The best of the fests
Daunted by the sheer size of the festival programmes? To save you some time, we’ve rounded up the most marvellous must-see shows taking place in the capital this month...
It's been 70 years since the first Edinburgh Festival happened in a rush of post war coming together, and once again the Fringe will flood Edinburgh with theatre of all manner during August. We could wax on for days about what you should see, but in the space we have here, let’s make it brief. For delectable drama, go to Summerhall and the Traverse Theatre as much as you can. The former has a great bar and galleries, and first rate theatre like the Royal Court’s hit Manwatching (Summerhall, 04 to 27 August, not 08, 15, 22), in which a different comedian every night reads a script he’s never seen about women’s thoughts on sex. Meanwhile, at the Trav, the wildly inventive Gary McNair returns with Letters to Morrissey (Traverse, 03 to 27 August, not 07, 14, 21), in which he re-reads letters he wrote to the Smiths singer two decades before and asks what’s changed.
Also celebrating the anniversary, the prestigious Edinburgh International Festival presents a typically high-quality range of work from around the world. Yet what’s particularly pleasing is that one of Scotland’s own finest playwrights Zinnie Harris will find her work celebrated with three plays two adaptations, one original of which the most high-profile is Rhinoceros (Royal Lyceum, 03 to 12 August, not 07), Eugene Ionesco’s 1959 absurdist allegory for the rise of authoritarianism. Vox Motus’ Flight (Church Hill Theatre, 04 to 27 August, not 08, 12, 13, 16, 22), meanwhile, tells of two young orphan brothers undertaking a dangerous migration to safety in unique style, as this adaptation of Caroline Brothers’ novel Hinterland is screened in an individual booth.
An increasingly visible and popular presence on the Fringe in recent years, cabaret hits the Edinburgh International Festival this year with a show from one of last year’s most acclaimed performers Meow Meow. This time, the celebrated cabaret artist brings her own unique interpretation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale in Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid (The Hub, 03 to 27 August, not Tuesdays).
Hot Brown Honey (Assembly Roxy, 02 to 27, not 09, 14, 21) is another returning artist, but you should take the time to see her before the show gets much bigger than the festival. It’s an experience with a message, fusing cabaret, burlesque, some circus work and great music with a heavy dose of bold but subtle feminism. Elsewhere, Margaret Thatcher Queen of Game Shows (Assembly George Square Gardens, 03 to 27 August, not 14) is an audience-participation gameshow with a heavy dose of satire on the side.
This year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival enjoys a typically stunning line-up, of which the clear highlight will either be the first visit to the festival by New York Trilogy author Paul Auster (King’s Theatre, 14 August), appearing in conjunction with Edinburgh International Festival and the British Council’s Spirit of ’47 strand, or a one-of-a-kind interview with Half of a Yellow Sun author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Charlotte Square Gardens, 26 August), conducted by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
As part of a bold plan to draw the focus of the Fringe away from the centre of the city for just one night, Edinburgh’s most essential music, spoken word and film collective Neu! Reekie! will celebrate Neu! Reekie!: Trainspotting 21 (Leith Theatre, 11 August) - the anniversary is of Danny Boyle’s film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Edinburgh-set book - in one of the city’s most stunning spaces. In attendance will be Welsh himself, classic Edinburgh post-punk group The Fire Engines and seminal American DJ and New Order producer Arthur Baker.
As well as the mediums mentioned elsewhere, the Edinburgh International Festival also has a recent but enviable reputation as one of the best places to see contemporary music in Edinburgh in August. There’s no question that this year’s highlight of the bill is a two-night stand from double Mercury Prize-winner PJ Harvey (Playhouse, 07 and 08 August), who will be playing music from her recent album The Hope Six Demolition Project, which was inspired by her travels in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington, DC.
Another artist who marries the political and the musical is Benjamin Clementine (Festival Theatre, 10 August), the owner of a spine-tingling baritone and a Mercury Prize of his own, while outside of the EIF programme, Summerhall’s live music night Nothing Ever Happens Here hosts the rest of the month’s best gigs. We’d recommend Pictish Trail (Summerhall, 24 August), whose career as an electro-indie troubadour has really come into its own with last year’s Future Echoes.
Now into its 13th year, Edinburgh Art Festival offers a feast of culture not just for lovers of art, but for anyone who wants to see Edinburgh in a different light through its inventive use of public spaces. This year it’s celebrating the centenary of the publication of town planner Patrick Geddes’ The Making of the Future manifesto through events and exhibitions like Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich’s The Dragon of Profit and Private Ownership (Trinity Apse, Chalmers Close, until 27 August), a sculpture in a stunning church just off the Royal Mile which wonders how we can go about making a fairer society.
Nearby, meanwhile, Scottish artist Toby Paterson also engages with Geddes’ work in the Old Town he remodelled and continues his own interest in the built environment with the sculptural and architectural work The Sociology of Autumn (Chessels Court, Canongate, until 27 August). For those who prefer to see work in galleries, however, Graham Fagen’s Scotland + Venice 2015 video piece The Slave’s Lament (Scottish National Portrait Gallery, until 29 October) reflects on Scotland’s involvement in slavery through the work of Robert Burns.
The world has given Edinburgh's comedians no shortage of material over the past year, and August will see plenty of shows with an edge take to the Fringe. For a reliable dose of nihilism to get you through, Frankie Boyle’s Prometheus Volume I (Venue 150 at EICC, 05 to 24 August, not 10 to 19) will be impossible to avoid, while we also recommend fast-rising television star Desiree Burch’s Unf*ckable (Heroes at Bob’s Blundabus, 03 to 27 August, not 15 or 22), a show about “sex, race and capitalism”.
While Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake might not seem like grounds for comedy, its star will return to his stand-up roots in Dave Johns: I, Fillum Star (Pleasance Dome, 03 to 27 August, not 15 or 22), and one of a number of returning old Fringe favourites is Craig Ferguson (Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre, 09 to 18 August, not 12 or 13), the Glasgow boy turned American chat show star.
Dance & Opera
Although there are many opportunities to see dance and opera within the regular Fringe programme, these are the two areas in which the work being presented at the Edinburgh International Festival is generally on a different level. The big operatic performances this year come from the Festival’s resident guest company Teatro Regio Torino, particularly their version of Verdi’s operatic Macbeth (Festival Theatre, 18 to 20 August) also the first piece staged at the very first International Festival in 1947 and their take on Puccini’s La Boheme (Festival Theatre, 25 to 27August).
Nederlands Dans Theater are known as one of the finest and most innovative dance companies in the world, and this year’s trio of works (Playhouse, 21 to 23 August) offers atmospheric, Lynchian delights to a soundtrack of Max Richter and Philip Glass. Another contemporary International Festival show with a very different feel is Blak Whyte Gray (Royal Lyceum, 16 to 19 August) by East London hip hop dance company Boy Blue Entertainment, while outside EIF, renowned Edinburgh venue Dance Base swaps gender roles for its Shakespearean presentations Lear (Dance Base, 23 to 27 August) and Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here (Dance Base, 04 to 27 August, not 07 or 14).
With some of the best family shows on the planet coming to the Capital, there’s no need for the little ones to be left out of all the festival fun. Miniature fans of David Walliams’ bestseller The First Hippo on the Moon will love its stage makeover courtesy of Les Petits Theatre Company (Pleasance Courtyard, 02 to 20 Aug) while Tall Stories theatre company brings back their world-famous adaptation of Julia Davidson’s popular picture book The Gruffalo’s Child (Pleasance Courtyard, 02 to 20 August). And fresh from the high seas of Brighton Fringe comes Head First Acrobat’s Arr We There Yet? a family-friendly circus caper featuring pirate techniques, slapstick acrobatics and audience involvement (Underbelly's Circus Hub on the Meadows, 05 to 26 Aug, not 14 or 21). Time to make mum and dad walk the plank?