LONDON (Reuters) - A credit crunch musical, a fat Glaswegian Sikh who cooks and tells anecdotes and a man who washes his audience's feet await visitors to the 63rd Edinburgh Festival Fringe beginning on Friday.
The annual three weeks of creative anarchy in the Scottish capital will see more than 2000 comedy, theater, dance, music and other shows compete for attention at the world's largest open-access arts festival.
Comedians appearing at the Fringe will include top stars such as Ricky Gervais and Janeane Garofalo, Flight of the Conchords members, Alistair McGowan and rising talents such as 18-year-old Daniel Sloss alongside returning successes such as Laura Solon with her "Rabbit Faced Story Soup."
The global recession, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, extraordinary rendition and the class system are all themes that are addressed both in the Fringe's comedy and theatrical offerings that play alongside a raft of children's shows, events, exhibitions, dance and music.
Theater at the Fringe will range from David Mamet's play "Oleanna" performed by a Zimbabwean company, as well as "Barflies," a play adapted from the alcohol-laced stories of Charles Bukowski, to something entitled "Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theater Goes to Hollywood."
The Edinburgh Fringe Society's new Chief Executive Kath Mainland told Reuters on Wednesday that ticket sales were going well after the successful resolution of box office technical problems which plagued the festival last year.
"We've been selling over the counter, over the phone, and on the internet and ticket sales are good," Mainland said, adding that sales were up around the same level at this time of the year as they were in 2007.
Mainland said the success of the Fringe -- which has helped launch the careers of such stars as Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson -- rested on an open-access formula that allows anyone with the creativity, a bit of money and a whole lot of chutzpah to bring a show to Edinburgh.
"That's a very powerful thing for new work," she said. "It means people can try things out. It means you can do something for yourself without having to convince somebody necessarily that it's a good thing to put on."
Begun in 1947, the Fringe originally started as an uninvited addition to the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), a post-war initiative to re-unite Europe through culture which was so successful that it inspired more performers than there was room for.
Well aware that there would be a good crowd and focused press interest, six Scottish companies and two English decided to turn up to the festival uninvited and fend for themselves.
Over the years, more came to Edinburgh to perform on the outskirts of the EIF and by 1958 the Festival Fringe Society was formed to provide information, a central box office and a published program of all the Fringe shows.
Central to the society's constitution was the policy that there should be no artistic vetting from the society, which still holds true.
Former winners of the comedy awards -- now named the Edinburgh Comedy Awards or "Eddies" -- are a who's who of British and international comedy stars.
Fringe shows will be held in a variety of 250 venues, including a swimming pool. But the Fringe also plays host to street performers, chancers in restaurants, hotels and anywhere performers can find an audience.
Mainland's advice for first time visitors is to plan ahead a little, book a few things you really want to see, but make some time to let the raucous festival atmosphere wash over you.
"You will pick up information almost by osmosis when you're here about things that other people are seeing and things that are exciting and things that you possibly wouldn't spot yourself."
Editing by Patricia Reaney