Blood, gore and Bible in 90 minutes at Fringe

More than 9,000 people, 14,060 performances, 1,238 shows, 187 venues. . . all that in three weeks. Plans to celebrate the half-century of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. the more unpredictable sister of the International Festival of the arts, were announced yesterday.

It was claimed at the official launch of the Fringe programme that this August's event will be the largest arts festival in the world since records began. The organisers have calculated that buying a ticket for every show would cost pounds 7,382.85 but since it would take more than 550 days to watch them all end to end without sleep, no one's bill will be that high.

Hilary Strong, fringe director, described the 144-page programme as presenting an "unrivalled selection of the world's greatest artists in comedy, dance, music, theatre and visual art". And she hoped it would continue the tradition of launching new careers, exploring ideas, pushing back boundaries and, possibly, simply shocking people.

The blood and violence quota will be raised by the first British stage performance of Quentin Tarrantino's cult film Reservoir Dogs, and if the stomach has not been churned by the experience a three-course meal will be on offer in the company of Dr Faustus.

The complete story of the Bible is be told in 90 minutes, 30 dancers will do the first Scottish version of Riverdance, paying tribute to William Wallace and Rob Roy, and a "site-specific performance" will be staged in a three-storey car park.

The writer Irvine Welsh's first play, Headstate, is being revived in the wake of his book/play/film success with Trainspotting while more mainstream revivals include the family musicals of Oklahama! and Oliver! and no fewer than three versions of The Little Shop of Horrors.

Established favourites returning to Scotland will include the entertainer Jools Holland, the comedian Lee Evans and the anarchic French circus Archaos.

Perhaps appropriately, the Scottish play will be most performed, with six different versions of Macbeth. There will be four versions of Bouncers by John Godber, one of the fringe's hardy annual contemporary writers, and three of Antigone, Hamlet and Tartuffe.

More than half of those taking part will come from England, just under a third from Scotland and others from as far away as Asia and Australia.

To encourage wider participation, Ms Strong yesterday announced three new schemes for the three-week extravaganza. Edinburgh's first circus school will offer 10 to 16-year-olds a role in a joint venture with the city council. The research and development arm of the National Theatre will leave London to stage classes and workshops for actors, writers, directors and the general public in the Fringe Club. And the Big Issue newspaper for the homeless is hosting a series of events to raise money for music and theatre groups for its sellers.

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