The London Fringe Festival 2010 – early thoughts

Wednesday, November 25 2009

London has just wandered onto the fringe festival playground, all mouth, and started punching Edinburgh in the shins. Where will it end?

London: awesome

Mixed feelings at London is Funny Towers this week over the announcement of a London Fringe Festival to coincide with the Edinburgh Fringe next year. As it stands, it is still only a small operation in comparison, with just a dozen or so venues signed up.

BUT, should it prosper, the winner in all this could be you, the comedy punter. Does having two festivals give you more chance to see the shows you want to see? Does increased competition drive down prices? Are Edinburgh prices not already over-inflated and due a dry slap? Yes, yes and yes.

Let's slow down a little and dissect this mother:

Pros (work in progress)
1) London is the nerve centre of the UK comedy scene... It houses a disproportionately large number of the UK's comedians and comedy punters, why not have a major arts festival here? The punters would enjoy the convenience, the comics would save themselves the cost of upping sticks to Edinburgh for a month
2) Big stock of permanent venues = few temporary rooms = less sweating... A common complaint of Edinburgh is the plastic saunas that pass as venues, London's many pubs and small/medium theatres should avoid similar grumbles
3) Edinburgh's belly is swollen... Over-priced tickets (for punters), venues and promotion (for comics) and accommodation (for all) make it ripe for an under-cutting. It may have to get realistic, which would save everyone else a fair few pennies
4) Big audiences... Maybe even bigger than Edinburgh in a few years. London's 7.5m population contains an enormous number of potential new converts to comedy
5) Peaceful, hippy co-existence... London has the size and ready-to-go infastructure, Edinburgh has the festival roots and character, when the dust settles, both fringes may well run simultaneously.

London: not awesome

Cons (work in progress)
1) London is too big for a festival... Its vastness could be its downfall as much as its selling point. For a festival to work, it needs to feel like a bubble, create an atmosphere. Otherwise it is just a series of events with the same logo on the flyer. London would easily swallow up a fringe festival, whereas Edinburgh absolutely frigging goes for it
2) Public transport... People getting from one show to another by bus or tube? One word: late-comers
3) Save our sanity... London is an intense, brain-frying place to live at the best of times. Many of the comedy scene's main players live in London and may actually prefer to leave for Edinburgh to deal the pressure of a make-or-break comedy festival. That way, they shake it all off again when they get back to London and resume normal service. Think of it like this: doing all your eating, working and sleeping in bed may seem like a good idea...
4) Edinburgh loyalty... Pitting a London fringe directly against Edinburgh is audacious, hostile and possibly massively hubristic. As a result, venues/comics/punters/agencies etc may not be interested in signing up. For all its faults, Edinburgh is a much-loved institution.

What is obvious is that a London Fringe Festival cannot be the same as Edinburgh, it will be different – but can it be better? And while the 2010 LFF may not impact Edinburgh too much, (it has already announced its participation fees for 2010,) by 2011 or the Olympic-tastic 2012, it may be giving Edinburgh a big old kick up the arse. If LFF does become a genuine threat, Edinburgh's whiff of profiteering and politics – which is currently tolerated – may become its achilles heel. And for you lot, that may mean more reasonable prices, as two festivals slug it out for your dollar.

LiF will watch with interest, of course.


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