With just days to go before Edinburgh’s festival bonanza begins, Scotland on Sunday’s writers name the shows they are most looking forward to
I’m expecting to find a lot of August’s theatrical energy in some less familiar places. That will be true in spectacular style at the Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston, where the Edinburgh International Festival is giving the Lowland Hall a makeover to allow room for three major shows: Ariane Mnouchkine’s formidable Parisian company Théâtre du Soleil with the epic adventure of Les Naufragés Du Fol Espoir; Grzegorz Jarzyna and Poland’s T R Warszawa with a Macbeth dripping with the violence of today’s Middle East; and Christoph Marthaler and Theater Basel with a leftfield response to My Fair Lady retitled Meine Faire Dame – Ein Sprachlabor.
On the Fringe, a number of new kids on the block will also be absorbing my time. I’m looking forward, for example, to hanging out in the Famous Spiegeltent in its new home in front of the Assembly Rooms, while just down the hill, it’ll be fascinating to see how Newcastle’s Northern Stage transforms St Stephen’s with a programme drawn entirely from the north of England. The company’s own production of five short plays by New York’s Will Eno has great word-of-mouth.
Also nearby, the Institut Francais d’Ecosse is upping its profile with a nine-show programme, primarily performed in English but with a strong French flavour. I can already recommend It’s So Nice, a sideways tribute to Mary Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I by Belgium’s Oh My God, and I’m intrigued by the table-top puppetry of Ma Biche Et Mon Lapin.
Across town, Summerhall has a tempting programme of international and experimental theatre, dance and art, including Edinburgh’s Stellar Quines with a Québécois play called The List starring Maureen Beattie and designed by John Byrne.
I have waited a long time for Otto Kuhnle, the genial German 2010 Malcolm Hardee Award Winner, to bring his own show to Edinburgh. Ich Bin Ein Berliner at Assembly George Square is here, and he is an unadulterated joy to spend an hour with. Also spreading his idiosyncratic version of joy around is Sam Simmons (at Gilded Balloon Teviot), a kind of comedy genius, and a definite force for funny in the world. About The Weather promises Simmons’ trademark mix of weird and wonderful.
While we are on the subject of joy, Charlie Baker is bringing his first solo Edinburgh show to the Pleasance. Baker is a terrific writer, he sings, he dances and Freshly Baked is the kind of clever cuddle of a show we all sometimes crave.
Stuart Goldsmith’s Prick will definitely be worth seeing at the Pleasance Courtyard, and an hour in the custody of ex-copper Alfie Moore, in his show I Predicted A Riot (also at the Pleasance), is a recommended sentence.
Wil Hodgson is right back on form this year and the talent that won him Perrier Best Newcomer now brings you Kidnapped By Catwoman – marvellous memoir-comedy with a unique voice, at the Stand Comedy Club. Lewis Schaffer is back, dyspeptic, self-loathing and appallingly hilarious as ever (at Laughing Horse @ Free Sisters) although this year he might be out-bittered by American Eddie Pepitone aka The Bitter Bhudda. Bloodbath (at Just the Tonic at the Tron) promises “social rage and self-doubt” – my kind of show.
Finally, the Free Fringe is bigger and better than ever. Explore it. You have nothing to lose.
I will be welcoming the return of familiar faces such as Daniel Kitson, whose show at the Traverse didn’t even have a title when the programme went to press (“As of 1.52pm GMT on Friday April 27th 2012, this show has no title”), yet still became the fastest-selling show at the venue. It looks like we’re all of the same mind: with writing that good, who cares?
It’s also great to see the return of my favourite writer of comic song, Mitch Benn (Reduced Circumstances at The Stand Comedy Club), albeit in new slimline form. Of several plays on the Fringe tackling different aspects of being a soldier, The Two Worlds Of Charlie F (Pleasance Courtyard) looks particularly poignant, a play about the realities of war, injury and readjustment to civilian life performed by a cast of 14 injured servicemen and women, many of them amputees. For the Art Festival, Talbot Rice hosts the first ever Scottish exhibition for Tim Rollins & K.O.S. (Kids of Survival), a unique collective which began when Rollins started an art project for disenfranchised teens in the Bronx and is now represented in major museums around the world.
Whoa, is that the time? They’re filling George Square with tents, building a bar at the Pleasance, and I’ve still not had time to memorise what’s on offer at the International, Fringe or Book Festival. I feel almost as unprepared as Mr Buckle – I say almost, because I’m such a rabid fan that I have bought three precious tickets to go see those glamour-puss chanteuses, Camille O’Sullivan and Lady Carol (at the Assembly Rooms on George Street), and for the Pajama Men, doing improv here for the first time (at Assembly George Square). Cannot! Wait! I’m also keen to see my pals Phill Jupitus and Jo Caulfield at the Stand Comedy Club, especially because Phill’s put a surprising new twist on his show that underscores his unsung versatility as an entertainer.
When you become a parent everything changes, including the festival, so no more weekend-long experimental Polish theatre or shows promising “live sex on stage”. Tiddler And Other Terrific Tales, at Underbelly, is an Edinburgh adaptation of another bedtime opus by Julia Donaldson (though in our house we like equal credit given to felt-pen wizard Axel Scheffler). This will be Scamp Theatre’s tenth Edinburgh. Archie and I loved their Stick Man two years ago and my laddie expects to see every single fishie in its right place: sunfish, spider-fish, devil-fish, dab, little Johnny Dory, the lot.
Edinburgh can sometimes forget that it has one shoulder on the shore, so it’s wonderful that the most exciting commission for this year’s Edinburgh Art Festival is in the heart of the city centre but responds to the siren call of the capital’s maritime history.
Berlin-based Glaswegian Susan Philipsz treads a careful line between timeless charm and very specific stories in sound works that combine word and song, enduring ideas with the passing frailty of the human voice. Her last big Scottish artwork, Lowlands for the GI Festival, won her the Turner Prize.
Timeline will respond to the city’s iconic landmark the One o’Clock Gun, with a sequence of sound installations running from Nelson’s Monument to the castle and citing everything from the Odyssey to Edinburgher John Robison’s invention of the siren. You can hear it at a number of sites daily until 2 September.
Timeline is just one of a number of commissions which indicate that, after taking on the EAF directorship in time for last year’s festival, Sorcha Carey is getting her teeth into programming on her own terms. Among her innovations was the partnership with ultra-smart producers Trigger, whose Detours programme pushed the boat out on live events. This year a series of intimate performances will see figures including comedian Simon Munnery respond to art exhibitions across the city.
I’m particularly looking forward to Nic Green’s Detour on 4 August, her responses to Tania Kovats’ Rivers, her new artwork for sculpture garden Jupiter Artland.
In many ways, looking at this year’s Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival programme gave me a sense of déjà vu – but closer inspection reveals that acts I heard last year are not necessarily doing the same thing or being shown in the same context. The most intriguing of these is Curtis Stigers (Le Monde, tomorrow until Friday), who is playing a five-day residency in a much more intimate setting than he has played when in Scotland in recent years.
Another singer from last year whom I’m looking forward to hearing again is Cécile McLorin Salvant, a wonderful vocalist who exudes the brightness and joie de vivre of the young Billie Holiday and will be heard with her own band (Salon Elegance, Thursday) and as the guest with the World Jazz Orchestra (Festival Theatre, Saturday) when, led by the wonderful Scottish baritone saxophonist, and former member of the Ellington band Joe Temperley, it dishes up some of the exotic suites written by the Duke to reflect different parts of the world.
After catching them for the first time in years at the recent Leith Jazz Festival, Edinburgh’s own Diplomats of Jazz (Royal Overseas League, Friday), exponents of joyful 1920s-style jazz, are high on my to-hear list as I remember it from my earliest festival visits as a teenager in the 1980s.
And speaking of local talent, one not-to-be-missed residency in the Fringe programme is that of trumpeter Colin Steele and pianist Brian Kellock (The Jazz Bar, 6-11 August), playing together as a duo for the first time.
Short of cloning myself, I’ve no idea how to be at all the events I’d like to attend at this year’s Book Festival. There is a strand featuring some of the most exciting transatlantic talent: Ben Marcus, Colson Whitehead, Nathan Englander and Junot Diaz are raising the benchmark for how to combine the biggest ideas with the most heartbreaking stories. From Britain, there’s Ned Beauman, Gwendoline Riley, Alice Oswald, Nick Harkaway, Will Self and China Miéville, and the intriguing Deborah Levy, whose Swimming Home is a devastating, pitch-perfect study of buried griefs. Perhaps the most potentially controversial part of the festival is the series of events in commemoration of the 1962 Writers’ Conference, which will be worth going to just to see if it sparks another Stair-Heid Rammy (or if the water on stage is replaced by whisky, or if some writers turn up pharmaceutically enhanced, as happened 50 years ago). One final, left-field choice: Laurent Binet’s HHhH – a book that redefines the possibilities and the limits of the historical novel.
I can recommend two superior cabaret acts to savour this Fringe. One is the exquisite stylings of The Lost Fingers from Canada, who channel Paris’ Hot Club through contemporary rock, such as Paradise City, to produce an incredibly cool sound in their show Lost In The 80s at the Famous Spiegeltent. The other is The 27 Club at the Acoustic Music Centre @ St Bride’s. Somebody had to do it eventually, and why not the overlooked talent of Jack Lukeman, still struggling to replicate his success in his native Ireland in the UK? “It”, of course, is the disproportionate number of pop stars who have spun off this mortal coil at the age of 27. Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix – the list goes on. I’m also looking forward to Toots and the Maytals at the Liquid Room on 9 August – one of reggae’s true originals still touring and recording, making a most welcome visit to the Fringe at the Liquid Room on 9 August.
I want to see Sean Hughes because I chased him around the Royal Academy Summer Show trying to interview him. Oh, and because he’s doing two shows this year – Life Becomes Noises at the Pleasance – about the death of his father in 2010 – and his trademark irreverent and inventive stand-up show (at the Gilded Balloon). I’m also keen to see the LSO with Valery Gergiev and Nicola Benedetti at the Usher Hall on 16 August – the maestro, and one of Scotland’s most celebrated musicians playing a piece (Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No 1) with which she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2004, when she was just 16. Who wouldn’t want to witness what happens this time around? Also Barbara Hammer: Incorporating The Lesbian Museum And The Hidden Hammer at Summerhall on 25 August. Barbara Hammer’s grandmother was a cook for DW Griffiths, and she is a pioneering filmmaker and artist. At 73, she’s received retrospectives at Tate, MoMA and Jeu de Paume in Paris focusing on the work she’s made, including the first avant-garde films to address lesbian sexuality. To hear her speak is really a very special opportunity.
On the face of it, the absence of the Edge festival this year has resulted in fewer gigs, but this is the Fringe – choice is never going to be a problem, you just need to look harder. I recommend two Edinburgh bands who are raising their game with big, one-off shows at the Queen’s Hall. On 15 August, FOUND team up with Aidan Moffat to put on a live version of Unravel, their ingenious art installation in which Moffat tells the same story in different ways depending on what’s going on in the room. At the Queen’s Hall live Tweeting from the audience will shape what happens on stage. And on 4 August, Withered Hand – the full band version rather than Dan Willson solo – are playing a headline show with special guests and Josie Long compering. Willson sings beautiful, delicate songs and is funny and charming too.
Elsewhere, I’m looking forward to The Intervention, a new play by Dave Florez, whose Somewhere Beneath It All, A Small Fire Burns Still was my favourite show last year, and pretty much everything at Summerhall.
For more information, visit www.edfringe.com, www.eif.co.uk (International Festival), www.edinburghartfestival, www.edinburghjazzfestival.com and www.edbookfest.co.uk.