Fringe venue aims to scotch the English

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The Independent Online
Scottish performers, piqued by the domination of the Edinburgh festival by the English, have opened their own dedicated fringe venue, the first of its kind in the event's 50-year history.

The setting-up of the Famous Grouse House represents the start of a campaign by the Scots to reclaim their rights to the international arts festival, which takes place annually in their capital and attracts more than a million visitors from across the world.

From the beginning, Scottish performers believe, the festival has been effectively hijacked by the English. They dominate both the management side - the current director, Brian McMaster, is English, as have been all but one of the previous directors - and the major fringe venues.

Nor is the problem confined to drama. On the music side as well, there is increasing anger about the exclusion of Scottish work. "In the entire official Edinburgh International Festival programme there is but one work by a Scot, James MacMillan's opera Ines de Castro," Hugh McBain of the Scottish Society of Composers said.

His view is echoed by Hugh Loughlan, a prime mover in the creation of Scottish International at the Famous Grouse House, and artistic director of Gallus Theatre, a touring company set up to encourage Scottish writing and performance.

"Scottish culture has been so marginalised by the English that setting up a Scottish venue here is a bit like dedicating a venue to performers from Lapland," he said.

"This is our capital city and our festival, yet the Scots have not been represented in the Fringe. This has been the situation for 50 years. If that happened in any other country - such as England - I don't think they would have been too happy."

Mr Loughlan's experience of reviewing Scottish shows for the Edinburgh Evening News for the past two years of the festival has made him sharply aware of the way that Scottish companies have been pushed aside by English ones - often because of financial constraints - and forced to perform in scattered, poor-quality venues.

"I happened to find a programme for the Edinburgh Festival in 1967 or 1968. It had one piece of Scottish theatre in it, by John McGrath," he added. "This year's festival has one piece of Scottish theatre in it - by John McGrath. That's how far we've moved on."

He and Raymond Ross, his fellow artistic director at Gallus, decided to take action. Thanks to sponsorship from the makers of The Famous Grouse whisky, they have rented a venue from Edinburgh University and scheduled a programme which includes drama, children's entertainment, community and youth work.

"The great thing is that it is not just for the Scottish performers," Mr Loughlan added. "It is for the Scottish audiences, too."