Racecourse to become Fringe venue as 170 shows go on sale and street theatre returns

Shows will be staged at Musselburgh Racecourse under plans to revive the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year.

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 8:59 am
Updated Thursday, 1st July 2021, 1:02 pm
Musselburgh Racecourse is one of the first Fringe venues to be confirmed for this year.
Musselburgh Racecourse is one of the first Fringe venues to be confirmed for this year.

The outdoor performances of Treasure Island and Much Ado About Nothing are among the first batch of Fringe shows to go on sale this year.

The Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh is joining forces with Musselburgh Racecourse to host the productions, as well as performances planned as part of a nationwide tour of the country by Scottish Opera.

Silverknowes Beach and Tynecastle Park have already been confirmed to be hosting Fringe shows this year, while part of the NCP car park at Castle Terrace will be transformed into a pop-up venue, “MultiStory.”

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The Fringe Society has confirmed more than 170 shows have registered for this year’s event, which will officially run from 6-30 August.

It has also revealed that it has secured permission for street performers to make an official comeback next month, with further details expected to be announced next month.

However although the festival’s biggest four operators – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly – have confirmed they will be running venues this year they will not be announcing their programmes until later this month.

Gilded Balloon will be joining forces with the Traverse Theatre, DanceBase and Zoo to run the MultiStory venue on Castle Terrace, which will see shows staged on its top two floors. The site will also feature food and drink stalls for local businesses affected by the pandemic.

More than 170 shows have already been registered for this year's Fringe.

Morag Deyes, artistic director of DanceBase, said: “Between our four organisations, we have a rich history of bringing the best artists and their shows to the festival and this partnership allows us to continue this work in 2021, creating opportunities for artists and event professionals who have endured such a difficult year.”

Assembly and Underbelly will be back in George Square while the Pleasance will be staging shows in its famous courtyard and at the EICC.

Assembly founder William Burdett-Coutts said: “The festival has suffered hugely without an event in 2020, but we are delighted to coming back for 2021 with some work.

"This won’t be anything like a normal festival given the circumstances and we are having to make what we are doing happen in an extremely short period of time, but the festival spirit is here and we look forward to keeping a presence this year and starting to rebuild for the future.”

The Fringe Society has revealed that performers will be able to return to the city's streets in August to stage shows. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell

The two main promoters of free Fringe shows have confirmed they are also programming line-ups.

Fringe operators are having to plan for this year against a backdrop of uncertainty over what restrictions will be in place in August. The Scottish Government has set provisional dates for the easing of controversial two metre distancing restrictions on venues on 19 July and the total lifting of restrictions on 9 August, but will not make final decisions until the week before.

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “After the year we’ve all had, it brings me an indescribable amount of joy to see Fringe shows going on sale.

"Operators and artists have been working tirelessly to make this Fringe not only possible, but as safe, accessible and engaging as it can be.

“Things will, of course, look a little different this year. But embracing the unknown and turning it into something magical is what the Fringe does best. I’m excited to see the ways that digital platforms are being used to create exciting, accessible work, and I’m inspired by the way producers and artists have adapted to the ongoing restrictions to bring live performance back to our lives.

“There’s still work to do, and with the situation ever-changing, we’ll be updating the programme and ticket site weekly. I’m proud of the resilience of our Fringe community, and we’re excited to make this festival the very best it can be.”

Peter Buckley Hill, founder of the Free Fringe, said: “Unless the COVID situation changes for the worse, we are planning live in-person shows in Edinburgh from 9th August onwards, in parallel to the online Free Fringe which has already been worked on. So we shall be riding two horses.

“Many of our previous venues, but not all, are on board. Several of our loyal performers, but not all, are able to put shows on.

“In the circumstances, we have no illusions that we can put on as large a palate of live shows as we previously could. Our record is 9100 performances. In the current circumstances, we may only reach 1000 or so. But even now, applications are coming in and we are making offers to applicants. The organisational job which normally takes 11 months will be crammed into five weeks.

“We hope the citizens of Edinburgh will take this opportunity to visit the Free Fringe and support it.

"How many visitors there will be in the city, we cannot know. But we have always tried to be good friends to the people of Edinburgh itself. We'll schedule evenings first, for maximum accessibility for working people, and then day times.

“These are unique circumstances. But since a Fringe is about trying new things, 2021 should be a good opportunity for people to do exactly that.”

Alex Petty, director of Laughing Horse’s Free Festival, said: “We’re aiming to run with one metre social distancing in some of our larger rooms, so at around 50 per cent capacity, and we’ll likely have in-person shows at two of our main hubs, The Counting House and Three Sisters, with maybe some more to add that I’m working on.

“If restrictions are relaxed further on August 9th, we’ll still keep reduced capacities and covid mitigations - and only gradually increase capacities where we feel audiences will be comfortable and we think it is safe to do so.

"I do think people will be very keen to see events as they return, but they’ll also quite rightly be nervous of going back into packed venues, especially cramming into Fringe spaces."