Renovated Assembly Rooms Providing New hub for Edinburgh’s Fringe
A cold, wet evening in May (aye, May) is not the best atmosphere for being at the wrong venue for a launch. My excuse? There was a hint somewhere in an email about seeing renovations and anyway, what do I know about building schedules? Answer: hee haw. We are so used in Edinburgh to the disruption of barriers closed streets and roads, that whether or not scaffolding has gone down is barely noted any more. Luckily, I was in the Guides so used my initiative and soon came across some likely folk on the way to the launch in St Andrew Square. (Note to self: always read the small print.)
In no time we were inside out of the cold being handed a glass of wine and a copy the 2012 Assembly Rooms and The Famous Spiegeltent joint programme of nearly 800 performances of theatre, music, comedy and cabaret.
During the Fringe, the space outside the newly refurbished Assembly Rooms in George Street will be transformed into a continental style alfresco terraced area, The Famous Spiegel Terrace, that will be a new city centre hub for the Edinburgh Fringe.
It boasts a continental-style café bar, an iconic Saddlespan tent that could be described as a canvas Sydney Opera House and a free classical music stage. It is promised that the area will be in keeping with the historic surroundings, with quality seating, discreet signage and a perimeter constructed from live yew hedging.
The speeches were brief but we learned enough from one of the project backers, Essential Edinburgh CEO, Andy Neal that the arrival of this innovative scheme will be welcome to the business community and is quoted as saying, “Last year we suffered through the lack of a major festival hub in the area. That is why we have provided a significant investment in this project, and lobbied hard to support it.”
Tommy Sheppard, director of Assembly Rooms Fringe (or AR Fringe), speaks about this ambitious and exciting idea of The Famous Spiegel Terrace as being an “enhancing the experience for everyone [where they can] feel the Festival heartbeat” and giving suitable thanks to the Cooncil, Assembly Rooms staff and the list of drinks sponsors. He quipped that it all felt a bit like the lunatics taking over the asylum, adding “Yes, that’s what we are!”
The Famous Spiegeltent is currently owned by Australian impresario, David Bates, known as the Spiegelmaestro. He told me “Edinburgh is always up for a good idea” and is "rapt" to be bringing the now 25 year old Famous (and quite wonderful) Spiegeltent as part of the realignment of the Fringe to this unique setting. In the past it has been home to other Fringe shows as well as being a venue at the Book and Jazz Festivals.
Assembly Fringe programme
The programme itself has a broad sweep including two major world theatre premieres in The Comedians Theatre Company’s The Intervention and the satirical musical Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory from the Belfast Lyric and an enticing mix with fine actors like David Hayman and fine writers like Becket.
There’s music from some of Scotland’s finest including, Shooglenifty, Jimmie MacGregor and Karen Matheson as well as Favela Funk party from Brazil! Brazil!, Camille Sullivan and Christine Bovill with her show, Piaf.
Comedy doesn’t dominate but is well represented in big home grown stars like Stewart Lee, Russell Kane and Stewart Francis along with international guests including top Swedish stand-up Magnus Betner and Kristine Levine from the US, dubbed the new Roseanne.
The internationally acclaimed phenomenon La Clique features with La Clique Royale: The Queen’s Selection as a glamorous nod to the Jubilee year as part of the Cabaret programme that also has cabaret rising star Virginia Gay singing Dirty, Pretty Songs, and gentleman crooner Mikelangelo premiering his new show, The Balkan Elvis.
This innovation, with the excitement of seeing the Assembly Rooms refurbishment, looks like one change to the Capital’s landscape that will be welcome and positive. Even if the weather doesn’t improve, there’s plenty here to warm our Festival hearts. Roll on August!
Shows for all Assembly Rooms and The Famous Spiegeltent shows are now on sale at www.arfringe.com.