Joyce McMillan: Jonathan Mills not going quietly

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL: LIKE any artist, he likes to tease and sometimes to contradict himself; so it’s perhaps no surprise that there are two genuinely thrilling aspects to Jonathan Mills’s final programme as EIF director.
Director Jonathan Mills. Picture: Jane BarlowDirector Jonathan Mills. Picture: Jane Barlow
Director Jonathan Mills. Picture: Jane Barlow

The first lies in the fact that, despite his own controversial dictum last year that he would programme nothing directly relevant to the Scottish referendum – focusing instead on the Commonwealth and the First World War centenary – he has commissioned, as the centrepiece of his programme, a trilogy of Scottish history plays by Rona Munro, to be co-produced by EIF with the National Theatre of Scotland and the National Theatre of Great Britain.

The James plays – covering the reigns of Scotland’s first three Stewart kings – promise to seethe with political conflict, personal drama and contemporary resonances; as well as offering a high-profile performance from Sofie Grabol of The Killing, who will play James III’s Danish queen.

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The second striking aspect of the programme is the intensity with which it reflects the theme of war, and particularly the great wars that tore Europe apart in the 20th century.

From Moscow, Hamburg, Sydney and Toronto, great global theatre companies bring powerful reflections on war and its aftermath, ranging from the Thalia Theater of Hamburg’s Front – a version of All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by the acclaimed Luk Perceval – to the world premiere of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival’s show The War, in which a group of young people in Paris over Christmas 1913 debate their future.

Add the legendary Ubu and the Truth Commission by Handspring of South Africa – the company behind the magnificent War Horse puppets that recently thrilled Edinburgh audiences – and you have a programme rich in themes and possibilities, with plenty of new work and some tried-and-tested productions of true global quality.