Fringe benefits

This year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival promises to be as vibrant, chaotic and overcrowded as ever. Matthew Valentine takes in a little of the local colour.

As a Mecca for drama students, theatre-goers and tourists the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, now 51-years-old and going strong, is a well established calendar event. So established, in fact, that it is a rare drama student who hasn’t spent several weeks sleeping on the floor of a crowded flat, or indeed van, with dozens of like-minded soles unable to find any decent accommodation because of the overcrowding.

Overcrowding must surely be an issue from a design point of view as well. The city can appear to be a mishmash of styles at festival time: there are numerous independent locations in pubs, clubs and halls of every description, plus performers from, it can seem, every corner of the globe. Graphically, each brings something of its own to the event, with the results adding up to the sometimes confusing experience that is “doing Edinburgh”.

The confusion is compounded by the fact that there is more than one festival going on (for there to be a festival fringe there obviously has to be a festival proper) and by excessive and compulsory consumption of alcohol.

With a vast influx of people over a short period of time, design for events like the Fringe obviously concentrates on the creation of temporary but high-volume means of communication. For the second year running, the task of developing the brochures for children and adults, the flyers, the guides to performers and the posters for the Fringe has fallen to Dunfermline consultancy Crombie Anderson.

Traditionally the cover of the main programme and much of the additional publicity material features artwork chosen by a competition between students at Edinburgh Art College. This year is no exception, with a suitably dramatic image from final-year student Janice Tabraham forming the basis of much of Crombie Anderson’s work.

Emma Davies, creative director of Crombie Anderson and a Fringe design veteran, says that creating material for the festival is a year-round process. “In terms of things like the programme and the daily diary, the key issue is for it to be legible,” she says. But it is also imperative to capture something of the energy of the event. Luckily for the designers that isn’t too difficult: “The festival is such a wonderful time,” says Davies.

The result is colourful images which communicate much of the Edinburgh atmosphere, without feeling the need to “out do” the performers. To try such a tactic would be unwise anyway, Davies agrees. Despite sometimes non-existent budgets, huge amounts of enthusiasm from performers means that nothing much will match the colour of what they are doing: even monochrome stage productions can be expected to have a little blue language.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: 10-30 August

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