Opinion: Is The Edinburgh Bubble About to Burst?


There is a section in Daniel Kitson's current show, After The Beginning. Before The End, in which he talks about his difficulties with relationships. When he loves someone they don't love him and vice versa. One always wants what one can't have. I've had the same sort of thought this morning, only in terms of reviewing shows.

It currently feels as if performers going up to the Edinburgh Fringe next week have only just discovered the internet. I've always had a trickle of emails from performers and PRs asking me to review their shows but suddenly I've been getting a veritable tsunami of requests. Theatre critic Matt Trueman recently tweeted about a PR asking him to review a show for, I think, the sixth time. On the one hand I admire their persistence, on the other hand Matt probably did read their first email and decided against it, so he has good reason to be disgruntled. More emails aren't going to earn a reprieve from critics, they are more likely to annoy them.

In the last few days it has got to the point where for the first time I've decided not to respond to every request. If you don't get a reply from me please don't follow up with another email. The dog didn't eat your letter when it dropped through the letterbox. I received it and read it but unfortunately I have no time to see your show or cover it. It's brutal, but there is simply no way I can even consider most of the comedy shows for review (never mind theatre, which I don't even cover but still get emails...). There are around 600 shows at the last count and I'll have space and time to review, at best, 30 shows. Do. The. Math.

It's horrible stamping on someone's dreams before opening night, but that is the reality of Edinburgh. If you are there to develop your craft that's good. If you are there to be discovered or get a rave review on your very first visit think again. Edinburgh is now just too big and sprawling for that sort of fairy story to happen. I'd love to be proved wrong, but Edinburgh just seems absolutely saturated this year. While the Free Fringe is a good idea in principle it has also contributed to my looming meltdown and possibly the meltdown of the whole comedy caboodle. In the past once the Fringe brochure was published there was no point putting on a show. Now that Free Fringe listings can be added online the additions never end. New shows are being announced all the time. The exponential growth is surely unsustainable.

The bubble, I'm afraid, has to burst at some point. A friend from Croatia recently emailed me to say she was coming to the Festival for the first time and could I recommend some shows for her to see. Not surpassingly she was flummoxed by the brochure. Where do you begin? I figure I'll recommend some Free Fringe shows so that she doesn't waste money on something she doesn't enjoy. But if the shows are not up to scratch she will still have wasted time and that is equally precious if you are only up in Edinburgh for a couple of days.

All of which brings me back to Daniel Kitson. He doesn't have a PR. There were no free press tickets for the show last night. I had to buy one. He doesn't want his shows reviewed. He never hassles journalists to get more coverage. If only more shows in Edinburgh had that attitude my life would be so much more fun and so less stressful (I do, by the way, care deeply about performers and want them to thrive, just in case that wasn't clear). But then if only more performers were as good as Daniel Kitson they would not need to be asking for reviews. The boot would be on the other foot and critics would be asking them if we can review them. As I said, you always want what you can't have.



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