[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/82287?ns=guardian&pageName=A+London+fringe+festival%3F+I+don%27t+think+so%3AArticle%3A1309459&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Theatre%2CFestivals+%28Culture%29%2CStage%2CEdinburgh+festival%2CCulture+%28Travel%29&c6=Veronica+Lee&c7=09-Nov-24&c8=1309459&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=Theatre+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2Fblog%2FTheatre+blog[/img]Plans for a London fringe festival to coincide with Edinburgh next year are impractical and ill-mannered, but a one-off event around the 2012 Olympics might work well
A number of London venues are in talks to organise a fringe festival for the city to take place next year at the same time as the Edinburgh festival. One has to admire their ambition, I suppose, but this is an incredibly wrong-headed idea.
Let's start with some facts: the Edinburgh Fringe is the world's biggest – and best – arts festival. Established in 1947, it has some fabulous (and quirky) venues made available just for the month of August. The city has an excellent and cheap bus network, you would be hard-pressed to spend more than a fiver on a taxi, and it's walkable from top to bottom and east to west.
What has London got to offer? Well, it's huge by comparison and has no sense of the "oneness" needed for a festival spirit, and none of the putative venues – including the Bush, Gate, Almeida and Hackney Empire – are within walking distance of each other. It has unreliable and expensive public transport, and hideously expensive taxis.
The Edinburgh Fringe is both a holiday destination for arts lovers worldwide and an industry event, where producers, agents and critics gather to see a whole bunch of talent conveniently in one place. Yes, tourists arrive in their droves to the West End, but I've yet to meet someone making a transatlantic trip specifically to see something at any of the venues I mentioned earlier. And in London, with so much else already going on, do we really need another marketing-inspired fringe?
The proposed venues should also think hard about this: the Edinburgh Fringe acts as a seedbed of new talent across the arts, and London's theatre and comedy scenes in particular have benefited from that. Surely those working in the arts should be co-operative rather than competitive?
Practical considerations aside, I think it's a remarkably ill-mannered move at a time when the arts are under severe financial constraints. London and Edinburgh's arts scenes have happily co-existed and mutually benefited each other for years, so why try to steal Edinburgh's thunder – or indeed, its audiences?
The spokesman for this audacious scheme is Greg Tallent, who was behind the inaugural London Bridge festival in July this year. As I live nearby I attended several of its events, and I was unimpressed both as punter and critic.
There appears to be little industry support for this idea, and I suspect it won't happen. What organisers should focus on instead – and I'll take a sidestep just here – is hosting a London fringe in 2012, when the Olympics come to town.
The dates would partly coincide with the Edinburgh Fringe but as a one-off it could still work well, particularly if there is some cross-fertilisation – performers appearing in both cities, for example, or programming Edinburgh dance/theatre/comedy shows inspired by the sporting spectacle in London. There are several arts venues within striking distance of the Olympic site and a canny producer could offer ticket deals for those who, like me, believe an ideal day involves watching sport in the afternoon and an arts event in the evening. The only battle now is to hope for an organiser who can actually do the idea justice.
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Guardian: A London fringe festival? I don't think so
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