Barn accommodation forces performers to muck in together: Fifty Fringe artistes are escaping exorbitant rents charged in Edinburgh by sleeping in a cowshed

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The Independent Online
DON'T put your daughter on the Fringe, Mrs Worthington, or she might end up sleeping in a cowshed.

Fifty young theatricals are doing exactly that for three weeks, sharing one bathroom and lavatory, making do without hot running water, and learning to sleep through snoring and sleeptalking in several languages.

That's showbiz, and what's more, at pounds 2,000 rent charged by a farmer for the duration of the festival, the performers reckon they have a bargain.

The white barn six miles out of Edinburgh, approached along a muddy track, sounds like the ultimate Fringe horror story. But the Ghett company from Rochdale and assorted international artists to whom they have sublet sleeping bag spaces are not unhappy. It is the cheapest deal they could find.

Accommodation for Fringe companies has been notorious ever since Cook, Moore, Bennett and Miller lived in a style to which they were soon to be unaccustomed 30 years ago. But this year the problem seems even worse, with droves of Edinburgh residents 'doing a Wimbledon' and vacating their flats and houses while letting them out at exorbitant prices.

Mike Robinson, artistic director of Ghett, which is staging a musical about Helen Keller called Children of the Silent Night at the Trafalgar Hall, heard of the vacant barn from a friend. It had a kitchen with stove and refrigerator and use of a spare bathroom in the neighbouring farmhouse. He jumped at the chance and three other companies from the venue did likewise.

Mr Robinson said: 'I tried flats that are normally pounds 280 a month. For the Fringe they are pounds 300 a week. Some were hellholes with cockroaches in them. Others were nice but very small and over pounds 500 a week. So I went for the barn. It's basic but it's relatively dry. And the main room does get warm when we put on the stove. The bathroom is a problem though.'

A Belgian company, Trapeze, subletting the hayloft, has made the best of it. One of its administration staff is a Californian, Emily Bernhard, who said: 'I call it the executive suite. It's a bit like summer camp. But then our expectations were very low.'

For some, though, it has proved too much. Sherlina Chamberlain, who is performing a one-woman play, has left. 'I hate it,' she said. 'People trip over suitcases, finally landing on their own space after landing on a few other people. The snoring kept me awake as well.'

Mr Robinson said: 'We can always use the showers at the Fringe Club in town. My real complaint is about the high rents being charged in the city. All the Fringe Office does is keep a list of landlords for companies to approach; but with rents four times higher than usual, I think the Fringe Office should not put exorbitant rents on their list.'

Faith Liddell, of the Fringe Office, says the barn is a not untypical example of Fringe companies 'living on the edge. We do rant and rave at the landlords but not always with success'.

But even living in a barn has its high spots, according to one Ghett player, Joolz Marsden. 'I move my sleeping bag every night, playing musical beds,' she said. 'I'm getting to meet lots of different people.'

(Photograph omitted)

Festival guide, page 11

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