Edinburgh’s summer festivals are bucking the recession with a record number of shows and buoyant ticket sales.
But like the rain clouds that have loomed over the first week of the Fringe, there are concerns over the coming public spending squeeze. In particular, there are fears that this year will prove a high watermark for the Edinburgh International Festival, which gets more than half of its £9m funding from public bodies.
Ticket sales for the International Festival, which opened on Friday night, are 3 per cent ahead of the same stage last year.
The Edinburgh Fringe, meanwhile, is staging a record number of 2,453 shows this year – a 17 per cent increase on 2009.
Venerable Edinburgh financial institutions such as Standard Life and Bank of Scotland continue to support the event. But HBOS – swallowed by Lloyds Banking Group after the financial meltdown of 2008 – has said this will be the last year it sponsors the fireworks concert at Edinburgh Castle that is the Festival’s traditional climax.
The financial crisis that engulfed the banks will be reflected in a new Festival play by satirist Alistair Beaton. Caledonia is about the Darien Venture, Scotland’s disastrous attempt in 1698 to establish its own colony in Panama. The play is billed as a story of “greed, euphoria and mass delusion … an ancient story for modern times”.
In a similar austerity vein, one of the hottest Festival tickets has been for Porgy and Bess, the Gershwin musical from the Depression era set in a crumbling waterfront tenement.
Jonathan Mills, director of the International Festival, has called for a “mature” response to the threat of funding cuts. But he added that the Fringe’s purely commercial model – open to anyone who wants to stage a show – had “enormous fragility” and was at the whim of the market.
However, Charlie Woods, co-founder of Underbelly, one of the largest Fringe venues, said the Fringe – which receives very little public funding – could “pick up the baton” if cuts had a significant impact on the International Festival.