Seventy years of the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val

Morag Flem­ing cel­e­brates 70 years of the in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous arts event.

The People's Friend - - News -

HAPPY birth­day! And it’s a big birth­day, too. The Ed­in­burgh International Fes­ti­val and its near neigh­bour, the Fringe, are 70 years old this year.

They’ve gained their three-score years and ten and, like many of the stars that cut their teeth here back in the day, are now na­tional trea­sures.

The idea for an arts fes­ti­val was first con­ceived dur­ing World War II in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a post-war slump in the arts in the UK.

Ru­dolf Bing co-founded the Fes­ti­val with Henry Har­vey Wood, Head of the Bri­tish Coun­cil in Scot­land, Sid­ney New­man Reid, Pro­fes­sor of Mu­sic at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity, and a group of civic lead­ers from the City of Ed­in­burgh.

Var­i­ous cities had been dis­cussed, but Bing chose Ed­in­burgh as the cas­tle re­minded him of Salzburg, which al­ready had an an­nual mu­sic fes­ti­val at the time. It fit­ted the bill in other ways as well, as Henry Wood ex­plained.

“Cer­tain pre­con­di­tions were ob­vi­ously re­quired of such a cen­tre. It should, like Salzburg, have con­sid­er­able scenic and pic­turesque ap­peal and it should be set in a coun­try likely to be at­trac­tive to tourists and for­eign vis­i­tors.

“Above all it should be a city likely to em­brace the op­por­tu­nity and will­ing to make the fes­ti­val a ma­jor pre­oc­cu­pa­tion not only in the City Cham­bers but in the heart and home of ev­ery cit­i­zen.”

And so it came to pass. Be­tween Au­gust 22 and September 11, 1947, the first Ed­in­burgh International Fes­ti­val took place and it has grown in size and stature ever since.

That de­scrip­tion of Henry Wood’s turned out to be spot on and this year, when I in­ter­viewed EIF di­rec­tor Fer­gus Line­han, he put the suc­cess of the fes­ti­val down to “the stead­fast sup­port of the peo­ple of Ed­in­burgh”, which echoes Henry Wood’s words of more than 70 years ago.

So what was on in that 1947 in­au­gu­ral fes­ti­val? Well, the pro­gramme was mainly clas­si­cal mu­sic as per the Salzburg model and fa­mously fea­tured the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic Orches­tra. Verdi’s opera “Mac­beth” also ap­peared on the pro­gramme, as it does seventy years later in 2017.

In terms of the­atre, the Old Vic the­atre per­formed in 1947 and they have also been in­vited back this year to per­form an Alan

Ay­ck­bourn play called “The Di­vide”.

Along­side this was an al­ter­na­tive pro­gramme of eight un­sanc­tioned pro­duc­tions, which later be­came known as the Fes­ti­val Fringe.

The in­ter­ven­ing years of the Ed­in­burgh International Fes­ti­val and the Fringe are a bit of a who’s who in terms of international cul­ture. In 1953 Richard Bur­ton ap­peared in “Ham­let”. Margo Fonteyn danced with Sadler’s Wells in 1954.

You could see Mar­lene Di­et­rich in con­cert at the Lyceum in both 1964 and 1965. In 1971 Robin Wil­liams ap­peared in a Wild West ver­sion of “The Tam­ing Of The Shrew” – now that I would like to have seen!

Rowan Atkin­son was just twenty-one when he first took part in the Fringe with the Ox­ford Re­vue in 1976. The Cam­bridge Foot­lights fea­tured Emma Thomp­son, Stephen Fry and Hugh Lau­rie in 1981.

Mike My­ers – he of “Wayne’s World”, “Shrek” and “Austin Pow­ers” – ap­peared as part of a com­edy duo in 1985.

Gra­ham Nor­ton cut his com­edy teeth at the Fringe in 1991, as did a host of now-fa­mil­iar com­edy names in­clud­ing Jo Brand, Jeremy Hardy, Dy­lan Mo­ran, John He­g­ley, Jimmy Carr, Adam Hills and Jenny Eclair.

The num­ber of shows, per­for­mances and venues has nearly tre­bled in that short 25 years since the Al­ls­tars were last here, and much more than that since the Fes­ti­val’s in­cep­tion 70 years ago.

The down­side is that com­pe­ti­tion for ticket sales is fiercer than ever, with a widen­ing gap be­tween the per­for­mances that sell out and those that have to de­cide whether to play to an au­di­ence whose num­bers are fewer than those on­stage!

It can be a tough gig for those fresh-faced per­form­ers from all over the world who are up against the International Fes­ti­val and “folk aff the telly”!

Nick Sala­m­one is a play­wright and ac­tor from the USA and has felt both edges of this par­tic­u­lar sword. He won a cov­eted “Fringe First” award in 2000 and the play sold out from the mo­ment the news broke. An­other year he acted in a play which was closed in the first week due to lack of au­di­ences. He ex­plains why this has not put him off.

“When we won the Fringe First and had a five-star re­view in ‘The Scots­man’, it was mar­vel­lous. In sub­se­quent years, how­ever, we had the op­po­site ex­pe­ri­ence. I acted in a very dark com­edy and we played to two or three peo­ple, when we had an au­di­ence at all.

“We’ve been back many times and ex­pe­ri­enced ev­ery kind of re­cep­tion, from hos­til­ity through in­dif­fer­ence to rap­ture, and it is al­ways worth the gam­ble. To be in one of the most glo­ri­ous cities in the world among artists and au­di­ences hun­gry for the­atre is so in­vig­o­rat­ing and in­spir­ing.” n

For More In­for­ma­tion

Visit the International Fes­ti­val’s web­site at www. eif.co.uk or call the Box Of­fice on 0131 473 2000. Find out about what’s on at the Fringe at www.ed­fringe.com or via the Box Of­fice on 0131 226 0000.

Acts tout for au­di­ences on the streets.

Cock­burn Street is lined with great places to eat.

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