IF IT’S themes you’re after, then this year’s Fringe theatre programme is bursting with them. It looks like being a year of angry dads, of the lost sock and the interactive theatre show, of American companies reappraising their own post-9/11 culture (see John Clancy’s Fatboy at the Assembly Rooms) and a year of settling accounts with the pop icons of the 1960s.
At the Traverse, one-man marvel Owen O’Neill is Finding Mick Jagger; at the Assembly Rooms’ Royal Court, writer Nick Grosso is Killing Paul McCartney; and at the Pod Deco in Clerk Street - formerly the Odeon cinema - Jenny Eclair explores The Andy Warhol Syndrome.
Meanwhile, down on Leith Walk, Queen Margaret College launches its new Scottish Theatre Gateway venue, featuring work from leading Scottish companies Catherine Wheels, Theatre Cryptic and Theatre Babel. In what promises to be a big year all round for Scottish-made theatre on the Fringe, the Traverse hot tickets are led by Shimmer, a new play from rising star Linda McLean, and David Greig’s new monologue version of Raja Shehadeh’s raging and rapturous Palestinian novel, When the Bulbul Stopped Singing.
And across the city, the boom in outdoor and site-specific theatre continues, with the Traverse staging shows in a curry house in Leith and in the back seat of a Maserati, and Scotland’s top outdoor company, Boilerhouse, premiering The Bridge at Old College Quad.
And as for those "odd sock" shows, one of them, Laundry at 4am, plays in my local laundrette, where a man finds himself locked in conversation with the unquiet spirit of his lost left sock.
Comedy has been a cuckoo in the Fringe nest for years with better-known comics pushing out smaller, genuine Fringe performers. But hey, that’s showbusiness. Talking of cuckoos, the hottest comedy ticket this year is likely to be Guy Masterson’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Virtually the entire cast of last year’s 12 Angry Men will be there, although the star lead, at the time of writing, is still to be confirmed.
But my comedy goose is pimpling at the thought of several of this year’s big shows. The ferociously fabulous Jimmy Carr is back with a show entitled Public Display of Affection.
Demetri Martin, a comedian with the appeal of a winsome six-year-old, a mind like an Enigma machine and a golden Perrier bottle on his mantlepiece, is back with his new show Spiral Bound. As are Stewart Lee, crawling out from under a Ben Nevis of awards for the genre-shattering Jerry Springer, the Opera, and Richard Herring, who is currently attempting 50 dates in 50 nights for his show The Twelve Tasks of Hercules.
The Stand can expect lengthy queues as the excellent Simon Munnery is there, plus John Oliver (the thinking girl’s David Baddiel), that most golden of oldies Arnold Brown and Perrier winner Daniel Kitson - who leaves me cold, but remains a hot ticket.
Despite the number of venues taking part in this year’s Fringe, it should come as no surprise that the best productions are to be found at Dance Base. The Grassmarket venue will host Scottish Dance Theatre, performing two recent works from their repertoire, including Didy Veldman’s funny and poignant Track; while Freshmess, Scotland’s own hip hop/contemporary dance collective, has a new triple-bill. Ripe features four eclectic solos by dancers entering the mature phase of their career, including former Rambert star Namron. Rambert’s influence will also be felt in Balletomania’s Ballet Rimbaud and Possession, a double-bill at C Venue by Rambert/Royal Ballet-trained dancers. Exploring the passionate affair between French writers Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, and set to a score by the Doors and Shostakovich, this should prove a colourful romp, ably performed.
Hopes are also high for two new companies, Stormforce and Renegade Theatre. The former pitches fast-paced Irish dancing with pounding African rhythms, during a short run at Purple Venues, while the latter are in for the long haul, performing a new show, Rumble, throughout the Fringe at the excellent Aurora Nova venue. Hailing from Germany, Renegade has created a thoroughly modern take on Romeo and Juliet, using some of the finest hip-hop dancers that Europe has to offer.
Finally, exuberant US company Pig Iron is back, after its award-winning 2002 Fringe run. New show Flop, finds the dance/theatre/clown ensemble in wrecking mode, as three tough girls break the universe and have to re-make it double-quick.
Scotland’s marvellous children’s theatre companies are rarely seen on the Fringe, but this year extra Scottish Arts Council funding and thoughtful programming by Assembly mean that a few local gems are available. Musselburgh-based Catherine Wheels have toured to international acclaim with Martha, an entrancing play in which a sour old woman is transformed by the friendship of a lost goose. Puppeteer Ailie Cohen, who charmed the pants, socks and vests off us last year with Rumpelstiltskin at the Fairytale Laundry, is back with Jazz Mouse, set inside a piano. Leith’s Puppet Lab have adapted one of Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s delightful toddler books, Each Peach Pear Plum, which wraps up all your favourite nursery rhymes in a game of I-spy.
There are promising productions from outside Scotland too. Last year, En Masse won a Fringe First with their spine-chilling Echo Chamber; this year they are off to sea on The Ignatius Trail, a swashbuckling voyage into the pirate underworld. Music and mayhem are the ingredients of Bach for Kids, which reveals the composer as a jailbird and a duellist. Older children may already know Michael Morpurgo’s First World War novel, Private Peaceful, which has been adapted by Bristol Old Vic.
As usual, the biggest musical names come courtesy of T on the Fringe. Dido plays her only Scottish gig of the year at the Usher Hall, while those not lulled into a century-long slumber by her soporific bleating might care to nab tickets for another exclusive performance, as Morrissey takes over the Corn Exchange. Further down the T bill, The 5,6,7,8s (pictured) - the groovy Japanese girl band from Kill Bill Vol 1 - offer their pastiche of trashy rock’n’roll at the Liquid Room, while Brooklyn art punks TV On The Radio, appearing at the Venue, sound like no one else on the face of the Earth.
The Magnets’ archetypal boy band sound is overly familiar, but with the twist that they are an a capella ensemble who use their voices to create their backing tracks. These Swingle Singers for the pre-teen generation are appearing at The Pod.
If you missed the Soweto Gospel Choir on their debut Fringe appearance last year, don’t let it happen again as they return to take up residence at the Assembly Rooms. Finally, Smirnoff Underbelly’s series of late-night gigs is back. A year ago a then-unknown trio by the name of Keane played; this year, discover acoustic duo Bedspace (who?), "incendiary four-piece" Audioporn (eh?) and folk duo the Handsome Family (oh yeah, heard of them).