THE GREAT annual pick-and-mix festival bonanza arrives once again. Tackling the main festival and fringe programmes, which offer a feast of entertainment from high culture to stand-up comedy and everything in between, can leave the punter confused and exhausted.
The more staid official festival, as always, favours music, with Verdi’s Macbeth and Puccini’s La Boheme from Turin, Mozart’s Don Giovanni from Budapest and, more adventurously, Mark–Anthony Turnage’s modern classic Greek, based on Stephen Berkoff’s play, which updates and relocates Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex to Tufnell Park.
On the drama side, there are fascinating prospects in Alan Ayckbourn breaking new ground with The Divide, a dystopian two-parter, and Edinburgh’s own leading dramatist Zinnie Harris’s Meet Me at Dawn, a contemporary fable of love, grief and loss.
Harris is virtually making the festival drama her own with adaptations of Aeschylus’s Oresteia and Ionesco’s absurdist farce Rhinoceros also in the programme.
The British Council’s contribution to the festival includes productions from Iran and India and Minefield, a joint British-Argentinian piece of documentary theatre, which explores the memories of veterans from both sides in the Falklands/Malvinas conflict.
Trawling the mighty fringe’s 452-page programme with 3,398 shows and 5,000 performances on offer is a daunting project. Comedy dominates as usual but the theatre section appears to reflect the increasing youthful engagement with the new Corbyn age.
Among the highlights is the return of the triumphant production Mies Julie (Assembly Rooms), South African Yael Farber’s magnificent version of Strindberg’s tragic drama which adds race to the tensions of class and gender.
Beethoven in Stalingrad (Greenside), set in 1942, tells the stories of 12 soldiers, with the narrative intertwined by live music.
The Chess Player (C Primo), a reworking of a Stefan Zweig classic, is set in the solitary confinement of a nazi prison cell, where a compelling schizophrenic chess contest takes place between inmates fighting encroaching madness.
Summerhall always presents some of the most original work on the fringe and its packed programme includes Hero, which examines the effects of propaganda on young people and how it drives them to join violent organisations.
The Traverse festival offerings can always be relied upon and this year there’s a pair of two transgender-based plays.
Adam, boasting “a 120-strong, international choir in a remarkable multimedia production,” recounts the experiences of a young trans man journeying from Egypt to Scotland, while Eve is the story of the trans woman who was voted one of the 10 Outstanding Women in Scotland this year.
In 1985, a leading lawyer, opponent of the nuclear industry and “father of the modern SNP” was killed in a suspicious car accident. 3,000 Trees: The Death of William MacRae (New Town Theatre) will remind some older theatregoers of, and introduce younger members of the audience to, the fact that just like the Hilda Murrell case a year before, the Establishment is often lucky in their most active challengers mysteriously dying.
Finally, if you’re in need of a late-night laugh, Trumpus Interruptus: The Impeachment of Donald Trump (Greenside) will attempt to foretell history — that is, if the show isn’t beaten to the gun before it hits the stage.
This year’s fringe and festival schedules have a rich vein to be mined by those who like their culture political but the breadth of political eruptions across the globe has meant that topics and targets are more dispersed.
Previous concentration on IndyRefs 1 or 2 has gone, with a few exceptions like David Hayman’s alter-ego, Bob Cunningham and he’s back in a sequel to The Pitiless Storm.
The Cause of Thunder plays the New Town Theatre, while another Fair Pley production, Out of the Bad, written for the anniversary of the Caterpillar factory occupation, runs at the same venue throughout the festival.
Another drama worth checking out is a new play by Henry Naylor. Following last year’s massive hit Angel about the female Kurdish sniper of Kobane, he has turned his attention to refugees, following a young Syrian refugee in Borders, at Gilded Balloon Teviot.
Others will deal with Bin Laden (Bin Laden: The one-man show. C Chambers Street), Mussolini (Gratiano, Assembly Hall), Tom Paine (A Common Man, C Royale) and austerity in Cathy, a dramatisation of Ken Loach’s seminal Cathy Come Home (Pleasance Dome).
New Town Theatre sees Fair Pley and their hosts Salt and Sauce set up camp, after previous existences in the Assembly Rooms and St Andrew’s Square.
The move has allowed a boost to the spoken word strand and their In Conversation With… series has attracted some big names — none bigger than a certain Jeremy Corbyn MP, advertised and sold-out within hours.
But John McDonnell, Mark Thomas, David Hayman and others should keep you satisfied.
More quirkily, the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas provides academics to discuss anything from child labour to pee.
Fringe comedy is as all-encompassing as ever and includes many established names. Mark Thomas (Summerhall), Ed Byrne (Assembly, George Square), Mark Steel (Assembly Hall) are all doing long runs, while Alexei Sayle trundles in for a week (The Stand).
Perhaps the most interesting gig will be I, Daniel Blake star Dave Johns, who reverts to his stand-up roots in I, Fillum Star (The Pleasance).
The international festival meanwhile is celebrating its 70th anniversary but it is a pity that much of the Spirit of ’47 events are only available online and not in the printed programme.
In addition to the rich classical and dramatic line-up, the contemporary music programme features PJ Harvey, Anoushka Shankar and Jarvis Cocker and a spectacular two-orchestra show with the RSNO and the Mariinsky marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution.