EDINBURGH (Reuters) - The Edinburgh Fringe hit its stride over the weekend, offering a record number of productions through the festival month including comedy, drama, music, and a host of would-be stars aiming to break into the big time.
The anarchic Fringe combines with the more staid international festival of dance, music and theatre to present the biggest annual arts show on earth to tens of thousands of visitors who flock to the Scottish capital every year.
The Fringe has proved a launch pad for many of the leading names in British theatre, while the annual comedy awards are seen as a route to success from Australia to the United States.
Despite computer glitches that caused ticketing problems in the run-up to the festival, sales appeared to be holding up despite the economic crunch.
Anecdotal evidence suggested that the number of American visitors was down, while numbers from Europe were up, helped by the strength of the euro currency.
Nearly 19,000 performers, more than 3,000 from abroad, are signed up to take part in a record 2,088 shows to August 25.
These run from the dark and light side of the digital age to cutting edge satire -- including a swipe at former Prime Minister Tony Blair. But there were no shows to be seen targeting his successor Gordon Brown.
The International Arts Festival opens on Friday with "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny," a tragic-comic satire of a hedonistic city where anything goes by Bertolt Brecht to the music of Kurt Weill.
This year, the festival's Australian director Jonathan Mills has focused on the changing face of Europe in the early 21st century with a program called "artists without borders" through to August 31.
The parallel book festival, also the largest of its kind, will feature the iconic portrayer of super-spy James Bond, Edinburgh-born actor Sean Connery with an autobiography to be published on his 78th birthday on August 25.
The visual arts are represented by an exhibition of Scotland's affinity for 19th century impressionist art at the National Gallery, and the first retrospective by controversial conceptual artist Tracey Emin at the Modern Art Gallery.
Among the highlights of the Fringe is likely to be Jeremy Meadows in "Lies Have Been Told: An Evening With Robert Maxwell" at the Assembly Rooms.
Meadows created his monologue in association with writer Rod Beacham, seeking a psychological insight into the disgraced publisher Maxwell who drowned in the Atlantic under mysterious circumstances in 1991.
Another eagerly anticipated show is a series of readings by actor Simon Callow from Charles Dickens 150 years after the 19th century novelist himself read from his own works at the same location in Edinburgh.
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