Fringe audiences dwindle as Tattoo beats records

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The Independent Online
THIS YEAR'S Edinburgh Festival has been a low-key, confused affair with at least one of the most important venues making a loss.

To add to the embarrassment, while alternative comedy and radical theatre have played to small audiences - with fringe organisers blaming bad weather - the most traditional entertainment of all, the Military Tattoo, attracted capacity crowds in pouring rain.

Yesterday, the city's tourist authority reported a 4 per cent year-on- year drop in visitor numbers in August. And William Burdett-Coutts, the head of the premier fringe venue, The Assembly Rooms, said the complex would make a loss this year. He also said there had been massive confusion and discontent about the decision to start the Fringe a week early, before the official festival.

Hilary Strong, director of the Fringe, made the change because, she said, performers preferred to appear in August before the poorer weather kept audiences away in early September.

But the event most susceptible to poor weather, the open-air Military Tattoo on Edinburgh Castle esplanade, played to capacity. It sold more than 99 per cent of available tickets and notched up a record audience of over 210,000 in a three-week run.

The Assembly Rooms management said it would make a loss over this year's four-week run, despite a sell-out third week.

Karen Koren, of the Gilded Balloon venues, said overall ticket sales were up 25 per cent, but the fourth week had been pointless.

The official festival also suffered from poor audiences in the final week, and its director, Brian McMaster, regretted the two events were not in step."From the point of view of our audience it is vital we share the same dates," he said. He added that, unlike the Fringe which has no fixed programme and accepts anyone who can find a performing space, the official festival must plan several years ahead to secure big international performers, who are often unavailable in August.

Mr Burdett-Coutts said:"The dates issue killed the whole atmosphere of the festival. There was no buzz, the press was confused and theatrical events in particular suffered. Next year, it has to be a three-week festival and the fringe and official festivals must act in harmony."

David Mamet

The belated UK premiere of David Mamet's first play Lakeboat should have been one of the festival's theatre hits. But it played to lower than expected audiences due to what Assembly Rooms director William Burdett- Coutts called "a lack of buzz".

Steve Harley

An intimate show by the former Cockney Rebel rock star was a little too intimate as audiences had their pick of the front rows. Harley's first-class performance was a victim of uneven sales in the controversial new first week.

Mark Little

You think the first week's bad. Try being on in the fourth. The ex-Neighbours and Big Breakfast TV man sold out his stand-up shows mid-festival, but there were empty seats in the fourth week when many punters believed the festival had finished.

John Dowie

One of the godfathers of stand-up comedy back this year with a comedy and poetry routine at the Pleasance. But a victim of first week uncertainties, and of not having the massive marketing organisation that today's top comics have.