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  • The Brits love to claim supremacy in many domains; their sense of humour, their theatre, their justice system, their police force, football, bad weather - and the list is pretty near endless- is a cut above the rest. Difficult to judge, but there is one area where this is incontestable: The Edinburgh Festival.

    It is the oldest, the most attended, the most varied, and indeed the best. We hear of 10,000 events each year, encompassing theatrical activities, concerts, operas, ballet, modern dancing, art shows, acrobatics, street performances, book festivals; again the list goes on and on. The Film Festival has now been moved to May to avoid clutter.

    There isn’t a part of the city which isn’t involved. All the theatres, church halls, school halls, public places are transformed into venues. Often a venue might be an individual house where the owner is proudly exhibiting their latest artistic acquisition. The city is packed with tourists from all over Britain and overseas; restaurants, cafés and bars do great business; hotels and Bed and Breakfast places have 100% occupancy, and often a visitor has no choice but to find accommodation in nearby towns and travel to Auld Reekie to attend shows.

    Broadly the festival has two tiers, the Fringe and the Main. Now the Fringe starts earlier and usually finishes before the Main commences. It is a godsend to the smaller experimental companies, usually consisting of young and enthusiastic practitioners. Many of them invest their last penny in the venture, but unfortunately few of them end up with the recognition that they had been seeking. The very successful Stand-Up comics almost to a man/ woman started making a name for themselves doing the Edinburgh festival circuit. Those people now making lucrative tours round the country, started playing to an audience of 3 in a dinky school hall in Edinburgh a few years ago.

    There are many street performers, and even if most of them do variations of juggling, they are very popular and attract large crowds in the Royal Mile, that iconic stretch between the Castle and Holyrood Palace. Denizens of the city claim to scorn that appellation of Royal Mile; we are supposed to call it the High Street.

    The main festival boasts of concerts, ballet and theatre by the world’s best; in the past years I have seen drama from Germany, Poland, China, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, Chile, Argentine, Russia, often played to near empty houses. Something which prompted the bon mot: It would have been cheaper to fly the audience to Rio de Janeiro or Minsk.
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