ABOUT 120 shows at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe could be at risk as performers find themselves stuck in the middle of a rammy between two producers and a venue.

The shows, all programmed at the city’s Cowgatehead venue, could be forced to seek other spaces, have to drop attendance or completely cancel their plans to come to the Fringe.

All 120 shows, the majority of them comedy, were signed up to the Freestival, which programmes free shows at the fringe.

The producer believed that he and the licensee of Cowgatehead had made a deal about programming the venue for this year’s Fringe.

However, on Thursday, in a message on an industry group page on Facebook, Peter Buckley Hill, the producer of the PBH Free Fringe, said he was now booking the venue and those acts that had been booked by Freestival would find that their bookings were now “null and void”.

Buckley Hill claims Freestival never had any right to make the bookings.

In his statement, Buckley Hill said: “The licensee has recently approached us, the Free Fringe, to book this space and has explicitly stated that Freestival has no right to make such bookings. We, The Free Fringe, are now authorised to book all performance spaces at Cowgatehead. No bookings other than those made by us are valid, and none will be honoured, whatever the circumstances.”

Complicating matters is the fact that the final licensee was only decided recently, and the producers of Freestival had been talking to both potential licensees – both of whom are called Kenny Waugh, both of whom work separately and neither of whom were available for comment. The Freestival organisers claim they had the approval of both to provide a programme of events.

Alex Marion from Freestival said: “It’s difficult to have an agreement in place because there was no certainty over who would be the licensee at the venue until a couple of weeks ago. So we’d been working with both parties who were applying for it. And both parties had asked us to provide a programme of entertainment.

“Both parties were aware that we had booked in a programme of events and were happy with that, and then suddenly, on Thursday, this happens."

Marion continued: “Our biggest concern is that our acts are going through a huge amount of uncertainty and we want to make sure everything is as good for them as it possibly can be.”

Many of the shows will have already registered to be in the main programme, which costs £393. Many will have booked travel and accommodation for the three-week festival.

A spokesman for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society said: “The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is an open access festival. That means that anyone who wants to take part can. The Fringe Society does not select either the performers or the venues but helps them make the most of the opportunities that taking part in the world’s largest arts festival can offer. And supporting everyone involved in this situation is exactly what we will be doing”.

Free shows have become increasingly popular at the Fringe. Generally staged in rooms in pubs and clubs and in found spaces in Edinburgh, they are a cheaper way of doing the Fringe. Venues make their money through drink sales rather than through tickets or through charging acts.

For performers, they reduce some of the overheads of performing at the world’s largest arts festival. They make their money through asking audience members to leave a donation if they enjoyed the shows. For many performers, it can often be easier to entice audience members into a free show, while audience members appreciate being able to take a risk on seeing an unknown comedian or theatre company without having to pay for a ticket.

In recent years more established acts, such as Phil Jupitus, have moved to free shows.

Though free shows were pioneered by Buckley Hill, there are at least two other major producers who promote them during the Fringe.

At last year’s Fringe out of 3,193 shows, 825 were free.

The full programme for this year’s Fringe will be launched on June 4.