Refurbished Assembly Rooms unveils Fringe line-up

The new operator of Edinburgh Fringe venue the Assembly Rooms has unveiled its programme for this year’s event, promising to keep prices down and cut out the venue’s infamous queues.

The £9.3 million refurbishment to the Assembly Rooms by the city council, which owns the building, is due to be completed in June. Salt’n’Sauce promotions, which also runs the Stand comedy clubs, has taken over the fringe tenancy for a five-year deal.

Director Tommy Sheppard told The Stage: “When we took over the custodianship we wanted to put on a multi-genre arts project that would reflect the breadth of the activities available at the world’s largest arts festival. Pretty much everything going in there has got our name on it and has got our money behind it, our risk.

“That allows us to be innovative and support new work, particularly in the theatre programme. The Intervention, Dave Florez’s new play, has the potential to be a monster fringe hit. The NTS is coming in with their flagship production, An Appointment with the Wicker Man, and I’m very pleased to have the Belfast Lyric coming over with a world premiere of Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory, a brand new musical with a really serious point to it satirising nip and tuck culture.”

The theatre programme also includes David Hayman in Rony Bridges’ Six and a Tanner, Tom Owen in a new production of Krapp’s Last Tape and the UK premiere of Pip Utton’s latest one-man show: Churchill.

On the spoken word side, Scotland’s makar Liz Lochhead will host a daily show of poems, monologues, lyrics, theatre pieces and special guests. Former labour MP Tony Benn will make two appearances after film screenings of a documentary about his lengthy political career.

The Assembly Rooms upgrade has seen a reduction to the number of theatre spaces available during the fringe, as the ground floor has been given over to retail and restaurant use. On the first floor, individual rooms have been increased in capacity due to new seating arrangements, leaving two studio spaces with 100 seats, the Ball Room with 392 and the Music Hall with 692.

Despite the increase, Sheppard says that he is aiming to get rid of the notorious queues which were a hallmark of the venue in previous years.

He has increased turnaround times between shows, particularly in the larger spaces, with the objective of getting the house open half an hour before curtain up.

On price, Sheppard added: “I have had some blistering arguments with people to keep prices down to a reasonable level. It is an open secret that I am paying an awful lot of money to the council to rent the venue and the budget is huge, but we have managed to peg all of the studio prices to £10 maximum and most of the shows in the large rooms are £15.”

Sheppard insists the operation is not an extension of The Stand. However, the line-up boasts a comedy section, which includes Jerry Sadowitz , Russell Kane, former WWE Hardcore wrestler Mick Foley and Jimeoin. It will be headed up by Stewart Lee, performing a version of his touring show, originally work-shopped at The Stand last summer.

The full programme is available at www.arfringe.com

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster