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Funny old world: Fringe still grows but comedy trimmed

The world's biggest arts festival is getting even bigger – but it might have fewer laughs.

FUN AHEAD: The Fringe launch.
FUN AHEAD: The Fringe launch.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme has grown again, with a 6.5% increase in shows in this year's event compared to the previous one. The total number of shows will be 2871, performed by 24,107 artists in 273 venues.

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However, for the first time in years, the percentage of shows classed as comedy has reduced from 36% to 33%, with a corresponding growth in spoken word and cabaret shows.

The festival, which recorded 1.8 million tickets issued last year, will also this year include new venues in Paterson's Land, an Edinburgh University building that once housed the Bongo Club in its basement, a tent on the site of the former Fountain Brewery, the Arthur Conan Doyle Centre and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

One of the biggest venues in Edinburgh, the McEwan Hall, is also back after a two-year gap, and the Traverse Theatre will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

The 392-page Fringe programme also contains 713 free shows with artists and companies from 41 companies.

As reported yesterday, for the second time there will be a Glasgow box office at Queen Street Station, which last year led to a 19% rise in ticket sales in the city.

ScotRail also said it is preparing to release details of new later-night train services from Edinburgh to Glasgow and other locations.

Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Fringe Society, which runs the annual celebration of theatre, comedy, drama, dance and music, said she believes Edinburgh can cope with an ever larger Fringe.

Theatre shows have increased this year from 751 shows to 824, with themes of the economy, politics and gender relations looming large.

It has been estimated the Fringe annually generates £142m for Edinburgh and the Scottish economy.

Ms Mainland said: "It is a really good thing it is bigger: every year we say we don't expect it to grow but it has grown and that is a good indication of the robust health the Fringe is in.

"I think it means companies and artists still see it as a good place to work because of the exposure it will give them.

"Comedy is down, but that is potentially because we added the spoken word category last year and we did cabaret the year before, which has seen a little increase [up to 4% from 3%], so I think people are able to define themselves a little differently.

"The amount of comedy shows is essentially the same [958 instead of 953]."

This year there will be more places to pick up Fringe tickets for anything in the programme: as well as the four official Fringe ticket collection points, there will be 22 venues in the city where you can pick up pre-ordered tickets.

Ms Mainland added: "As we know the Fringe venue landscape is a shifting thing and a dynamic environment. Venues were available this year that weren't last year. I think it shows the city is coping with the increasing Fringe."

This year, along with a Fringe app, the festival has launched a Facebook ticketing app to allow people to browse the programme, share plans and buy tickets.

Fringe-goers and participants are also being asked to contribute images, animations and video for the Tumblr website, which will then be collated.

Ian Lavender, best known for playing Private Pike in Dad's Army, makes his Fringe debut in The Shawshank Redemption at the Assembly Rooms, which will also host Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

Steven Berkoff returns to the Fringe for An Actor's Lament and Dame Janet Suzman appears in Solomon and Maria. Stand-up comedians include Russell Kane, Al Murray, Ardal O'Hanlon, Reginald D Hunter and – for the first time in 17 years – Alexei Sayle.

The BBC will also return to the Potterrow venue with a series of free shows and radio programmes.

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