1980s children’s television favourite Basil Brush will host a nightly adult chat show at this year’s Edinburgh festival fringe, offering a cushion of nostalgia alongside harder-hitting offerings from actor and #MeToo activist Rose McGowan and hip-hop artist Akala, both making their festival debuts in a programme that organisers describe as “breaking all records for internationalism”.
Featuring artists from 63 countries, the festival will also include the highest ever participation of artists from European countries, which the Edinburgh Fringe Society chief executive, Shona McCarthy, ascribes to a deliberate effort “to counteract any negativity from Brexit”.
With a total of 3,841 shows in 323 venues across the city, McCarthy was also quick to counter growing concerns from Edinburgh locals, including the newly-formed group Citizen, that pressures on public space and accommodation were making city centre living unsustainable for long-term residents.
Launching the 72nd annual programme on Wednesday morning, McCarthy warned that “we’re seriously in danger of being anti-tourist”.
“On a personal level I would counsel the city to be really careful about that,” said McCarthy.
“The idea that the fringe is responsible for over-tourism in Edinburgh is weird. This is a city with a castle and medieval history, people come here all year round. [This is] really a year-long issue for the city and about better management.”
Unsurprisingly, the climate crisis figures strongly in the programme, with 1.5 Degrees Live! taking inspiration from the public readings of the Chilcot Report on the Iraq war to read the IPCC report over 50 hour-long slots.
Pathetic Fallacy, which examines our changing relationship to weather as awareness of environmental emergency grows, will put a different performer who is already at the fringe in the central role for each show. Then Vancouver-based creator Anita Rochon will offer direction from Canada via a monitor, in order to minimise her carbon footprint.
True crime is another prominent theme, with an all-female cast tackling the story of Scotland’s notorious serial killer, Bible John, as well as lawyers involved in the Netflix documentary Making of a Murderer discussing their work on coerced confessions.
A number of shows offer a first-person perspective on migration, including Pizza Shop Heroes, performed performed by four former child refugees from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Albania who came to live in the UK.
Other highlights include Scottish-American comedian and former Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson performing his first UK standup show in 25 years. Broadcaster Iain Dale will interview political guests including Nicola Sturgeon, Sadiq Khan and Sayeeda Warsi.
Reflecting wider anxieties about the changing cityscape, affordability for performers and audiences remains a key concern.
The Fringe Society’s Blueprint priorities, launched last year in the run-up to the festival’s 75th anniversary in 2022, include plans to reduce the long-term cost of performing and visiting the fringe.
This year the average ticket is £10.56, while artists with children can access free childcare. In recognition of the costs of putting on a show at the festival, a new partnership with the global crowd-funding platform KickStarter will involve the site refunding its 5% commission to any registered fringe show that has crowd-funded to get there.
Following warnings from McCarthy herself that the festival was at risk of becoming unaffordable for artists, local homeowners are being encouraged to host an artist, via another online partnership with the TheatreDigsBooker website.
Both Queen Margaret and Edinburgh Napier universities, as well as Unite Students, have agreed to offer accommodation to festival participants at reduced rates this August, which McCarty says “will make a real difference this year”.
The festival will also have a stronger focus on artists’ mental health. Prompted by concerns raised by performers themselves, in particular those whose shows include confessional content, artists will be able to access daily counselling support as well as special sessions on maintaining wellbeing throughout the gruelling fringe run.