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The front entrance to Underbelly on Cowgate
|Address||Cowgate, Edinburgh. (entrance also on Victoria Street)
|Owner||Edinburgh City Council|
|Opened||2000 (annually during the Edinburgh Fringe only)|
The Underbelly is a venue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe off Cowgate. From 2001-2004, Underbelly was the only venue operated by Underbelly Limited. In 2005, Underbelly added the Baby Belly venue. In 2006, these venues were joined by the E4 UdderBELLY and the Cow Barn.
History of the Underbelly
Underbelly was first opened in 2000, as a small performance venue for five shows brought to the Fringe by the long running Fringe company, Double Edge Drama. The Double Edge directors, now directors of Underbelly, had heard of the venue through a production of Gargantua, performed by acclaimed Scottish company, Grid Iron in the haunting vaults below the central library of Edinburgh. The site was discovered by Judith Doherty and named 'Underbelly' by Judith and her Co-Artistic Director, Ben Harrison. Whilst Grid Iron staged one show there, the vaults proved the perfect location for all five of Double Edge's shows with the company winning a Fringe First and sell-out houses for its critically acclaimed productions of Bent and Marat Sade.
In 2001, Underbelly Limited and By Popular Demand Productions Limited were set up to turn the Underbelly into a professional venue with a number of performance spaces and a wide range of productions. The venue was set up with performance spaces in the Iron Belly, White Belly and Big Belly. The Belly Laugh (then named the Belly Bar) was also used for late night cabaret as well as the venue's second bar. Space downstairs which is now used for Belly Dance was used to exhibit a film installation by Nick Hornby.
In 2002, The Underbelly was renamed The Smirnoff Underbelly to reflect its sponsorship by Smirnoff Vodka. The number of performance spaces was increased to include the Belly Button and Belly Laugh comedy venues and a third bar, the Jelly Belly, to the first floor. The number of shows increased from 18 to 50+ and this was the year that Underbelly really started to make its mark.
In 2003, the Belly Dancer was soundproofed to ensure that it can be used throughout the day without disrupting performances in other spaces. This allowed Underbelly to team up with Forth One 97.3 to host a series of free live music gigs every night in the Belly Dancer, known as the Forth One Fringe. These gigs over the years since have included established acts like Mark Owen, Ocean Colour Scene and Skin and new bands like Keane, Athlete, The Thrills, Nizlopi and many other bands on the cusp of breaking into the big time.
In 2004, the Delhi Belly space was added. The bars were rearranged to create more space and ease congestion and queuing. Finally, a brand new large box office was created in one of the rooms off the front alley, which freed up the old box office to become a larger and more usable publicity office with a sofa and coffee. The shows at the Underbelly venue won a record number of awards, including the Perrier Award for Jackson's Way; Fringe First Awards for The Ignatius Trail, Manchester Girl and The Jammer; Perrier Newcomer Nomination for Joanna Neary in Joanna Neary is Not Feeling Herself; and an Amnesty Award nomination for Someone Who'll Watch Over Me.
In 2005, Underbelly was joined by the Baby Belly on Niddry Street, just off Cowgate, a two-minute walk from the original venue. The number of shows was now up to 140 spread over the three weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe.
Underbelly is now just one of four venues operated by Underbelly at the Edinburgh Fringe, but remains at the heart of Underbelly's operations and represents the true original spirit of Underbelly.
What others say
- "Truly fantastic place to go." (The Bards / Jonny Rowntree)
- "Underbelly is one of the Festival's funkiest venues" (Daily Star)
- "A truly extraordinary venue" (Louis de Bernières in The Guardian)
- "Underbelly is one of the most exciting, atmospheric spaces on the Fringe and increasingly, one of the most important" (The Guardian)
- "During August, it becomes a kind of vertical Glastonbury, every nook filled with bohemian activity" (The Daily Telegraph)
- "The quintessential fringe venue" (Financial Times)
- "Our first gig venue and our spiritual home" (Corner Boys)
Performers at Underbelly
Performers who have appeared at Underbelly over the years include
- Stewart Lee, writer of Jerry Springer - The Opera
- Waen Shepherd
- Will Adamsdale aka Chris John Jackson in Jackson's Way
- Lucy Porter
- Janey Godley
- Andrew O'Neill
- Rain Pryor
- Robin Ince
- Stephen K Amos
- Ricky Tomlinson
- Joan Rivers
- Russell Howard
- The Penny Dreadfuls
- Simon Bird
- Craig Campbell
- Frisky and Mannish
- The Fitzrovia Radio Hour
- EastEnd Cabaret
- Quattro Formaggio
- Willis & Vere