Edinburgh festival caught in a farce

A MONTH before the Edinburgh Festival opens, drama and farce are faring well. The Assembly Rooms, the prestige venue of the festival fringe, has been refused permission by Edinburgh District Council to sell tickets for its shows at the box office in its building, as it has done for the past 14 years.

Instead, more than 100,000 tickets for its drama, music and comedy shows will have to be sold from a Portakabin in an alleyway near the George Street building.

William Burdett Coutts, artistic director of the Assembly Rooms, who launches his programme tomorrow, said yesterday: 'The Edinburgh Festival is a massive event which everyone perceives as being well organised and impressive, but behind the scenes it's shambolic.'

It was 'amateurish' that the official and fringe festivals did not combine their marketing and ticket-selling operations, he said. It took half a day to walk round Edinburgh to pick up all the brochures for the various international, fringe, film, jazz, book and art festivals. There should be a combined brochure and combined selling points.

The row with the district council had occurred because the council owned the Assembly Rooms and had decided not to share the box office space, even though the fringe was using every room in the building. 'People will turn up and come into the box office as usual only to find they can buy tickets for other venues but not the one that they are standing in,' Mr Burdett Coutts said.

A spokesman for Edinburgh district council said that Mr Burdett Coutts had been offered space in the foyer, and in the Wildman Room this year instead. He agreed that the Wildman Room might be problematic as it is used for theatre performances.

The official Edinburgh International Festival also has its problems. Brian McMaster, its director, said yesterday that there had been some reluctance from audiences to join in the sense of adventure. A seven-and-a-half hour production in Russian of The Oresteia, by the German director Peter Stein, being staged at the Edinburgh ice rink, had sold only 500 out of 3,600 tickets.

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