ewer. Pic Ian Rutherford
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I WAS a teenager when I appeared at my first Fringe way back in 1983, a musical called The Mixter Maxter Factor, if I recall correctly.

It was staged in an old hall called Baden Powell House, half way down a close on the Royal Mile.

A few years later I found myself directing and producing my first shows a few openings up, in the old Riddles Court venue.

It all seems like a lifetime ago now. Back then the Fringe was an exciting beast, a place where performers came to entertain and experiment, where you didn’t need an overdraft or second mortgage to be part of the excitement, and where the dark shadow of commercialism had yet to intrude.

Indeed, in 1983 the name Assembly was still more commonly associated with our own Assembly Rooms - Edinburgh’s in George Street and Leith’s on Constitution Street. Venues such as The Pleasance and Gilded Balloon wouldn’t materialise until 1985 and 86 respectively.

Over the years, I’ve watched the Fringe grow and morph into the monster it has now become. With more than 3000 shows a day, few would fail to agree it is simply too big, though most would never say so publicly.

With size comes sponsorship and rampant commercialisation, even West End producers now use the Fringe as a try out opportunity. At one time such a thing would have been anathema to them.

And, of course, there are the ‘big’ name comedians who fly in to ‘do a bank raid’ couple of nights, while those who commit to the full three and a bit weeks scrabble around for finite audiences.

Perhaps the most telling thing of all, however, is that the four biggest venues now launch their Edinburgh Fringe programmes in London before doing so in the Capital. As happened this week. That says it all really.

Hardly a vote of confidence.