Edinburgh Fringe

The Edinburgh Fringe is becoming unaffordable | Is the festival near its breaking point?

For many audiences, a weekend at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is quickly becoming unaffordable. For the artists, it's even worse. We spoke to a range of performers about the crisis about to hit Edinburgh.

Jackman & Bones, a sketch comedy duo returning to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time since 2019 with their new show, Framed, have a story many artists will find familiar.

“We had accommodation booked since the start of the year, until our host pulled our booking in May out of nowhere. By then, prices had gone up massively.”

“Now we have to move out for 3 days during the second week, and we’re sharing a bed. We’ll be sleeping on floors or trying to find cheap student accommodation during that gap.”

For wannabe performers at the largest arts festival in the world, affordability problems are nothing new.

For most artists heading to the Fringe, accommodation is the largest investment by far. According to The Stage, in 2022, the average cost of an Airbnb for one adult for the festival’s duration was £2,471. For Booking.com, it was £5,198.

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For Phil Green, a Fringe veteran with multiple BBC credits and a new stand-up show, 4 Weddings & A Breakdown, the problems have only gotten worse since then.

“It’s definitely gotten more expensive. I’m sharing a flat with a fellow comedian. We did the same thing last year, and if we had booked the same flat as 2022 for exactly the same number of nights it would have cost £2,000 more.”

For stand-ups and younger double-acts, accommodation might prove expensive. It leans closer to the impossible for shows with larger casts or artists with families.

“I probably have one of the biggest casts at Edinburgh Fringe both in number and in physical size – so we need a lot of accommodation.”

Ed Gamester runs Mythos: Ragnarök, a Norse-inspired theatre-cum-live-wrestling show which earned rave reviews in its Edinburgh debut in 2022.

“After our sellout run last year, we’re lucky to be returning this year with a producer who is loaning us the money to pay for our accommodation upfront. Even then, we have to stay outside the city – we can’t afford to stay in Edinburgh itself.”

mythos ragnarok

Mythos: Ragnarok runs at the Assembly Roxy until 27 August

Anu Vaidyanathan’s show, Blimp, is in a much sought-after timeslot of 19:15 in the Underbelly on Bristo Square. For parents, she says, finding somewhere to stay is getting increasingly tough.

“I’m doing a shorter run this year since I couldn’t afford the full month. I really missed my kids and partner in 2022, and it was exorbitant to come here as a family.”

The Edinburgh rental sector’s practice of August price inflation is nothing new. Though a recent study found its festivals contribute nearly £500 million to the Edinburgh economy annually, 51% of festival-related spending goes on accommodation alone.

But a roof and a bed aren’t the only costs associated with a standard Edinburgh run. Registering a show at the festival for more than six shows in 2023 costs anywhere between £295.20 and £393.60. A 100-capacity venue, according to the Fringe website, will set you back £3,000-£4,000. Five thousand flyers – a pretty standard number to distribute in an average Fringe run – add another £75, and that’s if you’re handing them out on a street corner yourself. The cost of getting someone to do it for you starts at around £12/hour.

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And though most performers give up a month of full-time or freelance work to take on the festival, no one does so with the idea of getting rich. Often, even a sold-out run doesn’t earn artists enough to cover the venue hire alone.

“If you break even that’s a bonus,” physical theatre artistic director Kim Wildborne told The Guardian. “It’s not just about bums on seats, the more important thing is using the fringe to generate relationships with people interested in the work. We should end up with tour dates for 2024. That’s why you go. It’s an investment.”

The Fringe Society, which came under fire this year for spending £7 million on a new headquarters building, has taken some steps to minimise the impact on low-income performers. New Society President Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s much-celebrated ‘Keep it Fringe’ fund offered 50 artists £2,000 each to keep the festival closer to its meritocratic roots. However, that grant won’t cover a month’s accommodation for many.

Patrick McPherson, performing his new play The Way Way Deep at the Underbelly at 17:20, thinks Edinburgh’s affordability crisis is starting to hurt its international appeal.

Colossal edinburgh Fringe

Patrick McPherson’s previous show, Colossal, won Best Theatre Show at the Perth Fringe (Photo: Matt Crockett)

“I was doing a panel at Perth Fringe in January, and the Australian artists were asking about how to do Edinburgh. It felt horrible telling them that before you even book a venue you need to have hundreds or thousands of pounds.”

“Bear in mind at that festival – the third biggest in the world – there’s no deposits on venues, there’s a comparatively cheap registration fee, discounts for artists across every show. Even though Edinburgh is amazing, it’s barbaric in comparison.”

As for solutions, performers aren’t short of ideas.

“Fancy going back to a barter system?” US sitcom Superstore star Chris Grace, facing his solo debut playing the actress Scarlett Johansson, suggests.


Chris Grace also stars in Shamilton: The Improvised Musical

“A rent cap seems like a good place to start,” Jackman & Bones told me.

“Maybe the Fringe Society could do a deal with the University to secure discounted accommodation for performers,” says Phil Green.

Mythos: Ragnarök’s Ed Gamester has some of the most comprehensive suggestions.

“An August accommodation tax that get reinvested into alleviating the fees that the Fringe charges the artists.”

“Maybe we need tax breaks for landlords and hotels who collaborate with promotors and venues.”

Most artists, though, aren’t confident things will change any time soon.

“It’s mostly wishful thinking,” Anu Vaidanathan admits.

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“We’re pessimistic, certainly. It’s hard to see how it can continue to be as expensive as it is, we’ve both been saving since 2019 and it’s already cost those savings,” Jackman & Bones add.

For many, the despondency has quickly turned to anger, a sentiment Ed Gamester agrees with:

“It’s farcical. The Fringe is where acts go to get scouted and funded: if they need funding to even go to the Fringe, what’s the point? Artists should be investing in the art that makes Edinburgh Fringe so popular, not paying off a landlord’s mortgage in a month.”

“Unless we want a situation where only wealthy artists have the disposable income to create Fringe shows, something needs to change.”

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 runs from 2-28 August. Details on all the artists mentioned here are available below:

Jackman & Bones: Framed (Just the Tonic at The Caves, 12:40)

Phil Green: Four Weddings and a Breakdown (Banshee Labyrinth, 14:40)

Mythos: Ragnarok (Assembly Roxy, 21:20)

Anu Vaidyanathan: Blimp (Underbelly, Bristo Square, 19:15)

Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johannsson (Assembly George Square Studios, 13:40)

The Way Way Deep (Underbelly, Cowgate, 17:20)

Shamilton: The Improvised Musical (Assembly George Square Studios, 17:20)

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