Edinburgh International Festival preview: Theatre

It’s perhaps inevitable that theatre – along with opera, and narrative forms of dance – is the art-form that has suffered most severely from the restrictions surrounding the Covid pandemic. Distancing regulations place strict limits on the stories than can be acted out on stage; and it’s perhaps not surprising that this year’s Edinburgh International Festival theatre programme is both fairly modest in scale, and focussed on shows that are more poetic or choral than conventionally dramatic. For those lucky enough to land a ticket or two, though, there are certainly some powerful experiences in store.

The centrepiece of the theatre programme, presented at the Traverse Theatre, will be the world premiere of a new play by Enda Walsh, the globally acclaimed Irish playwright whose international career arguably began in Edinburgh in 1997, when his first play Disco Pigs exploded onto the Traverse stage. Walsh’s new play Medicine is co-commissioned by Galway International Festival and Landmark Productions, and seeks to examine social attitudes to mental health problems, while also deconstructing the act of theatre itself.

Also receiving its world premiere in front of a live audience at the Lyceum is Hannah Lavery’s powerful Lament For Sheku Bayoh, premiered online last November. Co-commissioned by EIF with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Lyceum, the Lament is a shatteringly powerful choral piece – performed with electrifying intensity by four young black Scottish women actors and singers – about the death of Sheku Bayoh at the hands of police in Kirkcaldy in 2015.

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The programme also includes Nqabi Ninja, an audio-story by playwright Sarah Shaarawi about women’s safety in public spaces, which will be available to experience in towns across Scotland as well as in Edinburgh, and a series of one-off performances of new material by spoken-word artists including Inua Ellams and Hollie McNish. And to add a dash of star-studded cabaret excitement, the great Alan Cumming will return to Edinburgh with his new show Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age; which seems like a fine title, this year, for a 74-year-old Festival that is having to reinvent itself show by show and venue by venue, as it emerges reborn, into a radically different world.

Lament for Sheku Bayoh PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic

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