The Edinburgh Festival Fringe ran over 25 days this year with events taking place in the usual variety of weird and wonderful venues from car parks to racecourses, and the digital offerings making up in a small way for the reduced in-person appearances of artists and audience members.
The Fringe Society worked with charities and community groups to encourage and welcome local audiences, with over a third of audiences coming from the Edinburgh area, 17% from the rest of Scotland and 44% from the rest of the UK.
As well as Scottish and Scotland-based artists, 38 countries were represented this year across all events.
The Assembly Festival enjoyed attendance beyond their expectations with artistic director William Burdett-Coutts describing it as "a terrific success". They presented 499 in-person performances on three stages in two venues, with Assembly Showcatcher, its digital platform, offering another 55 productions.
Amongst the highlights were Brian Foster’s Myra’s Story which won Broadway Baby’s top award for outstanding performance whilst raising more than £6,000 for homeless charities.
Amongst the other shows to collect 5-star reviews were Barely Methodical Troupe’s Bromance, and Guy Masterson’s Under Milk Wood: Semi Skimmed. Online, these were FLIP Fabrique’s Blizzard, and Six°, Sylvain Émard’s Prelude #1 & #2, and cabaret 13 Fruitcakes.
The Pleasance also had a good, if scaled-down, year with artistic director Anthony Alderson saying, "the programme may be smaller than ever, but its heart and soul is as gigantic as ever."
Across four live venues and an online platform, The Pleasance had 662 performances with the 82 shows selling some 36,000 tickets, the figures showing a significant drop from 2019's 5,534 performances, 277 productions and 560,000 audience members.
The reduction in numbers was not reflected in a reduction in quality and most notably Patricia Gets Ready (for a date with the man that used to hit her) attracted 5-star reviews, with The Pleasance's community work and fundraising also to be celebrated.
theSpaceUK offered in-person productions at four theatres, one of which is outdoors. 800 performers offered 65 in-person shows plus another 25 or so online, together selling 64,000 tickets.
Across this selection, theSpaceUK picked up the Broadway Baby Bobby Award for Outstanding Contribution with shows Tropicana winning Best Solo LGBTQI Act from Scene Alba Magazine, and On Your Bike winning a Musical Theatre Review Award. The online programme also attracted wide and new audiences, with total numbers representing a quarter of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme.
Even with figures palling by comparison to last year (445 shows / 120,000 tickets in 2019), 78% occupancy has to be a good thing, especially in the circumstances.
The panel of the Musical Theatre Review has this year decided to make two awards, one each for in-person and online performance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
As mentioned, the Best Musical Award has been given to On Your Bike, presented by the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society and seen at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall. The book by Joe Venable (book and lyrics) addresses contemporary issues of homelessness, poverty and media influence; Ben James wrote the music for this—in the words of the judges—catchy and well-crafted show.
Special mentions in this category went to Sweet FA performed by This Is My Story Productions for its ensemble work, and to 7½ Years performed by Mark Glentworth, described as unusual… genuinely touching whilst avoiding being sentimental.
The online award, named The Clare Award in memory of Musical Theatre Review's Clare Ann Walters, who passed away earlier this year, has been awarded to Belfast presented by Nuworks Theatre: Made in Australia. An epic piece of theatre firmly placed on the Harland and Wolff Shipyards in Belfast, which have borne witness to many events from the launch of the Titanic to the ‘Troubles’.
Special mentions went to Canadian company East Van to Edinburgh for Do you Want What I Have Got?, and America's Spotlight Musical Theatre and The Green Room for Corona Cutie.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe would never have existed if it weren’t for the Edinburgh International Festival, which this year returned with a bang with 170 live performances from 988 artists representing 25 nationalities.
At variance from previous years, many events were presented in three temporary outdoor pavilions which between them welcomed 3,376 audience members per day for distanced performances offering contactless ticketing.
In total, 51,200 live performances tickets were issued and national and international audiences numbering more than 350,000 enjoyed At Home events online. 64% of the performances sold out, mainly from local audiences (60%). Notwithstanding these big-sounding numbers, availability was reduced by 63% against the previous Edinburgh International Festival and which recently has entertained audiences of more than 400,000, but, as Fergus Linehan, festival director, said, “the success of the 2021 International Festival can be measured in the joy of audiences attending live performance once again…"
Events can continue to be enjoyed with filmed music and spoken words being presented online over the winter.
The 17-day Edinburgh International Book Festival had over 25,000 visitors, some of whom enjoyed events live-streamed onto the Big Screen in the Festival Courtyard.
There were 250+ events with 300 authors including Denise Mina, Pat Barker, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin who appeared in-person at sell-out at book launches, with others joining by Zoom. All the events were offered online and have so far reached 83 countries.
The words of Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, seemed to summarise August in Edinburgh in this year: "2021 was about bringing people back together in a safe space, building confidence amongst authors and audiences and reaching a new audience through broadcasting our events online."
A date for your diary: the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe will be celebrating its 75th anniversary. It will run from 5 to 29 August. To secure its future, the Fringe Society has launched a fundraising campaign.