Edinburgh Festival 'needs new direction'

Arts news: Former director joins chorus of disapproval as cultural jamboree criticised for favouring established performers
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The harmony of the Edinburgh Festival has been shattered with the former director of the world's biggest arts jamboree arguing it needs to find a new direction.

The unprecedented criticism of the present administration was made in an interview with The Independent by Frank Dunlop, who ran the festival from 1983 to 1991. In a sideswipe at the current director, Brian McMaster, Mr Dunlop said he was "very admiring of people who have already achieved eminence".

The attack means that this year's Edinbugh Festival is fast becoming one of the most criticised in recent times.

First, in the inaugural Edinburgh Festival Lecture, Professor George Steiner claimed the festival had become too unwieldy, had lost its original purpose and should embrace the sciences as well as the arts.

Then Edinburgh impressario and gallery owner Richard Demarco lamented at a public debate the growing number of stand-up comics on the Fringe. And at the same meeting, Scottish publisher John Calder complained that the official Festival was under-promoted by the Scottish Tourist Office.

In addition, the prestige production of the first week, Elsinore, Robert Lepage's adaptation of Hamlet, was cancelled at the last minute.

But Mr Dunlop's analysis is the most significant for the present festival. He said yesterday: "The festival is a fantastic event but in order for it not to get bogged down it has to keep looking for new directions." When he left the festival, Mr Dunlop left behind him a three-year plan, which has not been acted upon, urging that the festival become a "producing unit", commissioning and forming its own productions throughout the year, as well as presenting ready made productions from home and abroad.

He repeated the call yesterday, saying: "I proposed that the new Edinburgh Festival Theatre become the centre for the festival and that the festival run it all year round. I wanted the festival to be more creative, be a production unit and bring people from countries all over the world. The festival has to deal with what it was created for, which was to promote international understanding."

Mr Dunlop said that the festival should create productions from scratch and then tour the world with them. "There should be technical workshops as well based around the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. I know that's very ambitious, but I still think that would be a very good way to go." Professor Steiner had also called for the festival to mount workshops so that the public could see how great performances are developed.

Mr Dunlop refused to criticise his successor directly. "Brian was a very good appointment," he said, "because he was completely different from me. One of the really important things he has done is extend the dance side." But he added: "I thought it was important to work with new people and young people, not just established artists."

Mr McMaster said: "If you look at the festival over the last 49 years it is clear that each director's personal taste has to a large extent determined the programme. It is perhaps inevitable that another director will have different opinions."

Festival reviews, Section Two