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Celebrating Creativity and Diversity: Highlights from Pleasance’s 39th Fringe Festival


During a year that marked the triumphant return of the Fringe in full swing, the Pleasance Theatre Trust commemorated its 39th Fringe Festival.

The festival once more provided a platform for emerging talents and seasoned Fringe performers, showcasing their innovative creations through a total of 273 shows held across the Dome, the Courtyard, and the EICC.

With over 36,000 people in the Courtyard on its busiest day in August and with a 10% increase on sales since last year and over 480,000 tickets issued, the Pleasance has welcomed exciting newcomers and international artists to its stages, with a particular focus on supporting the most diverse and game-changing emerging companies.

2023 saw the Pleasance support a record number of artists and companies, including through the Charlie Hartill Fund, Edinburgh National Partnerships, Young Pleasance and Pick of VAULT. Prior to the Festival, artist box office share was increased by 5% for all artists and companies under 70 seats, with this additional income acknowledging both the increased costs of bringing work to Edinburgh as well as the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis. The Pleasance also sourced over 100 rooms for artists in Edinburgh and expanded the festival-leading Participant Preventative Care and Wellbeing programme with partners PlayWell, whilst also providing dedicated online mentorship over 20 weeks of free rehearsal and R&D space in their London development centre for artists bringing work to the Fringe, demonstrating the Pleasance’s commitment to developing artists year-round.

The Pleasance also continued to expand its programme of accessible work with 48 shows offering an
enhanced performance within their run, including work such as Self Raising, 30 & Out and CHOO
CHOO! (Or… Have You Ever Thought About ****** **** *****? (Cos I Have)) which included
integrated access as standard in all of their performances.

Investing further in the future of theatre, for its third year the Pleasance Theatre Trust issued over 1,300 100% subsidised tickets and transport directly to pupils at Edinburgh Primary Schools, widening local engagement and providing better accessibility to those who aren’t otherwise able to engage with the festival. The programme partnered with over 23 primary schools offering access to six shows in the Pleasance’s exciting and wide-ranging programme, and was generously supported by Nancie Massie Charitable Trust, Capricorn Energy, Crear Trust, and Radio Forth Cash for Kids. Pleasance also provided work experience and free access to performances for local participants from local schools, building on 2022’s commitment to those who may not otherwise access the festival.

This festival has been a
joyous event. The energy around the venues and in this city has been wonderfully positive. The quality of work has been of the highest standard and audiences have enjoyed some truly wonderful
shows. The Pleasance is all about lending support and enabling artists to present work and I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved this year. One of the most positive changes to our festival programme is the access it offers; we supported a record six Charlie Hartill shows as well as eight National
Partnerships productions alongside our Young Pleasance company. We have also welcomed over 1,300 primary school children into the courtyard this last week. This really has been an amazing year
for the Pleasance and, as sad as it is when the venues close for the final time, we’re already looking ahead and excited for 2024, our 40th anniversary.

Anthony Alderson, director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust

It was also another bumper awards year for the Pleasance programme. Edinburgh National Partnership production CHOO CHOO! (Or… Have You Ever Thought About ****** **** *****? (Cos I Have)) won a prestigious Fringe First Award from The Scotsman and the Mental Health Foundation Fringe Award for this vital show exploring obsessive compulsive disorder. Charlie Hartill recipient Public – The Musical received a special mention at the Popcorn Writing Award, and The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria was the second finalist in these fantastic awards.

Lindsey Santoro won the (quite literally) Biggest Award in Comedy, whilst Broadway Baby’s Bobby Award was awarded to the fantastic A Manchester Anthem. Two fantastic Pleasance acts were named as part of The Stage’s Fringe Five, with Liv Ello and Frankie Thompson being recognised for Body Show, and Sam Woof, artistic director of Goya Theatre, recognised for Four Felons and a Funeral and Actually, Love.

With work from over 20 countries from across the world, the international strand of the Pleasance programme has represented artists from across the globe. The award-winning and internationally renowned Släpstick were awarded the Best Performance Award by the Global Cultural Exchange Committee and the Seoul Metropolitan Government as part of the Seoul Arts Awards for their unique brand of mischief in Schërzo. Elizabeth Gunawan was also runner up for Best Performance at the Asian Arts Awards for Charlie Hartill Fund-winning Unforgettable Girl. Mary O’Connell won the Best Debut Show of the Fringe from Entertainment Now for Money Princess, and the all-important Edinburgh Laura Award was given to Awkward Productions’ Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story.

Eight Pleasance shows made the shortlist for the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, with Ania Magliano: I Can’t Believe You’ve Done This, Janine Harouni: Man’oushe and Kieran Hodgson: Big In Scotland nominated for Best Comedy Show, and Bill O’Neill: The Amazing Banana Brothers, Lindsey Santoro: Pink Tinge, Louise Young: Feral, Martin Urbano: Apology Comeback Tour and Paddy Young: Hungry, Horny, Scared amongst the nominees for Best Newcomer.

The (ISH) Comedy Awards also nominated a number of Pleasance acts in its inaugural year, including Janine Harouni: Man’oushe and Luke Kempner in Gritty Police Drama: A One-Man Musical for Best Show and Lachlan Werner: Voices of Evil and Lorna Rose Treen: Skin Pigeon for Best Newcomer.

Those nominated for OffFest awards in the Pleasance programme include Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story, Please Love Me, Beautiful Evil Things, Buffy Revamped, Chatham House Rules, 30 and Out, Clown Sex, Wiesenthal, Pitch, Santi and Naz, Glass Ceiling Beneath the Stars, A Manchester Anthem, Burning Down The Horse, Flat and The Curves, Lash, Trainspotting: Live!, I Love You, Now What and Actually, Love.

Pleasance shows once again dominated Theatre Weekly’s Best of The Fest Awards, with Stroud & Notes taking home Best Musical for Public – The Musical and Home winning the award for Best Physical Theatre. Black is the Color of My Voice won Best Play, the innovative genius of The Ice Hole – A Cardboard Comedy won Best Comedy and Best Writing went to the very deserving Unforgettable Girl. Individual performances at The Pleasance were also celebrated, with Jack Stokes once again winning Best Solo Performance, this time for Lash. In Loyal Company and Public – The Musical were shortlisted for the Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Fringe Award, and Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story was the runner up for the Brighton Fringe Award.

The Pleasance are proud to mark 31 years in their partnership with Scotland’s leading HIV and Hepatitis C charity, Waverley Care. Hosted by Garrett Millerick, this year’s annual Tartan Ribbon comedy benefit saw acclaimed comedians take to the stage to raise awareness alongside much- needed funds for the charity. Audiences were delighted by the likes of Nick Mohammed as Mr Swallow, Ivo Graham, Andy Parsons, Shaparak Khorsandi, Janine Harouni, Daniel Foxx and Ania Magliano in a fantastic night of comedy for a good cause. Combining collections made across the Pleasance’s venues and the proceeds from The Tartan Ribbon, an estimated £51,384.90 was raised for the incredible charity, which amounts to an estimated total of £690,539.90 raised in the history of the Pleasance and Waverley Care’s vital partnership.

It’s been another fantastic summer, and one that couldn’t have gone ahead without all the incredible staff and volunteers who bring the venues alive during August. The Pleasance continues to be the place to be every Fringe, with its fantastic programme of comedy, theatre, circus, magic, dance and kids’ shows. And if you can’t wait until next August, don’t forget to check out the venue’s year-round home in Islington for the wonderful ongoing programme.

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