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Anarchic Edinburgh Fringe swings into high gear

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - The serious, anarchic and comedy-strewn Edinburgh Fringe has kicked into high gear this weekend with a record number of shows and performers crowding the Scottish capital and giving a welcome boost to the economy as the city's population doubles over the month-long festival season.

The usual Fringe buzz was subdued on the Friday opening, but warm sunshine helped bring out the crowds on Saturday and festival organizers are looking for spin-off visits from the London Olympics to boost attendance here. Organizers of the Edinburgh festivals worked closely with London to take advantage of the Olympics, Paralympics and cultural Olympiad there.

The Fringe, the more sedate International Festival of the arts, the Book Festival and the highly popular Royal Military Tattoo combine to produce the world's biggest annual arts extravaganza founded in 1947 as an antidote to post-war austerity.

The official Fringe program lists a record 2,695 shows, plus more on the "Free Fringe", with an influx of nearly 23,000 performers this year. Festivals in Scotland are worth some 250 million pounds ($389.99 million) to the Scottish economy annually, with the Fringe itself bringing in 140 million pounds to Edinburgh alone.

The Fringe, which runs to August 27, ranges from anarchic comedy and satire, through serious and experimental drama, song, dance, circus and busking on the ancient Royal Mile running from the castle towering over the city centre to the queen's royal palace of Holyrood.

Among a random selection, Irish singer Sharon Sexton IS Liza Minnelli in a stunning performance of "Somewhere Under The Rainbow - The Liza Minnelli Story", while Fringe veteran Guy Masterson directs "A Soldier's Song", a searing look-back in the true story of a Falklands War veteran.

A new comedy "Coalition" takes a quirky look at British politics with Liberal-Democrat leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg finding his political career taking an unexpected twist.

There is a focus on South Africa this year at the Assembly, bringing the best of music, theatre and comedy to the Fringe as part of a run-up to the 20th anniversary of the country's Freedom Vote which ended white rule in 1994 with Nelson Mandela's election as president.

The eight productions include the Market Theatre production of one of the country's best-known plays, "Woza Albert!", the Fugard Theatre's presentation of "Statement After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act," and a unique comedy spin on post-apartheid years in "Barely Legal: The 18-Year-Old Democracy."

($1 = 0.6411 British pounds)

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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