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Edinburgh’s Playhouse Theatre ‘ignored by international festival’, BECTU claims

BECTU has criticised EIF director Fergus Linehan for not programming more events at the Playhouse. Photo: Eoin Carey
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Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan has been criticised for programming just three performances at the city’s Playhouse Theatre, with BECTU claiming its members have been left “hunting for alternative work”.

The union’s theatre members in Edinburgh are calling on the city council to place “robust obligations” on Linehan, to demonstrate a serious commitment to the 3,000-seat Playhouse when seeking future funding.

This year, the festival is staging three one-night shows at the Playhouse – the Grit Orchestra’s performance of Martyn Bennett’s album Bothy Culture, and concerts by musicians St Vincent and John Grant.

BECTU said its members were “outraged” that such a large venue was being ignored by Linehan, and said the programme had left “many members hunting for alternative work at a time when every theatre worker is usually working flat out”.

Paul McManus, the union’s negotiations officer in Scotland, said: “Every year, our members would hope to see 3,000 people per show, six or seven shows a week, for three weeks. This year they’re looking at possible a couple of thousand people at one show a week for three weeks. That’s some difference in numbers for local businesses.”

The union said Ambassador Theatre Group, the Playhouse’s owner and operator, had taken steps to fill gaps in the programme, but went on to warn that a lack of programming may result in the venue not being hired to the festival in future.

“Our members believe there would be a substantial cultural loss to the city if a venue that has hosted companies from all corners of the globe should be lost to the festival,” McManus said.

He added: “Union members are also very disappointed that to date Fergus Linehan has refused to meet with their representatives to explain his position or to offer any reassurances about future programming at the Playhouse.”

Responding, Linehan said: “The International Festival has the utmost regard for the Edinburgh Playhouse and the team that work there. Each year our venue usage is shaped by the requirements of the programme, the types of work available to us and our budget constraints.

“In 2018 we are delighted to present performances by St Vincent, the Grit Orchestra performing Bothy Culture and John Grant at the Edinburgh Playhouse, all of which are expected to draw large audiences. We value our relationship with the Edinburgh Playhouse and its employees and look forward to planning important festival performances there for many years to come.”

Edinburgh City Council stressed that its relationship with EIF is as a funding partner, and all programming decisions lie with the festival and do no necessarily involve funding.

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