Underbelly (events promoter)

Last updated

TypePrivate company
Headquarters London, England
ProductsTheatre and comedy promotion, productions and Venues
Subsidiaries Underbelly Promotions Limited
Website http://www.underbelly.co.uk
Uddberbelly Festival in Hong Kong during December 2015 Uddberbelly Hong Kong 201512.jpg
Uddberbelly Festival in Hong Kong during December 2015

Underbelly is a live events producer and venue operator, known as one of the "Big Four" venue operators at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. From its roots as a Fringe venue, the company has expanded to include a festival on London's South Bank and seasonal events in Edinburgh and elsewhere.




Underbelly was founded in 2000 by directors Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood to operate one venue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In 2001, Underbelly Limited was formed to turn the Underbelly venue into a professional operation. The original venue, on Edinburgh's Cowgate, now includes a number of different performance spaces, with themed names such as Iron Belly, White Belly and Big Belly. Over the years, Underbelly's operations have expanded beyond the Cowgate, to include a hub space known as the Udderbelly pasture in George Square and a Circus Hub on The Meadows. For several years, Underbelly operated a hub in Bristo Square, but recent redevelopment works at the nearby McEwan Hall mean the site is currently unavailable. Each Underbelly venue is recognisable by its purple, cow-themed branding, most notably a large, upside-down, inflatable purple cow which serves as one of the venues. In 2015, Underbelly hosted over 130 shows at the Fringe.

Besides its Fringe operations, Underbelly also co-ordinates "Edinburgh's Christmas" - a funfair, market and events programme in the eastern section of Princes Street Gardens. In 2014, 3.6 million visitors were recorded.[ citation needed ]

Other locations

In 2009, in collaboration with the Southbank Centre in London, the company launched Udderbelly Festival, an eight-week programme of comedy, circus and family entertainment inside the upside-down purple cow venue. By 2015, the festival had extended to fifteen weeks. The festival won Best Festival at the London Lifestyle Awards in 2012.[ citation needed ]

In 2012, Underbelly also launched London Wonderground, a programme of circus, cabaret and family entertainment, based in a 1920s Paradiso Spiegeltent. The Wonderground also presents oddities, curiosities and eccentricities such as the 60-metre high Star Flyer which gives views over London's rooftops.

Other London events which Underbelly produces include West End Live in Trafalgar Square, Pride in London, and the Rekorderlig Cider Lodge at Southbank Centre's Winter Festival. In 2015, Underbelly produced the official Fanzone at the Rugby Union World Cup in Richmond.

Elsewhere, the company produced the Comedy Hullabaloo in Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Udderbelly Festival in Hong Kong.


Underbelly Limited, in collaboration with Edinburgh city council, has come under increasing criticism for commercialisation of Edinburgh, to the detriment of residents who are being prevented from their legal right to enjoy their properties. The commercial company has undertaken to restrict access to residents and limit the number of guest they can invite to private events during the traditional Scottish Hogmanay celebration, demanding that residents apply for permits. The company is passing on resident's details to police for 'security checks'. However the Police have stated that this aspect is not legally enforceable and will not be undertaken checks. [1] [2] [3]

Labour Lothian Member of the Scottish Parliament, Sarah Boyack, said that it "should not be up to a private company to decide how many people they can have in their homes" and warned that it impacted private family events. [2]

The company has also proceeded with constructions in the absence of required planning permission and has been forced to apply retrospectively. [4]

The city council launched an internal investigation into whether correct processes were followed in granting a two-year contract extension to the operator. [4]

2019 Christmas Market

In December 2019, Underbelly came under scrutiny for acquiring the East Princes Street Gardens without planning permission. [5] The markets were marked by safety concerns that were kept secret by the City of Edinburgh Council [6] and for the subsequent damage done to the gardens from their operations that damaged many remembrance benches. [7] [8] An investigation into the £150,000 damage to the gardens caused by the market has been launched. [9] [10]

Further criticism has arisen from the commercialisation of the longstanding tradition of the Loony Dook, held annually on the morning of January 1st every year. Underbelly has been criticised for profiteering from a public tradition, as well as raising the price of tickets for profit. [11] [12]

Labour conditions controversy

During the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Edinburgh festival, and the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Hogmanay celebrations, Underbelly have been criticised for exploitation and mistreatment of its staff, with accusations of underpayment and non-payment, poor accommodation for its staff, and poor management. [13] [14] [15] [16] In the 2018 Fringe Festival, Underbelly were criticised for unfair labour practices in the course of the Fair Fringe campaign to ensure the companies paid the minimum wage, observed legal limits on working hours and did not use unpaid volunteers. [17]


Performers who have appeared at Underbelly venues since 2000 include:



Related Research Articles

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Arts festival

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world's largest arts festival, which in 2018 spanned 25 days and featured more than 55,000 performances of 3,548 different shows in 317 venues. Established in 1947 as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival, it takes place annually in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the month of August. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has become a world-leading celebration of arts and culture, surpassed only by the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup in terms of global ticketed events. As an event it "has done more to place Edinburgh in the forefront of world cities than anything else".

Fringe theatre

Fringe theatre is theatre that is produced outside of the main theatre institutions, and that is often small-scale and non-traditional in style or subject matter. The term comes from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In London, the fringe are small-scale theatres, many of them located above pubs, and the equivalent to New York's Off-Off-Broadway theatres and Europe's "free theatre" groups.


The Cowgate is a street in Edinburgh, Scotland, located about 550 yards (500 m) southeast of Edinburgh Castle, within the city's World Heritage Site. The street is part of the lower level of Edinburgh's Old Town, which lies below the elevated streets of South Bridge and George IV Bridge. Consequently, the Cowgate can be quite gloomy and dark in sections. It meets the Grassmarket at its west end and Holyrood Road to the east.

Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens are two adjacent public parks in the centre of Edinburgh, Scotland, lying in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. The Gardens were created in the 1820s following the long draining of the Nor Loch and building of the New Town, beginning in the 1760s.

<i>Pigeon English</i>

Pigeon English is the debut novel by English author Stephen Kelman. It is told from the point of view of Harrison Opoku, an eleven-year-old Ghanaian immigrant living on a tough London estate. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011.

Gilded Balloon

Gilded Balloon is a producer and promoter of live entertainment events, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, and best known as one of the Big Four venue operators at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe each August.

Underbelly (venue)

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.

Craig Hill is a Scottish comedian, TV presenter and actor known for his cheeky, irreverent and camp act.


The Udderbelly is an upside-down giant purple cow tent owned by the event venue and management company Underbelly, originally sponsored by E4 as the "E4 udderBELLY".

Edinburgh Comedy Festival

Edinburgh Comedy Festival was a short-lived festival of comedy shows which operated during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2008 and 2009. Effectively a marketing campaign for the "Big Four" venues at the Fringe - Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly - the designation was quietly dropped after widespread media and industry criticism.

Edinburghs Hogmanay

Edinburgh's Hogmanay is the observance of Hogmanay—the Scottish celebration of the New Year—held in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Kev Orkian

Kev Orkian is a British-Armenian Musician, Comedian, Actor, Business Entrepreneur & Motivational Speaker born in London to Armenian parents. He has performed around the world from New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto to Dubai, Oman and Australia. Orkian has been compared to the likes of Victor Borge, Les Dawson and Dudley Moore.

Frisky & Mannish

Frisky & Mannish is a British musical comedy double act, created and performed by singer Laura Corcoran and pianist-singer Matthew Floyd Jones. Known for their pop music parodies, the duo have toured the fringe festival and comedy festival circuits in the United Kingdom and Australia, and appeared on a number of British television and radio programmes. The act's name derives from two incidental characters mentioned in one couplet of Byron's Don Juan: "Lady Fitz-Frisky, and Miss Maevia Mannish, / Both longed extremely to be sung in Spanish"

Chris Dooks is a Scotland-based artist, primarily working in the fields of photography, film and audio-art. Currently he is living with his wife and two children in Ayr.

Wilfredo (character) British comedy cabaret act

Wilfredo is a fictional comedy character portrayed by the British comedian Matt Roper.

Jeffrey Mirza is an English stand-up comedian and actor of British-Pakistani descent.

Stoats is a British company which sells porridge and other oat based products based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Stoats was founded in 2005 and retails in Britain and other countries.

Loony Dook

The Loony Dook, is an annual event held on New Years' Day in which people dive into the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry, often in fancy dress.

Assembly is a theatre and comedy promotion company, producer and venue operator. It programmes and promotes entertainment events at venues in Edinburgh, London and Brighton, and is the longest-established of the so-called Big Four promoters at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. Year-round audience numbers at Assembly events are more than 500,000, and the company's artistic director is William Burdett-Coutts.

Yolanda Mercy is an award-winning British actress and playwright of Nigerian descent. In addition to her work as a writer and performer, she leads theatre workshops and mentors young artists.


  1. Libby Brooks (26 December 2019). "Hogmanay fury as Edinburgh residents told to apply for access to own homes". The Guardian.
  2. 1 2 Chloe Chaplain (24 December 2019). "Some Edinburgh residents will need special passes to access their own homes during Hogmanay event". iNews.
  3. Marc Horne (24 December 2019). "Hogmanay revellers told they need permission to party in own homes".
  4. 1 2 "Edinburgh's Christmas: Councillors look into moving next year's market". BBC News. 13 November 2019.
  5. BBC News (19 February 2020). "Edinburgh's Christmas: Underbelly still has not applied for full planning permission". BBC News.
  6. Conor Matchett (13 February 2020). "Fears over Edinburgh Christmas Market safety kept secret by city council despite public reassurances". Edinburgh Evening News.
  7. Claire Galloway (14 January 2020). "Edinburgh residents furious as Princes Street Gardens turns into 'mudflat' after Christmas markets". Edinburgh Live.
  8. Angie Brown (30 October 2019). "Edinburgh council leader orders urgent action over dumped memorial benches". BBC News.
  9. Conor Matchett (9 July 2020). "£150,000 bill to repair East Princes Street Gardens after Christmas Market". Edinburgh Evening News.
  10. Record Reporter (9 July 2020). "Mud problems at Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens caused by Christmas markets cost over £150k to fix". Daily Record.
  11. Elsa Maishman (1 January 2020). "Underbelly can get in the sea". Edinburgh Evening News.
  12. Phyllis Stephen (4 January 2020). "Edinburgh's Hogmanay – The Loony Dook 2020 – sold out or sell out?". The Edinburgh Reporter.
  13. Chortle (9 August 2017). "Fringe workers are being exploited". Chortle.
  14. Eve Livingston (15 August 2017). "The Secret Exploitation at the Edinburgh Fringe". Vice.
  15. BBC News (29 November 2017). "Edinburgh's Hogmanay 'exploiting people'". BBC News.
  16. Brian Ferguson (29 July 2019). "Damning new report exposes 'terrible' and 'shameful' working conditions at Edinburgh Festival Fringe". Commonspace.
  17. Sean C M Bell (10 August 2018). "War of words breaks out between Underbelly and union organiser over employment conditions of Fringe staff". Commonspace.