Tommy Sheppard, director of the new Assembly Rooms Edinburgh Fringe programme, proudly opens the door to a large ballroom decorated with an imposing crystal chandelier and some stunning, freshly painted cornices.
This, he explains, is “the wee big room” result of an 18-month, £9.3m redevelopment of one of Edinburgh's best-loved Fringe venues. The “big big room”, he'll go on to demonstrate, is an even larger hall with movable seating whose roster next month will include Stewart Lee, Jerry Sadowitz and the National Theatre of Scotland's Appointment with the Wicker Man, among others.
The refurbishment was the subject of concern from festival enthusiasts when it was first announced in 2010, with the lower floor's conversion into retail units (including a Jamie Oliver restaurant where the much-loved Fringe press bar used to be) appearing to affirm the surrounding George Street's commercial trample over the grimily ad-hoc soul of the Fringe. In practice, however, the newly opened building allays such fears. Despite a sleek new entranceway which resembles an upmarket hotel reception rather than a theatre foyer, the four performance areas upstairs will offer a substantial programme in state-of-the-art surroundings over the next month.