FESTIVAL fever prevailed over the biting cold as Brighton Fringe 2018 was launched on the Palace Pier.

In an event at Horatio’s Bar, Fringe managing director Julian Caddy declared the festival open for business as tickets went on sale.

There are close to 4,000 performances taking place in about 150 venues across the city from May 4 to June 3.

It is the biggest Brighton Fringe on record.

Mr Caddy said he was thrilled to reveal this year’s festival brochure at the launch event, the cover of which carries this year’s theme – “set yourself free”.

“It was incredibly heart-warming to see everyone braving the cold to come and celebrate the launch of the Fringe,” he said.

“We’re so excited to share the programme we have in store for you this year.

“It’s a real privilege to be able to work with so many talented performers, both local and international, so we hope you come along and discover some gems.”

Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Lorraine Bowen performed cabaret songs at the launch ahead of her event in May.

The grotesque puppet of Watching, ceci, n’est pas de deux – a hit show at last year’s Fringe – was also in attendance with its creator Ester Natzjil.

Mr Caddy reiterated the appeal of the Fringe, which is the largest of its kind in the UK.

“The great thing about Brighton Fringe is that even though it’s so big, it feels like you are privy to something very exclusive even secret,” he said.

“We are the platform for a myriad of small to medium-sized work, covering every performance and visual art.

New features of this year’s edition are Dutch, Flemish and Finnish seasons – featuring a range of performers of those nationalities – and the Freedom Season which allows people with learning disabilities to produce shows.

That initiative plays into the general theme of the Fringe 2018. In an impassioned introduction to the brochure, Mr Caddy emphasised the importance of creative expression and the liberation that it brings.

“Freedom is compelling and something that we all crave and deserve,” he writes.

“Whether it be to liberate ourselves and our minds or to claim what is rightfully ours, it is always essential for our wellbeing.

“As an open-access festival, Brighton Fringe embodies this notion. Anyone can take part and the appeal is universal.”

The Brighton Fringe brochure is stocked at public locations around Brighton and Hove. To see the full programme visit brightonfringe.org