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Fringe 2009: the top 100

YES, WE'RE APPROACHING THAT time of year again. So, to help you plan your festival our experienced, professional critics have scoured the Edinburgh Fringe programme from A-Z and come up with an entirely subjective - but expertly informed - list of the events you shouldn't miss.

This is, remember, just a taster. As is always the case with this huge, sprawling festival, this year's best shows could well be the unhyped gems nobody knows about yet. We'll be spending August seeking those out on your behalf, and telling you about them in our daily Festival magazine. In the meantime, these are all pretty safe bets. Enjoy, and tell us what you think.

ANDREW EATON, ARTS EDITOR

COMEDY

SIMON AMSTELL: DO NOTHING

Amstell has a face off Choirboy of the Year, a brain off University Challenge and a tongue of sharpened steel. I loved his last Edinburgh show – it was smart, personal, funny and beautifully crafted. This one is even better. A bit of advice for the hard of thinking: this is not Never Mind The Buzzcocks. KC

Bongo Club, 14-30 August

THEATRE

SUCKERVILLE

The financial crash came so swiftly, last autumn, that the response to it seems more likely to appear in instant breakfast plays and scratch nights than in fully-prepared Fringe shows. But here's one, from ambitious young company Spitting Distance, that seeks to examine our current economic meltdown through the prism of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. JM

C cubed, Brodie's Close, 6-31 August

MUSIC

MAGAZINE

One of two classic bands reunited on The Edge festival's bill, Howard Devoto and Barry Adamson's early 1980s-vintage Mancunian post-punks are less of a marquee name than Faith No More, although their richly brooding songwriting has still influenced bands like Radiohead and The Smiths. DP

Picture House, 30 August

COMEDY

EDWARD ACZEL – EXPLAINS ALL THE WORLD'S PROBLEMS ... AND THEN SOLVES THEM

Will the winner of last year's Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality return with what is essentially the same show, badly performed, for the third year running? Everyone should try to see "anti-comic" Edward Aczel at least, and possibly only, once, as it'll make you question the very point of existence. JR

Underbelly, 7-30 August

THEATRE

THE WORLD'S WIFE

The new Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, appears in person on this year's Fringe, in children's show The Princess's Blankets at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. But here, the great Linda Marlowe, famed for her work with Steven Berkoff, takes on Duffy's mighty 1999 collection of poems, that evokes the voices of all the hidden wives and partners of western myth and history. JM

Assembly@George Street, 6-31 August.

EXHIBITION

THE SIGNSPOTTING PROJECT

There's a sign in Hanoi, Vietnam, that reads "Take Luggage of Foreigner – No Charge". If you think that's funny, you should make a date with the Signspotting Project – an exhibition of life-sized silly signs from all over the world put together by travel writer Doug Lansky. RC

Princes Mall, 1-31 August

THEATRE

ORPHANS

Dennis Kelly scored a huge Fringe hit in 2005 with weird yuppie psychodrama After the End, set in a nuclear bomb shelter behind a suburban house. His new play shows a similar obsession with the dark underbelly of bourgeous English life, as a blood-drenched brother invades the lives of a quiet young couple; Roxana Silbert directs. JM

Traverse, 1-30 August

THEATRE

HUGH HUGHES IN ... 360

A new show from the "emerging Welsh artist" who brought us the charming, surreal Floating (about the day Anglesey floated away from the rest of Wales) and the poignant Story of a Rabbit (about, among other things, the death of his father). This one, apparently, is about building a dam. AE

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August

THEATRE

THE INTERMINABLE SUICIDE OF GREGORY CHURCH

Daniel Kitson's brand of whimsical pathos has delighted late night audiences at the Traverse for the past three years. This year he returns with the story of a man who has decided to die ... but first he needs to cancel the milkman. And write some letters. SM

Traverse, 7-30 August

DANCE & PHYSICAL THEATRE

CAPOEIRA KNIGHTS: THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL

These athletic young men made their Fringe debut in 2008, having been plucked from the streets of Brazil and turned into polished professionals. An energetic mix of backflips, jumps and spins mixed with infectious samba rhythms make this show as feelgood as they come. KA

The World @ St George's West, 6-31 August

COMEDY

ANOTHER HEARTBREAKING BUT ULTIMATELY LIFE-AFFIRMING SHOW ABOUT DEATH

Comedian Sanderson Jones sets out to break some serious new ground with this innovative, interactive show. It starts with conventional stand-up, then branches out into site-specific sketches all over town. Oh, and it's about death. We'll tell you more in August. RC

GRV, 6-30 August

THEATRE

TRILOGY

The Arches Theatre hits the Fringe with this brilliant, controversial trilogy of shows by young creator/director Nic Green, in which she and her company explore the relationship between 1970s feminism and today's generation of twentysomething women. Green is already famous for inviting female audience members to strip off and sing Jerusalem in the nude; but there's much more than that to these powerful pieces of multi-media theatre. JM

The Arches at St Stephen's, 9-31 August

COMEDY

DAVID O'DOHERTY: DAVID 'DOH-PARTY

The winner of last year's if.comedy award at the Fringe is charged with following up all that success here. Or maybe he'll just be performing more funny songs on toy instruments and being effortlessly loveable again. DP

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August

COMEDY

WILLIAM ANDREWS: NITWIT

New sketch show by the creative mainman behind The Ugly Kid, Will and Greg and the television director of Gary: Tank Commander, who can also be seen in The Stand's revival of Gregory Burke's Gagarin Way. JR

Pleasance Dome, 5-31 August

THEATRE

BARFLIES

Fringe superstars Grid Iron – already well known for their great, sensual, site-specific shows, from The Bloody Chamber to Those Eyes, That Mouth – invade their own local pub with a new show based on the semi-autobiographical film script by Charles Bukowksi that considers whether booze is a creative force in human life, or just a slow form of suicide. JM

Traverse@The Barony, Broughton Street, 7-31 August

THEATRE

THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH: THEATRE FOR BREAKFAST

After the roaring success two years ago of Mark Ravenhill's short, sharp, intensely political breakfast plays, the Traverse asks a whole range of top UK playwrights – including David Greig, Zinnie Harris, Rona Munro and Simon Stephens – to provide short breakfast dramas, to be served up with coffee, tea and bacon rolls. JM

Traverse, 11-30 August

COMEDY

JANEANE GAROFALO

If you don't know Janeane Garofalo as a stand-up comedian, you'll surely know her as a movie star, from her roles in Dogma, Reality Bites, Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and The Truth About Cats and Dogs – or from her TV staints in series such as 24 and The West Wing. Her Edinburgh Fringe debut is likely to be one of the festival's hottest tickets. AE

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 6-15 August

COMEDY

PAPPY'S FUN CLUB'S WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT: 200 SKETCHES IN AN HOUR

The much-loved sketch group return to the Fringe with a show that, hopefully, does exactly what it says on the tin. They're here for the whole Fringe so who knows, by the end of August they might have upped it to 300. If you don't laugh, don't worry, there'll be another punchline along in 18 seconds. AE

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August

THEATRE

MORECAMBE

Marking the 25th anniversary of Eric Morecambe's death, this one-man theatrical biography was devised by actor Bob Golding and playwright Tim Whitnall. It could be great if done well, and director Guy Masterson is certainly a safe pair of hands. DP

Assembly Hall, 6-31 August

MUSIC

CAMILLE O'SULLIVAN: THE DARK ANGEL

The Irish chanteuse pretty much always appears when we put together lists like these, and we make no apology for it. She is, quite simply, one of the most charismatic performers on the Fringe. If you've never seen her, now's the time. AE

Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 6-31 August

THEATRE

GAGARIN WAY

Gregory Burke's Gagarin Way was first staged in 2001, but, in the wake of the global economic meltdown, it feels even more relevant now. Two Dunfermline warehouse workers kidnap a consultant hired to assess their economic viability and engage him in a high-stakes political debate. It's being revived this year at The Stand by a cast of comedians – Phil Nichol, Will Andrews, Bruce Morton, Jim Muir and Will Andrews. RC

Stand III, 7-30 August

THEATRE

THE GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS

Thanks to the Homecoming Fund, Scotland's top female theatre company, Stellar Quines, create a new stage version of Muriel Spark's magnificent 1963 novel, set in a London residential club for young gentlewomen in the last months of the Second World War; and offer some of the juiciest roles for women in recent Scottish theatre history. JM

Assembly@George Street, 6-31 August

COMEDY

GLENN WOOL: LET YOUR HANDS GO

I'd hate Edinburgh without Glenn Wool. His shows are so much cheaper than drugs but the effect is much the same – relaxed warm glow, silly giggling, hilarity at the most unexpected things and an enjoyably heady feeling of existing in a chilled parallel universe. Just say yes. KC

Underbelly's Hullabaloo, 7-30 August

COMEDY

IVAN BRACKENBURY'S ALL NEW HOSPITAL RADIO SHOW

I can't tell you the details of Ivan's offering this year but once you've seen it feel free to join my Facebook Group – Fire Jonathan Ross and replace him with Ivan Brackenbury. Book early or you'll be the only one not talking about it. Take tissues. You will laugh till you leak. KC

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-30 August

THEATRE

UNDER GLASS

Clod Ensemble have been described as "innovative" and "anarchic". Now, at the McEwan Hall, they are displaying an extraordinary collection of jars and display cabinets – all containing live performers. Expect TS Eliot Award-winning poet Alice Oswald, and a visually powerful exploration of limits. SM

McEwan Hall, 21-29 August

COMEDY

AN EVENING WITH BEN DOVER: INNOCENT TILL PROVEN FILTHY!

There are pages of stand-ups in the comedy section who are about as entertaining as swine flu compared to Ben. All you never wanted to know about the adult industry wrapped up in hilarious anecdotage from a legend in his own lunchpack. Come and watch it if you think you're hard enough. KC

Underbelly, 6-30 August

THEATRE

YEAR OF THE HORSE

Acclaimed Scottish actor Tam Dean Burn is back with his tribute to political cartoonist Harry Horse, celebrated through the power of the drawings he made in the last year of his life and his blisteringly insightful comments on the politics of those in power. SM

Assembly Rooms, 6-31 August

THEATRE

PALACE OF THE END

Despite the huge success of Black Watch, the theatrical response to the Iraq War remains muted. So it's good to see the full-length version of Canadian writer Judith Thompson's remarkable Iraq trilogy, built around Thompson's Lynndie England/Abu Ghraib monologue My Pyramids, which was first produced at the Traverse three years ago. JM

Traverse, 5-30 August

COMEDY

AAAAAAAAAAARGH IT'S BOLLOCK RELIEF! THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD SHOW

OK, it's not even clear yet who's appearing but it will be an awesome night. Plus the Malcolm Hardee Award for Originality in Comedy, and the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award will be given out. Plus Introducing Kenyan Comedy! All proceeds will be given to Mama Biashara, a project supporting HIV+ families in Kenya. KC

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 28 August

THEATRE

WORDS WITH A L KENNEDY

Costa Award-winning novelist A L Kennedy is no stranger to the Fringe, but this year she migrates from stand-up to theatre (though, we suspect, losing none of her wit). In any case, she'll be doing what she does best: words, words, words. SM

Assembly Rooms, 6-31 August

COMEDY

THE EARLY EDITION

This is a delightfully grown-up and entertaining way to spend your first wakeful hour in Edinburgh. Marcus Brigstocke and Andre Vincent run the day's news up the masthead of humour and see who salutes. There are always a couple of great guests; B&V run a quality ship. Not for Johnny Vegas fans. KC

Underbelly's Pasture, 8-30 August

THEATRE

MY GRANDFATHER'S GREAT WAR

Cameron Stewart's moving, personal account drawn from his grandfather's diaries was acclaimed at last year's Fringe. Stewart not only captures the old-fashioned heroism of the Western Front, he examines how we feel about it today in the postmodern world. SM

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 8-16 August

MUSICALS & OPERA

BARBERSHOPERA II

An hour of barbershop was probably my idea of purgatory until I saw Toni & The Guys perform in their gleefully daft Eurovision-style contest last year. Rob Castell and Tom Green's songs are an affectionate pastiche of the genre and expect Lara Stubb's fine voice to be to the fore once more in this follow-up tale of a Catalan matador who inherits his father's Norfolk barbershop. JR

Pleasance Dome, 5-31 August

THEATRE

STEFAN GOLASZEWSKI IS A WIDOWER

Last year, we described him as "a captivating performer" and gave his show Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About A Girl He Once Loved a Fringe First award. In the year 2056, he will be 76. He invites us to journey with him into a poignant future. SM

Traverse, 6-30 August

COMEDY

THE PENNY DREADFULS PRESENT... THE NEVER MAN

Tired of being handed bucketfuls of five star reviews for their pin-sharp mockery of all things Victorian, this talented trio of gentlemen entertainers have put their thinking caps on and come up with ... a thriller set on a mysterious theme park island. Prepare to laugh till your face hurts. RC

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August

THEATRE

INTERNAL

They first rose across the Fringe horizon in 2007, with a great emotional journey for solo spectators called The Smile Off Your Face. Now, after last year's explosive success with Once And For All … , Ontroerend Goed of Belgium return with a new one-on-one theatre experience exploring the possibilities of instant intimacy, in just 25 minutes. JM

Traverse @ Mercure Point Hotel, 5-30 August

COMEDY

PAUL SINHA: 39 YEARS OF SOLITUDE

Restricted to a severely limited run at last year's Fringe, Paul Sinha is nevertheless returning with a full hour of completely new material. A perennial bachelor, sport nut and quiz fiend, the erstwhile doctor's distinctive delivery and intelligent routines range from acute social commentary to the intensely personal. JR

The Stand Comedy Club, 5-30 August

THEATRE

WAITING FOR GODOT

It was an Irish company, Semper Fi, who first opened up the St James Public Toilets as a theatrical venue. Now, another Dublin group, Nod Nod, attempt a bog-bound Waiting for Godot. On one hand, a toilet seems as good a venue as any for Beckett's famous masterpiece about hope and hopelessness; on the other hand, what are they going to do with that line about "nobody comes, nobody goes"? JM

St James Public Toilets, St James Centre, 25-31 August

DANCE & PHYSICAL THEATRE

TAP KIDS

What started out as a summer workshop for talented young tap dancers has transformed into a hugely successful show that has already toured America and beyond. Cherrypicked from dance classes across the United States, these 18 to 21-year-olds tap their way through a fun tale of high school life. KA

New Town Theatre, 5-30 August

THEATRE

BEACHY HEAD

The temptations of suicide loom large as a theme on this year's Fringe; and here come gifted young company Analogue, Fringe First winners two years ago for Mile End, with a story which fuses text, CGI animation, physical performance and serious research to explore the ripple effects of a single fall from England's most famous suicide cliff. JM

Pleasance Dome, 8-30 August

THEATRE

SUSURRUS/WHITE TEA

Following his magnificent Sub Rosa at the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow-based site-specific genius David Leddy comes to the Botanic Gardens with a revival of his beautiful 2006 show Susurrus – a meditation on a man's obsessive love for a young boy, based around the music of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream – and to the Assembly Rooms with his new Japanese-themed show about love, brutality and beauty. JM

Assembly@Royal Botanic Gardens, 4 August-6 September; Assembly@George Street, 6-31 August

COMEDY

RANDY'S POSTCARDS FROM PURGATORY

Foul-mouthed puppet show Sammy J In The Forest Of Dreams was a popular hit at the 2008 Fringe and returns for a select number of dates this year. Meanwhile, puppeteer Heath Mcivor will also be showcasing Randy, the washed-up, dissolute puppet-stand-up that first established his comic reputation in Australia. JR

Underbelly, 6-30 August

THEATRE

KURSK

The brilliant young London producers Fuel arrive in Edinburgh with this acclaimed show about the Kursk submarine disaster of 2000, which combines spectacular scenic effects, stunning technical presentation, and a text by Bryony Lavery, to create an outstanding show about human beings trapped in an impossible, beautiful and immeasurably dangerous environment. JM

University of Edinburgh Drill Hall, 20-29 August

MUSIC

THE TIGER LILLIES

The Lillies' last Fringe show was somewhat hit-and-miss, but there's no arguing with this one – a set of songs from the extraordinary stage show Shockheaded Peter, plus "other deranged favourites". A greatest hits set, in other words. AE

Pleasance Courtyard, 17-30 August

THEATRE

HIDE AND SEEK'S THE SANDPIT

For those in search of cutting-edge theatre, the Forest Fringe could be the place to go this year. Working in partnership with The Arches in Glasgow, the venue is staging work by leftfield companies such as Rotozaza and Improbable and hosting special events, such as the Scottish debut of this monthly London night exploring pervasive gaming. AE

The Forest Fringe, 26 August

MUSIC

DAVID BYRNE

While his art installation, Playing the Building, gets underway at the Roundhouse in London, the former Talking Heads frontman makes a one-night appearance at the Fringe for one of the biggest shows at the Edge festival. AE

Playhouse, 8 August

THEATRE

MIDSUMMER (A PLAY WITH SONGS)

David Greig and Gordon McIntyre's musical tale of two Edinburgh thirtysomethings falling in love over one mad weekend was conceived as a bit of low-key, low-budget fun between other projects. Instead it became a smash hit, and is now deservedly getting a full Fringe run. A funny, warm-hearted show, beautifully performed by Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon. AE

Traverse, 7-29 August

DANCE & PHYSICAL THEATRE

FOUND

Fans of the National Theatre of Scotland's Venus as a Boy will surely want to check out this show, featuring another live score by the hugely talented musician and author Luke Sutherland, plus choreography by Christine Devaney. AE

Dance Base, 5-16 August

COMEDY

HANS TEEUWEN

The Dutch master performer continues to divide audiences between those who think him a manic genius and those who believe a man feeding a Mars bar to a sock puppet while berating it for being a rapist is not the apex of comedy. Featuring demented storytelling, surreal musical interludes and nothing less than a complete reappraisal of what stand-up can aspire to, Teeuwen is a must-see. JR

Udderbelly's Pasture, 13-15 and 26-28 August

COMEDY

LAURA SOLON: RABBIT FACED STORY SOUP

The woman who famously won a Perrier award in 2005 with a show she threw together at the last minute after her partner pulled out has gone from strength to strength since then. She's back for the full Fringe with a new show of character comedy. AE

Assembly @ George Street, 6-30 August

THEATRE

THE EVENT

Famed for shows such as Americana Absurdum and Horse Country to Fatboy, New York director John Clancy and actor David Calvitto return with a new show about the nature of text and performance, in which a man alone on stage attempts the ultimate trick of disappearing, while remaining in full sight. JM

Assembly@George Street, 6-31 August

COMEDY

BRIDGET CHRISTIE: MY DAILY MAIL HELL

After her well-received portrayals of King Charles II at recent Fringes, Bridget Christie should have plenty of entertaining gossip to dish as she recalls her time as Nigel Dempster's assistant on the Daily Mail's showbiz column for her first full stand-up show. JR

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 5-31 August

CHILDREN'S SHOWS

RAPUNZEL AND THE TOWER OF DOOM

The wonderful Theatre of Widdershins return after three sell-out runs at the Fringe. Former BBC designer turned puppeteer Andy Lawrence is always full of witty dialogue to please all ages, while his sets hide a myriad of surprises. KA

Scottish Storytelling Centre, 7 – 30 August

THEATRE

BLONDES

Denise Van Outen's musical homage to famous blondes offers a great chance to see the vivacious TV presenter and actress in person. While there's probably only so much left to say about women's hair colour, comedy writer Jackie Clune, who provides the jokes here, is a talented Fringe veteran. SS

Udderbelly's Pasture, 6-31 August

THEATRE

THE HOTEL

Directed by comedian Mark Watson, who says this site-specific work near the Assembly Rooms is "a sort of comedy installation art piece in a hotel". He's got our attention. DP

Assembly @ George Street, 5-31 August

THEATRE

THE BITE-SIZE'D BREAKFAST IN BEDLAM

The company behind last year's critically acclaimed cocktail of excellent new writing, and one of the best breakfasts on the Fringe, returns with a new collection of short plays, hot beverages and strawberries. It's like Wimbledon for theatre goers. SS

Bedlam Theatre, 6-29 August

COMEDY

KIRSTEN SCHAAL AND KURT BRAUNOHLER: DOUBLE DOWN HEARTS

The American duo present an encore (or in their words, "the same sh*t") of last year's if.comedy nominated vaudeville show, but now with added Schaal exposure on The Daily Show and Flight of the Conchords. DP

Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 21-30 August

COMEDY

JOHN GORDILLO: F**KONOMICS

John Gordillo's previous show was one of the most critically praised, word-of-mouth hits at the Fringe. A sometime director of shows for the likes of Eddie Izzard and Reginald D Hunter, here he explores a familiar theme for his old flatmate Hunter, the transactions and power relations of sex. JR

Pleasance Dome, 5-31 August

THEATRE

THE BITTER BELIEF OF COTRONE THE MAGICIAN

This reworking of Pirandello involves a boat ride to a mystery island somewhere in the Fifth of Forth in a literal theatrical journey that, upon arrival, promises puppetry, projections, performance and live music. Certainly, this will be experimental artist Andrea Cusumano's most ambitious piece yet. SS

Sweet in the Fifth of Forth, 8-16 August

COMEDY

MARK THOMAS: THE MANIFESTO

Thomas's social activism dressed up as observational comedy veers in and out of fashion. But with the economy and political system all but falling apart since last August, who doesn't want to hear what he has to say this year? DP

The Stand, 5-18 August

MUSIC

FAITH NO MORE

For those of a rock persuasion, this is the event of August. Reformed after more than a decade apart, Mike Patton's iconic alternative metal band have added a date at The Edge to this summer's European reunion tour. DP

Corn Exchange, 25 August

THEATRE

COFFEE

Writer Glyn Cannon returns with a comedy about the advertising world, following the Fringe First-winning Gone in 2004. It's been a while since then, but if this show makes me laugh as much as the press release, it'll be very funny. SS

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August

THEATRE

CRUSH

The last time Paul Charlton wrote a play for the Fringe (Love, Sex and Cider, 2003) it won a Fringe First and transferred to the Traverse. Now he's back to premiere his latest piece of work tackling love and obsession, hopefully to similar success. SS

Underbelly, 6-30 August

COMEDY

KEVIN BRIDGES: AN HOUR TO SING FOR YOUR SOUL

Despite a string of sold-out Glasgow Comedy Festival appearances and plenty of appreciative recognition outside Scotland, Bridges has always been wary of the Edinburgh Fringe, postponing his festival debut until he was convinced he had a full hour of killer material. But that's simply one more indication of the professionalism and confidence that make him the best Scottish stand-up of his generation. JR

Pleasance Dome, 5-31 August

THEATRE

ICARUS 2.0

The Fringe First-winning Sbastien Lawson and Jamie Wood (for Paperweight, last year) return with a fresh take on the Icarus tale, about an ambitious father and his "son" in a jar. This sounds like another imaginative, original and touching piece of physical theatre. SS

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August

THEATRE

JANE AUSTEN'S GUIDE TO PORNOGRAPHY

The gay-themed company behind last year's very funny Adventures of Butt Boy and Tigger returns with another attention-grabbing show that sounds equally as filthy. However, writer Steven Dawson has a rare talent for pairing sexual smuttiness with emotionally touching stories. SS

Zoo Southside, 7-31 August

COMEDY

KIM NOBLE WILL DIE

An earlier, London run of this show suggested Noble would be dead by May, so take the chance to catch this jaw-dropping comedy-meets-performance-art event before he ceases breathing, is declared insane or finds himself residing at Her Majesty's Pleasure. If you reckon there's nothing genuinely offensive in stand-up, the former Perrier Award winner is busy screwing up lives to prove otherwise. JR

Assembly @ George Street, 25-30 August

THEATRE

MERCY MADONNA OF MALAWI

Dancers, musicians and actors from Malawi tell the real-life story of Mercy James, the young orphan whom Madonna controversially adopted from their country. Award-winning director Toby Gough promises an insightful look at celebrity, poverty and survival in this musical extravaganza. SS

The World @ St George's West, 6-31 August

THEATRE

THE RAP GUIDE TO EVOLUTION

Rap artist and Fringe regular Baba Brinkman returns with a new piece of rap theatre, themed around Darwin's theory of evolution. Fusing hip-hop, rap and poetry with narrative storytelling, the piece promises to be an insightful, enlivening follow-up to The Rebel Cell. SS

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 5-31 August

COMEDY

GET ON WITH IT

Brightonian Seann Walsh's skilful writing and assured delivery belies his relative newcomer status, earning him a clutch of awards and nominations already. He's more than matched for promise by Paul McCaffrey's animated presence at the mic and insightful observations in this appealing double-bill. JR

Nicol Edwards, 8-29 August

THEATRE

SEA WALL

The latest play by the Olivier Award-winner Simon Stephens (who brought us Pornography last year), is a heartfelt monologue exploring family and grief. It was first performed as part of the Bush Theatre's Broken Space season – a creative response to a lighting problem. Expect dazzling writing that shines through the darkness in all senses. SS

Traverse, 6-16 August

THEATRE

THE TARTUFFE/THE TRIAL

The delightful company behind last year's decadent Red Room (not to be confused with the show of the same name at the Traverse this year) returns with a five-star reimagining of Moliere's Tartuffe and a new version of Kafka's The Trial. Moving to the somewhat less salubrious location of "a squat" (the fire-damaged rooms at C Soco), both shows have been developed to fit the new setting and cast members. The company promise more of their inimitable combination of physical theatre, commedia dell'artre and audience interaction. They make classic texts not just enjoyable, but one of the most unforgettable experiences on the Fringe. SS

C Soco, 5-31 August

DANCE & PHYSICAL THEATRE

RAW

Ireland's Fidget Feet Aerial Dance Theatre take a gravity-defying journey into nightclub culture, where the DJ controls more than just the music and anything can happen. Directed by David Bolger, the man behind excellent Fringe shows, Chamber Made and Knots. KA

Dance Base @ Out of the Blue Drill Hall, 14-27 August

COMEDY

ANDREW LAWRENCE – SOUL-CRUSHING VICISSITUDES OF FORTUNE!

Probably the most accomplished insult merchant on the Fringe, the bile-spitting ginger gremlin and double if.comedy award nominee ponders the wretched mockery of his destiny. JR

Pleasance Dome, 5-30 August

CHILDREN'S SHOWS

DOCTOR AUSTIN & DOUG SAFETY'S TIME-TASTICAL TIME TALE

Puckish young stand-up and CBBC writer Austin Low joins Astrophysics PhD and adviser to Nina and the Neurons (CBeebies) Doug Safety for a show about time travel that features liquid nitrogen, diamond burning and a Tesla Coil producing a quarter of a million volts of indoor lightning. Sounds positively spectacular. JR

Underbelly's Hullaballoo, 7-31 August

COMEDY

CHRIS COX: MIND OVER PATTER

Very much in the Derren Brown mould of debunking psychics with his mind reading abilities, the likeably mischievous Cox eschews the creepiness of many of his illusionist peers. This year, he's going to be passing on his skills for the audience to use in the home, workplace and dating arena. JR

Pleasance Dome, 5-31 August

THEATRE

RENT

If parody is the best form of flattery then Rent must be the greatest musical ever. However, performed well it's electrifying and five-star company EUSOG will undoubtedly have cynics dancing in the aisles to its tale of artists fighting the bourgeoisie with show business. SS

Spotlites @ The Merchants' Hall, 5-31 August

COMEDY

DANIELLE WARD LIES

Now a Fringe veteran, the versatile Ward only switched to performing straight stand-up last year, but even then it was as characteristically dark and cynical as you'd hope from one of the best upcoming comedy writers around. JR

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-30 August

THEATRE

PARTY

Some of the Fringe's best young comics (Anna Crilly, Tim Key, Jonny Sweet, Katy Wix) star in if.comedy newcomer Tom Basden's play. JR

Assembly @ George Street, 6-31 August

THEATRE

PRECIOUS LITTLE TALENT

Fringe First and Carol Tambor Award-winning writer Ella Hickson (Eight) returns with a new play that pits British cynicism against American sincerity through a cross-continental love story. Hickson is a talented young writer who looks set to continue her success of last year. SS

Bedlam Theatre, 6-29 August

COMEDY

DEAD CAT BOUNCE ... WIRED

A musical sketch group who can truly play their instruments in all manner of styles, from barbershop to full-on, poodle-haired 1980s rawk, this youthful Irish quartet are also fine comic actors who strive to marry Flight of the Conchords with The League of Gentlemen. JR

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 5-30 August

COMEDY

RUSSELL KANE: HUMAN DRESSAGE

Kane appears on the way to joining that select club of Fringe comics who never deliver less than a four star show. Exploring a recurring preoccupation, he'll be focusing on contemporary courtship rituals, as well as starring in his RSC approved, blank verse soap opera Fakespeare: The Tragickal Savings of King Nigel. JR

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August

THEATRE

POWER PLANT

Described as a series of sound and light installations held at nightfall within the Botanics' glasshouses, this site-specific work will surely benefit from the natural drama of its surroundings. DP

Assembly @ Royal Botanic Gardens, 12-30 August

COMEDY

HANNAH GADSBY – KISS ME QUICK I'M FULL OF JUBES

Although she looks and sounds rather like the ill-advised lovechild of Rhona Cameron and Eric Morecambe, the quirky Tazmanian has a raft of great anecdotes about growing up as an awkward lesbian in an isolated, inbred community at the mercy of a homophobic, misogynistic mother. Having such a tremendous personal biography, for comedy at least, can't disguise the fact that Gadsby is a fine gag writer too. JR

Assembly @ George Street, 6-30 August

COMEDY

HELEN KEEN: THE PRIMITIVE METHODIST GUIDE TO ARCTIC SURVIVAL

Her unheralded, early afternoon show on rocket science was one of the quirky little discoveries of my Fringe last year and I'm hoping that this account of her seafaring ancestors' struggle to survive in the Arctic will be more of the same, with eccentric historical characters affectionately discussed in humorous detail. JR

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 5-31 August

COMEDY

I WISH I COULD BE ANDREW WATTS

One of my favourite up-and-coming comedians, who looks and acts like he's in middle management and whose distaste for everything laddish and fondness for cricket analogies cloaks some darker writing. JR

C soco, 5-31 August

COMEDY

JAMIE KILSTEIN – REVENGE OF THE SERFS

Has the world changed since President Obama's election? Is racism over? Angry liberal comic and radio host sets the world right on a few issues. Fiercely intelligent and fluently articulate, Kilstein is one of the sharpest minds in Edinburgh this August. JR

Assembly @ George Street, 6-31 August

COMEDY

JON RICHARDSON: THIS GUY AT NIGHT

A self-confessed loner who prefers his friends when they're elsewhere, Jon Richardson makes no effort to be conventionally likeable, yet is all the more appealing for his brazen stubbornness and a judgmental irritability beyond his years. He's pernickety pedant who's doubtless a nightmare to live with; nevertheless an hour in his company as a comic is always well rewarded. JR

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August

THEATRE

A BRITISH SUBJECT

Written by the actress Nichola McAuliffe, who also stars, this highly topical drama tells of her real-life husband (and Daily Mirror reporter) Don Mackay's visits to a British man who spent 18 years on death row in Pakistan. He was freed as a result of McAuliffe and Mackay's campaign which involved Prince Charles. DP

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-30 August

COMEDY

MARCEL LUCONT: SEXUAL METRO

France's "premier lover and misanthropist", Alexis Dubus's intellectually aloof, self-published author of some hilariously arrogant tomes should fit right in among the pseuds, poseurs and egos of the Fringe. Dubus will also be reprising his little seen but recommended show from last year, A R*ddy Brief History of Swearing. JR

Underbelly, 6-30 August

DANCE & PHYSICAL THEATRE

VENEZUELA VIVA

This entertaining mix of flamenco, salsa, live music and glamour earned itself five stars from The Scotsman at the 2005 Fringe. Having wowed audiences around the globe, they're back to do it again with an even more spectacular version. KA

Venue 150 @ EICC, 2 – 23 August

THEATRE

PIP UTTON RETROSPECTIVE

A greatest hits set by one of the Fringe's most compelling solo performers – featuring Resolution, Adolf, Hancock's Last Half Hour, Bacon and Chaplin. AE

New Town Theatre, 24-30 August.

COMEDY

MARTIN WHITE PRESENTS ... ACCORDIONS OF THE GODS?

Martin White, mainman of the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra, presents a conspiracy theory history of the accordion and the paranormal. Will hopefully also be leading a motley assortment of tuneful comedians in a Fringe edition of Karaoke Circus. JR

The GRV, 16-22 August

DANCE & PHYSICAL THEATRE

THE RED ROOM

Co-created by dancer/choreographer David Hughes and physical theatre guru Al Seed, this unique adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death blends ballet, contemporary dance and breakdancing. Atmospheric, dramatic and well worth a look. KA

Traverse, 8-16 August

THEATRE

CHRONICLES OF LONG KESH

Less gruelling and more irreverently humorous than Steve McQueen's 2008 film Hunger, this period piece by Belfast playwright and co-director Martin Lynch has won praise in Northern Ireland for its depiction of life inside The Maze. DP

Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 6-30 August

MUSIC

MIKELANGELO AND THE BLACK SEA GENTLEMEN: DEAD MEN TELL A THOUSAND TALES

Mikelangelo and his splendid cabaret band are back with a brand new show. Brace yourself for a ludiccrously entertaining, knowingly preposterous carnival of gallows wit, with a frontman who is part Nick Cave, part Elvis, part bulldog. AE

Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 12-17 and 19-20 August

THEATRE

THE DOUBTFUL GUEST

Following a critically acclaimed UK tour, the Fringe First-winning Hoipolloi bring their theatrical adaptation of Edward Gorey's gothic fantasy tale to the Traverse. Both young and old will be delighted by their imaginative, playful and thought-provoking approach to storytelling. SS

Traverse, 18-30 August

MUSIC

EDWYN COLLINS: A CASUAL INTRODUCTION

Not just a return to his home city, but another step on the road to recovery for the Orange Juice and A Girl Like You singer after suffering two brain haemorrhages in 2005. He remains one of Scotland's greatest ever pop songwriters. DP

Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 20-22 August

COMEDY

SARAH MILLICAN

Last year, this Geordie comic built a filthy, funny Fringe show about returning to single life after a messy divorce; she left the festival with the if.comedy Best Newcomer award. She's back with Typical Woman, about the differences between the sexes. AE

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-30 August

THEATRE

SCOTSMAN FRINGE AWARDS

Well of course we're going to plug our own event. Live music, plus performances from the best theatre shows on the Fringe. All for free. AE

Assembly Rooms, 28 August

• Words by Joyce McMillan, Andrew Eaton, Roger Cox, Susan Mansfield, Kelly Apter, Kate Copstick, Sally Stott, David Pollock, Jay Richardson

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL

JONATHAN MILLS, DIRECTOR OF the Edinburgh International Festival, is quite a salesman. For three years now, he's been persuasively selling each of his festivals as works of art in themselves - journeys through a series of shows with international scope but a connecting theme.

It isn't always convincing - his theme last year, Artists Without Borders, felt so broad it could include almost anything. This year, though, the cleverness of his approach is more impressive than ever. Mills's 2009 theme is Enlightenment, explored explicitly in a visual art show, The Enlightenments, and a series of panel discussions called The Enlightenment, as well as implicitly in the play The Last Witch, about a witch-burning only a few years before the Scottish Enlightenment.

There are politics at work here. For the EIF, there is no escaping the vast, tourist-luring Homecoming 2009 project. With his Enlightenment theme, and a few shows about homecoming, Mills the salesman has opted in. But in the way he has done it, Mills the artist has also opted out, keeping a potentially parochial theme international. Instead of Scottish Enlightenment, his theme is Enlightenment itself. Instead of exploring Scottish homecoming, he gives us Monterverdi's The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland, a Greek tale transported, in this new version, to South Africa. Instead of talking about Scots abroad, there's a show about migration from Singapore. He is celebrating Scottish achievement (dancer Michael Clark is back at the EIF for the first time in 20 years; JM Barrie is in the mix too, with Peter and Wendy), but only up to a point (his opening concert, Judas Maccabeus, celebrates Scottish defeat at Culloden, while The Last Witch is a reminder that Enlightenment and superstition are close cousins, anywhere).

It is, in other words, simple enough to keep politicians and marketers happy, while complex enough to convince as an artistic statement. Mills is having his cake and eating it.

ANDREW EATON

EDINBURGH ART FESTIVAL

A MIXTURE OF ESTABLISHED names and fresh young talent marks this year's programme. The National Galleries of Scotland has Velasquez, Goya and Picasso in its Discovery of Spain exhibition at the Mound, while the Artist Rooms show continues at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, featuring Damien Hirst and Francesca Woodman among others.

Seminal American abstractionist John McCracken is let loose on Inverleith House. The Fruitmarket shows the work of Eva Hesse, rarely seen in Scotland but a key influence on many contemporary artists. Edinburgh Printmakers hosts the Scottish premiere of the Venice Suite prints by Peter Blake, father of British pop art.

Scotland's senior artists are well represented: Alan Davie, 89 this year and still working, is the subject of a major retrospective at the Dovecot Studios, from painting and sculpture to rug-making and experimental jazz. The Scottish portfolio continues with James Morrison at the Scottish Gallery, John Bellany at the Open Eye and Joyce Gunn Cairns at the Henderson Gallery.

Turner Prize nominee Lucy Skaer (inset) is at doggerfisher, showing work made collaboratively with Rosalind Nashashibi, the Beck's Futures winner. Bob and Roberta Smith show one of their largest works to date, an 11-metre painting that breaks down into nine panels, at the Grey Gallery. Tacita Dean is also thinking big, for the Ingleby's billboard commission. Callum Innes's compelling abstracts occupy the main Ingleby Gallery, while Jane and Louise Wilson bring photographs and films to Talbot Rice.

Just outside the city, the sculpture park at Jupiter Artland opens for its first festival, offering a welcome break from the madness in town with artwork by Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Ian Hamilton Finlay among others.

With 50 venues, late openings, artists' talks, new spaces, group shows, artist-run projects, a tent and a caravan and a cookbook (Alexsandra Mir's How Not To Cookbook at Collective Gallery) there is plenty to be lively about on the art scene this August.

• The Edinburgh Art Festival runs from 5 August to 5 September, visit www.edinburghartfestival.com

SUSAN MANSFIELD

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL

NO NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS, NO prime ministers or vice-presidents, not even a home-grown Hollywood film star: even the most passionate supporters of the Edinburgh International Book Festival would be hard-put to argue that this August's crop of writers in Charlotte Square looks like a vintage year.

It's also harder than ever to get tickets – 112 events sold out in the first day alone. But there's still enough to entice and enthral. The event with The Wire creator David Simon may be sold out, but how about novelist Richard Price, who also helped to write it. Or what about the man behind the best-ever graphic novel series? You've got four separate chances to catch Neil Gaiman.

Hilary Mantel, whose novel Wolf Hall will be the one everyone else has to beat for the next round of literary prizes, is on with novelist Adam Thorpe at the Spiegeltent – far too small a venue, so you'll be lucky to get a ticket. The same goes for American poet Sharon Olds – don't leave it too late.

As usual, tickets for major political figures (Vince Cable, Paddy Ashdown, Shirley Williams) or their wives (Cherie Blair) went in the tsunami of telephone calls – 25,000 in the first hour – when bookings opened on Monday. It was the same for Jeremy Paxman, Garrison Keillor and Margaret Atwood.

But with 700 writers from 45 countries, there's still plenty left to choose from. Two pieces of advice: while the television big names are invariably polished performers, you invariably know what you're going to get, and it's the unpredictable events that tend to linger longer in the memory, so check out the smaller venues. Finally, don't neglect the Scots: this is a golden generation of writers, and if you haven't heard James Kelman, Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay and Carol Ann Duffy read by now then you should – not least because they're all superlative performers of their work.

• Edinburgh International Book Festival, 15-31 August, www.edbookfest.co.uk

DAVID ROBINSON

 
 
 

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