Edinburgh International Festival: Scotsman critics pick their highlights

This Restless House
This Restless House
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Joyce McMillan on theatre, Kelly Apter on Dance, David Kettle on Opera, Ken Walton on Classical and Fiona Shepherd on Contemporary Music


The Divide

Annabel Bolton directs the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s latest work, a mighty two-part epic called The Divide, set in a dystopian post-plague England where the ravages of a disease transmitted through heterosexual contact have led to the complete separation of the sexes, enforced by a strictly authoritarian regime. The women, who carry the infection, wear black, while the men wear white, to signal their purity; the story follows the fortunes of a young brother and sister growing up in this divided world. Ayckbourn has ventured into science fiction and fantasy before, with plays like Henceforward (1987) and Comic Potential (1998), both featuring a world in which some human beings are replaced by robots, but both he and Bolton feel that The Divide is unlike anything he has ever attempted before.

King’s Theatre, 8-20 August

Oresteia: This Restless House

Zinnie Harris’s This Restless House is a powerful 21st century re-write of Aeschylus’s Oresteia from the point of view of the women in the tale, and shows Dominic Hill’s current Citizens’ Theatre Company at its thrilling best with sound and music by Nikola Kodjabashia supporting an outstanding company of actors led by George Anton and Pauline Knowles, who helped it win best new play at the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland last year.

Lyceum Theatre, 22-27 August


The Lyceum co-produces Rhinoceros, Eugene Ionesco’s legendary French-Romanian absurdist vision of dictatorship, in a new version by Zinnie Harris, staged by the Turkish director Murat Daltaban of DOT Theatre, Istanbul – a theatre at the heart of a country currently undergoing a crash course in the return of authoritarian government.

Lyceum Theatre, 3-12 August


At the studio in Church Hill Theatre – restored as an International Festival venue after a long absence – audience members seated in their own personal booth can enjoy the lone experience of Flight, left, a theatrical journey that, through sound, images and storytelling, introduces us to two young brothers undertaking the perilous refugee journey from war and famine to safety. Described as mixing graphic novel with exquisite diorama, Flight comes from the team who scored a huge Festival hit in 2015 with the young people’s show Dragon.

Church Hill Theatre, 4-27 August

Meet Me At Dawn

Also by Zinnie Harris, and inspired by the myth of Orpheus, Meet Me At Dawn , inset right, tells the story of two women who are shipwrecked in a strange land following a boating accident. Directed by the Traverse Theatre’s Orla O’Loughlin, this is a co-production between the Traverse and the International Festival.

Traverse Theatre Studio, 4-27 August

Real Magic

In the final week of the International Festival there’s a chance to experience the latest work of Sheffield-based company Forced Entertainment who have become international legends in the world of experimental theatre, facing the most profound and terrifying dilemmas of 21st century humankind with an astonishing mixture of humour and sheer wild inventiveness.

Festival Theatre Studio, 22-27 August

0131-473 2000 / www.eif.co.uk



The hypnotic pairing of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s choreography and Steve Reich’s music was last seen at the International Festival in 2008 with Drumming – and this second helping is much anticipated. Originally created in 2001 for her Belgium-based company, Rosas, Rain, above, is described by De Keersmaeker as a “party” for ten dancers, albeit a physically demanding one. Sharing the stage with a curtain of fine strings, reminiscent of falling water, the performers move with mathematical repetition – echoing the score that accompanies them, Reich’s compellingly repetitive Music for 18 Musicians.

Edinburgh Playhouse, 25-27 August

Blak Whyte Gray

Once on the fringes of the dance world, the hip hop community is now as front and centre as the rest. In particular, Boy Blue Entertainment has made a big splash, winning an Olivier Award in 2007 for its powerful production, Pied Piper – and a nomination for its more recent work, Blak Whyte Gray, below. Run by choreographer Kenrick Sandy and composer Michael Asante, Boy Blue has been creating work from its East London base since 2001 and Blak Whyte Gray continues the company’s mission to present socially-inspired, accessible hip hop dance theatre that provokes and thrills in equal measure.

Royal Lyceum Theatre, 16-19 August

Yo, Carmen

For years, pioneering flamenco dancer and choreographer María Pagés was unhappy with the depiction of women in Prosper Mérimée’s 19th century novella Carmen and Bizet’s subsequent opera. Finally, in 2014, she was able to translate those thoughts into actions with her powerful dance theatre work Yo, Carmen (I, Carmen). Additionally inspired by the work of female poets from around the world, the show is performed by seven musicians/singers and eight dancers, who turn Carmen into an identifiable everywoman.

Edinburgh Playhouse, 12 and 13 August


Formed 21 years ago with the intention of making high quality dance works for children and young people, Madrid’s Aracaladanza has become a leading force in this burgeoning genre. Last seen in Edinburgh at the 2016 Imaginate festival, with the remarkable Constellations, the company’s new work pays homage to the genius and brilliance of Leonardo da Vinci. Inspired by his drawings, paintings and sculptures, Vuelos, inset left, is a work for anyone aged five and over, packed with energetic movement, digital animation and life-sized puppets, set to a gorgeous, specially-commissioned score.

Church Hill Theatre, 11-13 August

Nederlands Dance Theater

Triple bill that includes Stop-Motion by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, a piece filled with dynamic movement and emotive expression which is danced against a backdrop of visual images and among a pile of white flour – depicting the dust that spread through the rehearsal room walls during the work’s creation.

Edinburgh Playhouse, 21-23 August

0131-473 2000 / www.eif.co.uk


La bohème

Right up there with the Teatro Regio’s Macbeth is the Turin company’s other big show, Puccini’s La bohème – astonishingly, the first time the work has had an outing at the International Festival. It’s a glorious production, too, with a breathtaking staging (from Catalan director Àlex Ollé of Barcelona theatre mavericks La Fura dels Baus) that updates Puccini’s Parisian garrets to shabby chic banlieues very much of today, while staying true to the work’s heart-on-its-sleeve emotion.

Festival Theatre, 25-27 August

Don Giovanni

Iván Fischer’s radically stripped-back Marriage of Figaro raised a few eyebrows in 2015, and he’s back this year, again as both conductor and director, with a similarly radical vision of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, dispensing with sets and props, instead seeing the opera through the lustful eyes of the Don as a place peopled by nothing but bodies – courtesy of actors from the Budapest Acting Academy. It’s a neat conceit that’s gone down well in previous outings across the world – as has Fischer’s famously energetic way with Mozart’s score.

Festival Theatre, 9, 11 and 12 August


Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek, which shocked audiences at its UK premiere at the 1988 International Festival, has gone on to gain a rightful place as a modern opera classic. It’s in-your-face, certainly – you’d expect nothing less from Steven Berkoff’s updating of the Oedipus myth to the turmoil of Thatcher’s Britain – but there’s plenty of lyricism in Turnage’s music, too. Young London firebrand Joe Hill-Gibbins directs what promises to be a provocative co-production from Scottish Opera and Opera Ventures.

Festival Theatre, 5 and 6 August


The Edinburgh International Festival’s very first opera, staged way back in 1947, was Verdi’s Macbeth, so it seems only fitting that that it should form part of the 70th anniversary programme, this time in a production from Teatro Regio of Turin.

Festival Theatre, 18 & 19 August

And not forgetting ...

In concert performances in the Usher Hall, Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings his celebratory survey of Monteverdi’s three surviving operas – L’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea – while the second part of the International Festival’s Ring cycle, Wagner’s Die Walküre, comes from the RSNO under Sir Andrew Davis (plus star singers Bryn Terfel and Christine Goerke, inset), and there’s Britten’s epoch-defining Peter Grimes from Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic.

L’Orfeo, 14 August; Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, 15 August; L’incoronazione di Poppea, 17 August; Die Walküre, 6 August and Peter Grimes, 13 August, all at the Usher Hall, 0131-473 2000 / www.eif.co.uk


Bryn Terfel & Malcolm Martineau

Welsh singer Bryn Terfel, inset right, possesses one of the richest bass baritone voices around today. He teams up with expert accompanist Malcolm Martineau for a classic programme of Schubert, Britten and Brahms, with homespun Welsh songwriter Meiron Williams as an added rarity.

Usher Hall, 9 August

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra & Paul Lewis

Edward Gardner has been stamping his own footprint on the Bergen Orchestra since recently taking over the reins as musical director. Hear them in Elgar’s First Symphony, and with the sophisticated pianism of Paul Lewis in Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

Usher Hall, 12 August

Hallé Orchestra: La Damnation de Faust

Like the International Festival itself, Mark Elder is celebrating his 70th birthday this year. He brings his Hallé Orchestra to Edinburgh for a bumper performance of Berlioz’s wild and wonderful La Damnation de Faust.

Usher Hall, 20 August

Joshua Bell: Artist in Residence

American violinist Joshua Bell takes up residence at this year’s Festival, including two sparkling chamber music events at the Queen’s Hall. The first, with pianist Dénes Várjon, features Grieg’s Violin Sonata No 3; in the second, both are joined in

trio repertoire by cellist Steven Isserlis

Queen’s Hall, 21 and 26 August

Budapest Festival Orchestra:

Benedetti plays Brahms

Effortlessly charismatic Nicola Benedetti, right, reveals her acclaimed personal viewpoint on Brahms’s Violin Concerto with Iván Fischer and his idiosyncratic Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Usher Hall, 10 August

Scotland’s First Concert Hall: The Edinburgh Music Society

To celebrate the recent refurbishment of St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh’s oldest concert venue, Peter Whelan and Ensemble Marsyas recreate a typical late 18th century programme of Barsanti, Handel, Arne and Gluck.

St Cecilia’s Hall, 8 August

Dunedin Consort: Monteverdi

More imaginative programming pairs a newly discovered transcription by Heinrich Schütz of Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda with original gems by Schütz, Monteverdi and Buxtehude.

Queen’s Hall, 5 August

Filharmonica della Scala: Riccardo Chailly

Milan’s La Scala opera orchestra, inset left, perform a programme that includes Shostakovich’s Symphony No 12 on 26 August and Verdi’s Stabat Mater and the Deum the following day. Riccardo Chailly conducts.

Usher Hall, 26 and 27 August

Marinsky & RSNO

Recalling the famous meeting of Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten at the 1962 festival, the Mariinsky Orchestra from St Petersburg and the RSNO perform a programme that includes Shostakovich’s 4th Symphony and Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.

Usher Hall, 23 August

Karen Cargill & Simon Lepper: French Song

Scotland’s pre-eminent mezzo soprano Karen Cargill and accompanist Simon Lepper are an inspirational duo. Here, coloured by the velvet richness of Cargill’s voice, they present songs by Debussy, Chausson, Duparc and Hahn.

Queen’s Hall, 10 August

Iestyn Davies sings Bach

Iestyn Davies ranks topmost among today’s new super breed of counter tenors. He’s joined in these two concerts by supercharged period instrument playing of the Academy of Ancient Music under its flamboyant music director Richard Egarr.

Queen’s Hall, 22 and 24 August

0131-473 2000 / www.eif.co.uk


Room 29

For three nights only, the International Festival audience has access to Room 29 of the fabled Chateau Marmont, the Gothic hotel which overlooks LA’s infamous Sunset Strip, and has been the playground of the bold and the beautiful from the golden age of Hollywood right through to the baddest boys of rock’n’roll. Pulp frontman and national treasure Jarvis Cocker and piano maestro Chilly Gonzales present a song cycle inspired by the history of the hotel and its showbiz occupants, including Howard Hughes and Jean Harlow, which meditates on the birth of celebrity culture and how we look to the silver – and other – screens to teach us something about ourselves.

King’s Theatre, 22-24 August

The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir

Magnetic Fields mainman Stephin Merritt, the baritone bard of Brooklyn, does not shy away from mammoth album projects such as the self-explanatory triple album 69 Love Songs. His latest release, 50 Song Memoir, also does what it says on the tin, comprising one song for every year of Merritt’s life, which he will perform chronologically over the course of these two concerts, surrounded by his band and ephemera – bits of furniture, dolls’ houses and wooden animals – which Merritt has culled from his own home.

King’s Theatre, 25 and 26 August

PJ Harvey: The Hope Six Demolition Project

One of pop’s fiercest stylists, PJ Harvey has in her time given the blues a bloody nose, transformed herself into a southern siren temptress and documented the horrors of the First World War through her shape-shifting albums. Her most recent, The Hope Six Demolition Project, is a suite of musical reportage inspired by field trips to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington DC. Its live incarnation is a theatrical gig with Harvey marshalling a brilliant band of male musicians, including former members of the Bad Seeds, Gallon Drunk and Tindersticks.

Edinburgh Playhouse, 7 and 8 August

Benjamin Clementine

A newish kid on the block with an old soul, Benjamin Clementine, above, made quite an impression with his dramatic debut album, At Least For Now, going on to win the 2015 Mercury Prize. Since then he has collaborated with animated supergroup Gorillaz and is set to release his follow-up album I Tell A Fly in September. Serious and sensitive, his piano performances are inspired by some of the great timeless musical storytellers, such as Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone.

Festival Theatre, 10 August

Very Cellular Songs: The Music of the Incredible String Band

Incredible String Band manager and producer Joe Boyd has lamented that the highly influential group enjoy “the highest ratio of past success to current anonymity” of all their 60s peers, but he is hoping to redress that deficit slightly by paying tribute to ISB on the world stage that is the Edinburgh International Festival. Very Cellular Songs: The Music of the Incredible String Band is set to be one of the most social events in the Festival’s contemporary music strand, with the distinction of a surviving String Band player in the massed line-up. While founder member Clive Palmer passed away in 2014, and multi-instrumentalist Robin Williamson is not in the business of looking back on his career, his partner Mike Heron still tours, performing selections from the ISB back-catalogue. “I’m quite comfortable with paying tribute to what the String Band was,” he says.

0131-473 2000 / www.eif.co.uk