The Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh and the LothiansBut which Edinburgh Festival? Or is it festivals? As is the way with such matters, some people over the years have seemed almost as interested in defining what the festival truly consists of, and pushing their particular hobby-horse, as in glorying in one of the world’s greatest happenings. The rest of us don’t really care: the street performers (Australia must be empty every summer) play as great a role in creating the atmosphere that is Edinburgh in August’s festival time as the opera companies, theatrical events, fringe groups and classical concerts. And now the art exhibitions , book readings , Mela , film showings...
The first festival took place in austerity Britain, the idea of Glyndebourne organiser Rudolf Bing – though whisper it gently, Oxford was his first choice. A committee was set up in 1945, and money from the city council, Arts Council, and private donors used in order to guarantee payment to some of the visiting artists. It was a great success in spite of a few teething problems, one of which from the point of view of officialdom was what became ‘ the fringe ,’ at that time a few theatre groups who arrived uninvited, but arguably made it so special that an end to Edinburgh Festival is unthinkable.
Venues vary from the back of a taxi and a room over a pub to the Usher Hall, Assembly Rooms, Queens Hall and the very swish Festival Theatre, with street performers along the Royal Mile and elsewhere extending the vibe further still. The Tattoo adds another dimension – part military event, part musical celebration, as far away from a bloke juggling on a unicycle as you’d think possible, but melding into the overall experience that is ‘Edinburgh’.
Over the years some great established performers have been drawn to Edinburgh in August: Janet Baker, Yehudi Menuhin, Ian McKellen and Margot Fonteyn to name but four; and more have made their name there: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore ; and relatively recently Tony Slattery, Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie among a myriad others.
The last three mentioned were in the Cambridge Footlights group which won the first Perrier Award for best comedy act at the event. The standard of performer and the opportunity appearing in Edinburgh provides is perhaps best captured by listing a few more of the winners: how about Jeremy Hardy; Sean Hughes; Steve Coogan ; Lee Evans; and Al Murray ?
Edinburgh is thus important as a major stage for big names; as a starting point for no-names-yet; but also for the city itself whose fame it spreads around the globe; and for the city’s tourist and hospitality industry – the pubs in the centre full to bursting. And naturally for the hundreds of thousands who flock to the shows over the hectic 30-hour-day weeks of this most diverse and energetic happening.
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