The Observer: Edinburgh Festival – 2006

No more local heroes?

Home-grown talent gets short-shrift at the Fringe

Within the first few days of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe I had watched Polish identical twins perform underwater acrobatics, heard the tale of an eccentric Englishman trying to ‘cheese-roll’ his way towards a knighthood and witnessed the spectacle of a Norwegian squeezing his body through a tennis racket. But the thing that has shocked me most at this year’s Fringe is just how few Scots are performing.

International interest in the Fringe has grown to such an extent that Scottish companies seem under-represented. At the Pleasance only three of the 180 acts performing can claim any Scottish connection. Similarly, the Gilded Balloon, with a programme of almost 100 shows, has only three Scottish performers. Fairing slightly better, the Assembly claims that 12.5 per cent of its 100 shows are by Scottish companies.

It’s hard to gauge a true figure for the number of Scottish performers. At first glance, the figures look good: 691 of a total 1,800 acts claim Scottish residency. However, with numbers based on the location of the shows’ ‘group contact’, on closer examination, many of those claiming Scottish connections do so on a tenuous basis.

One of the problems facing Scottish performers wishing to take part in the Fringe is the Festival’s open-access policy itself. While, on the one hand, it enables anyone to join in, on the other, it fails to discriminate in favour of Scottish artists. As Paul Gudgin, director of the Fringe, points out: ‘We don’t particularly discriminate. If they are from Zimbabwe or if they’re from Morningside, we try to do the same.’

What Gudgin does feel is that Scottish performers suffer a lack of funding from arts bodies. ‘The sadness to me is that people who come from other countries or other parts of the UK are often more advantaged than Scottish performers. The Arts Council in the East of England is using Edinburgh in a strategic way to nurture artists. And there are other countries doing the same. They recognise the record of shows going from Edinburgh and ending up an international success. Just about the only place we are seeing none of this activity is Scotland.’

There’s a saying in Scotland, ‘They’re always good that’s lives far away’ – but isn’t it time they showed a little more confidence in what they’ve got at home?

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