Edinburgh Festival Fringe chief says a 'miracle' will be needed for shows to go ahead this August

The figurehead of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has admitted it will need a “miracle” for the event to go ahead in any form this summer.

By Brian Ferguson
Friday, 17th April 2020, 11:48 pm
Updated Friday, 17th April 2020, 11:51 pm
Shona McCarthy said she is 'not expecting' any shows to be able to go ahead in Edinburgh this August. Picture: Greg Macvean

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe Society, has dampened hopes from business and tourism chiefs that a scaled-back festival could still happen despite the official cancellation of the city’s main cultural events in August.

Ms McCarthy said she was “not expecting” to have complete clearance from the various authorities, including the Scottish Government, for shows to go ahead in time.

She issued the warning despite the Fringe Society pledging to sell tickets and promote shows this August if the authorities give the green light for theatres to reopen.

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The artistic director of the Pleasance venue, Anthony Alderson, confirmed a decision on whether to press ahead with a Fringe programme this year would be delayed until June.

But he also warned that theatres may have to remain closed “long after” the lockdown is lifted in the UK, pointing out that they were among the first public places to face restrictions.

It was announced on 1 April that the International Festival, the Fringe, the Tattoo and the city’s celebrations of visual art and literature would not be going ahead this year.

At the time Ms McCarthy said the collective decision was the “only appropriate response “to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the next day the Fringe Society privately told venue operators and show producers it had “plans in place” to reopen its box office and list shows on its website “as quickly and early as possible” in the event of social distancing restrictions being eased by the Scottish Government.

The biggest Fringe companies have refused to give up on the prospect of putting shows on in August and said they would “certainly try” to rebuild an event this summer.

However, in an interview in The Scotsman magazine, Ms McCarthy said: “If by some miracle the coronavirus crisis is over by August and we have complete clearance for public gatherings from the government, the police and the health authorities, then of course we’ll do what we can to support companies that do come. But from all I’m hearing, I’m just not expecting that to be the case.”

On the day of the cancellation announcement from the festivals, Ms McCarthy said the decision that the Fringe “will not go ahead” in 2020 had not been made lightly but was “unavoidable” under the current lockdown restrictions, adding: “Public health must and always will come first.”

However, the society later admitted that it did not have the power to cancel the event.

In her new interview, Ms McCarthy added: “I do honestly think that, even here in Edinburgh, many people still just don’t get it, about the way the Fringe works.”

In an interview with the website BroadwayWorld, Mr Alderson said: “If there is a possibility of presenting something at the Fringe this year, then we will certainly do something.

“Theatres were the first to close and potentially could be the last to reopen, possibly long after this shutdown has finished. I don’t believe anyone could have envisaged the devastating effects this situation has had on a great many businesses, in particular theatres.

“The Pleasance is a charity, a not-for-profit organisation. Whilst the charity has been able to build a small financial reserve ... it’s clearly not going to be enough.”

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