The Fascinating Aïda trio are currently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Image: Steve Ullathorne

The Fascinating Aïda trio are currently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Image: Steve Ullathorne

If you see the producer of Fascinating Aida around the Edinburgh Fringe, it may be worth your while to give him a wide berth or maybe buy him a drink. David Johnson’s furious response to a request from Ambassador Theatre Group for complimentary tickets to his production of his act’s brilliant Charm Offensive show has erupted all over the internet.

Soho Theatre may be looking to increase their real estate but the Dean Street establishment has some way to go before they match ATG’s empire of 38 venues in the UK. Last year, the owners were jointly judged joint top of the list of the 100 most influential people working in the UK theatre industry. Public reaction to their highly commercial approach has not been kind, though: comedian Jason Mansford called them “parasites of the highest order” and vowed never to perform in ATG theatres again once his current tour had ended.

The backlash hasn’t stopped there. Johnson’s letter pulls no punches and his words will echo the thoughts of many in the performing community.


Dear Peter,

I’ve just been asked whether, in your capacity as ‘AMBASSADORS THEATRE GROUP – HEAD OF OPERATIONS – NORTHERN VENUES’, I would approve your written application for a pair of ‘Arts Industry’ complimentary tickets to Fascinating Aida’s show Charm Offensive at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Why – the hell – should I?

No one gets a free ride at an ATG theatre – from the audience member charged a booking fee of up to £7 for the privilege of simply buying a ticket – to the performer expected to pay £15 to use Wi-Fi in their dressing room.

ATG recently charged Sandi Toksvig £1.80 for the glass of water she sipped on stage.

Nowadays, no aspect of the ATG experience as audience member/performer/producer is not monetised, priced-up and charged for. Why should you expect your Edinburgh experience to be any different?

If I had my way, you would be invoiced for just breathing Edinburgh air and wandering around this fabulous city and its astonishing festival. A festival that is the absolute antithesis of ATG’s current Easyjet/RyanAir mentality.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, ATG theatres were the first venues written into any decent tour schedule. Sales were high, marketing was efficient and charges were reasonable. Most importantly, theatre manager and producer collaborated. These things are no longer true. We now book your theatres last – to fill gaps in our calendar. I actively seek out and encourage alternative venues.

To expand your income – instead of broadening your audience – you have decided to exploit the constituency you already possess – the shows, the artists and your regular theatregoers – with ramped-up booking fees, ludicrous bar prices and, for heaven’s sake, a £15 per day dressing room Wi-Fi charge.

It’s an awful shame. We have a long and happy and collaborative history. ATG has some terrific theatres. But it doesn’t make much sense to tour to them anymore – especially when one has the nasty feeling that everyone’s pocket is being expertly picked.

My company Password Productions and Fascinating Aida are big and busty enough to tell you to pay your way in Edinburgh – or get bent.

But what about the other shows up here at the Festival? The vanguard of new artists and producers who will keep your theatres stocked with talent for years to come? Don’t you think that Ambassadors Theatre Group and its current Private Equity owners might spring the cost of your Edinburgh tickets? Giving a bit of a leg-up to the shows and artists that have made the huge financial and artistic commitment to be here – instead of shoving out the begging bowl and pestering people for freebies?

Or is that too much to hope?

Do you still want your comps?


David Johnson

More as we get it.