Edinburgh Festival: Biggest arts festival in the world begins

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Edinburgh International Festival - MacroImage source, Darcy Grant
Image caption,
The gala performance of Macro is sold out

Thousands of performers from across the world are in Edinburgh for the start of the world's biggest arts festival.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe will see more than 3,000 shows from 58 countries mark its 75th anniversary.

Its line-up will include comedians Frankie Boyle, Stewart Lee and Al Murray.

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo returns, while the Edinburgh International Festival will see live audiences return to indoor venues.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the Fleabag star who is president of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said its new vision would make the whole event more inclusive and accessible.

The Edinburgh International Festival opens later with a free gala event, Macro, by physical theatre firm Gravity & Other Myths at Murrayfield Stadium.

In Macro, a 30-strong troupe team up with the National Youth Choir of Scotland. There will be music, projections, drums, a huge light display as well as acrobatics and dance.

A free finale gala by the Philadelphia Orchestra on the final weekend at the Playhouse will close the international festival.

Image source, Edinburgh International Festival
Image caption,
Macro - by circus and physical theatre company Gravity & Other Myths

The finale gala will also be beamed live into the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens.

Dreamachine, part of Unboxed: Creativity in the UK, is another free immersive event during the festival using light and sound to explore the potential of the human mind.

It has been created by Collective Act, presented by Edinburgh Science, and brings together Turner Prize-winning artists Assemble, Grammy and Mercury nominated musician and composer Jon Hopkins, and a team of leading technologists, scientists and philosophers.

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra will also perform a free concert at the Usher Hall on Saturday.

Led by Canadian-Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, the special concert is extending its invitation to the Ukrainian community in Scotland.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
People can watch performers in Edinburgh's High Street during the event

The streets are packed, traffic is at a standstill and the cobbled streets are full of discarded flyers.The sun is shining - for the moment - but everyone is grumbling about the prospect of rain, their anxiety about Covid and the difficulties of affording anything in Edinburgh in August.

It's official. The Edinburgh Festivals are back.

Both festivals mark their 75th anniversary this summer and the resilience which has allowed them to deal with post war uncertainty and rationing seems to have prepared them well. Last year's festival was a scaled back event, staged outdoors in plush marquees (the international festival) or concrete car parks (the fringe).

Socially distanced and heavily subsidised, it was a place holder. Some established names - like Jason Byrne and Alan Cumming - took part because they felt they owed it to the festival where their careers began. Others worried that the festivals might not survive the pandemic, so there's a certain amount of relief this August.

There's also a better understanding of the dynamic of this festival city, where programmes overlap and cross promote. The Edinburgh International Film Festival is back in the mix, along with book and art festivals. The tattoo's nightly fireworks will have to satisfy tourists and locals alike - there'll be no closing concert this year. Orchestras are staying for residencies, rather than single concerts. Artists appearing at one festival, are encouraged to take part in others. Audiences happily move between the festivals, and I suspect will do so this year more than ever.

Meanwhile the Fringe holds its first full programme of events since 2019.

As well as Scottish favourite Frankie Boyle, its line-up will feature fellow comics Josie Long, Phil Wang, Reginald D Hunter and Nish Kumar.

Other big names include Sir Ian McKellen, who is starring in a new production of Hamlet, Drag Race starts Bianca Del Rio and Jinkx Monsoon, and quizzer and comedian Paul Sinha.

This year's Fringe Street Events will be extended to new locations in St Andrew Square and St James Quarter.

Organisers said issues tackled this year will include refugees, race, women's safety, disability, mental health and climate change.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Sir Ian McKellen is starring in a new production of Hamlet in Edinburgh

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: "After the challenges of the last two years, it feels more important than ever to celebrate the diverse selection of work on display at the Fringe, spanning the genres of theatre, dance, circus, physical theatre, comedy, music, musicals, opera, cabaret, variety, children's shows, spoken word, exhibitions and events.

"Venues, producers and artists have created an amazing array of performances and events which dig into some of the most topical themes being discussed in the world today.

"This is an opportunity for us all to laugh, cry, celebrate and be entertained together, living in this one incredible moment and looking ahead to the future of the Fringe and the many momentous moments yet to come."

Cammy Day, City of Edinburgh Council leader, said: "This is a very special year for the Fringe, not only does it see the return of a jam-packed programme of artists and performers from across the globe, it is also marks 75 years of this remarkable festival."

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