Edinburgh Festival programme 2016: What the critics say

The programme for the 70th Edinburgh International Festival has now been revealed but what do the critics make of it?

Young Fathers.
Young Fathers.


Last year’s confident charm offensive, bringing popular music into the Festival fold more comprehensively than any previous EIF programme, has led to a full-blown and (hopefully) committed relationship with this most wide-ranging of art forms – the electronica, noise rock, folk and world music, indie pop and hip-hop artists in this year’s programme have been corralled under the umbrella term “contemporary music” in their very own section of the new brochure.

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The 2016 diet offers more of the same mix of respected, even mythologised artists working across various popular frontiers, including film and theatricality, if not outright theatre.

There will be straight concert presentations from Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour and the contrasting sound worlds of Iceland’s Sigur Ros and Montreal’s camera-shy Godspeed You! Black Emperor - the former the stuff of your most beatific dreams, the latter of your most disturbed nightmares.

But for something novel, look to a couple of intriguing collaborations.

Anohni, the transgendered artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty, takes a left-turn from the chamber pop of The Johnsons into electronica territory by collaborating with EIF returnee Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, one of Glasgow’s most successful musical exports, on the show Hopelessness.

Acclaimed noisemongers Mogwai perform their soundtrack to the Mark Cousins’ documentary Atomic, and the band’s bassist Dominic Aitchison keeps himself busy as part of Flit, the brainchild of Lau accordionist Martin Green in partnership with Portishead studio whizz Adrian Utley, folk singers Becky Unthank and Adam Holmes, and BAFTA-winning animators whiterobot.

Flit explores the ever relevant theme of human migration, with lyrics by Karine Polwart and Aidan Moffat among others. Polwart deals with a different aspect of migration in her new piece Wind Resistance, inspired by the mass migration of pink-footed geese to Fala Flow, near Edinburgh, while Moffat undertakes his own unpredictable musical road trip in witty documentary Where You’re Meant To Be.

The Hub Sessions concert series returns, encompassing domestic acts, including Edinburgh’s dazzling Young Fathers, and international folk/jazz trio Yorkston/Thorne/Khan, while there is a welcome reprise of Nae Regrets, the audacious orchestration of Martyn Bennett’s final album Grit, first commissioned for Celtic Connections.



The five dance works in the 2016 programme do exactly what a festival should – bring people of all ages together, explore new territories, and get audiences talking.

Through ballet, contemporary, live music and works for young audiences, we’ll find thought-provoking statements about the world we live in and relationships we inhabit. We’ll also see some incredible dancers.

Following in the footsteps of Sylvie Guillem last year, one of Russia’s finest classical ballet dancers Natalia Osipova ventures into the world of contemporary dance. Joined by the captivating Sergei Polunin, Osipova – a Royal Ballet Principal – has chosen wisely, with choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant and Arthur Pita all creating bespoke works for her.

It’s great to see Scottish Ballet back at the Festival, especially with a large-scale work. Crystal Pite’s Emergence is one of those pieces with lots of unison that you can’t help but feel excited by. Choreographed for 38 dancers, it likens a corps de ballet to a swarm of bees, with each member of the hive playing a vital role.

It’s coupled with Angelin Preljocaj’s MC 14/22, a work solely for male dancers inspired by the Last Supper. Those who saw Preljocaj’s And then one thousand years of peace at the 2012 Festival, will be as thrilled as I am by his return.

Akram Khan is one of the best things to ever happen to British dance. His blend of Indian Kathak and contemporary produces intelligent, dynamic works with broad appeal. Chotto Desh, a work for family audiences, is a new departure for him - and the Festival. Inspired by Khan’s own childhood, this blend of choreography and animation is an imaginative treat.

Also for young audiences, Raw from Belgium’s Kabinet K goes even further by featuring children themselves on stage. This post-apocalyptic tale of hope and resilience looks like a powerful conversation starter for families.

I suspect we’ll all need a lie down after watching Monumental – performers and audience. Bringing together two uncompromising Canadian companies, The Holy Body Tattoo (contemporary dance) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (music), this multi-media work for nine fearless dancers and live band is a very exciting prospect.



A blast of Shakespeare to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death, an indirect homage to the National Theatre of Scotland’s first decade of work, a cutting-edge French solo show about the politics and slapstick of family life, another showcase for a fine Scottish-based theatre maker, and three weeks of “gorgeously filthy and brazenly flirty” late-night cabaret from one of the greatest of current Scottish actors, Alan Cumming.

That’s the menu, for the 2016 theatre programme; and although it focusses fairly tightly on Europe and North America, this second theatre season from festival director Fergus Linehan achieves what promises to be a satisfying combination of world-class quality and quiet innovation.

There’s quality, certainly, in the centrepiece production, running for two weeks at the King’s Theatre; the 2013 Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’s Glass Menagerie, directed by former National Theatre of Scotland associate John Tiffany (of Black Watch fame), stars the wonderful Cherry Jones as Amanda Wingfield, and now has its European premiere in Edinburgh.

To mark the Shakespeare anniversary, Linehan offers Thomas Ostermeier’s current Berlin production of Richard III, alongside Declan Donnellan’s brazenly political 2015 staging of Measure For Measure for the Pushkin Theatre, Moscow, and the latest version of Shake, a playful and poetic end-of-the-pier take on Twelfth Night by French theatre artist Dan Jemmett.

The National Theatre of Scotland combines with multiple Fringe award winners TEAM, of New York, to explore Scottish and American ideas of identity in a fierce, impressionistic new show called Anything That Gives Off Light; and the Festival seizes the chance to showcase two key pieces of international work by Matthew Lenton and his Glasgow-based Vanishing Point company, the magnificent Interiors, which dates back to 2009, and this year’s The Destroyed Room. And the presence of Alan Cumming in cabaret at The Hub, throughout the three weeks, comes as a reminder that there’s also plenty of theatre around in the other art-forms represented at the Festival, from Norma in the opera programme, to Karine Polwart’s music show Wind Resistance, directed by another National Theatre of Scotland star, Wils Wilson.

The boundaries blur, but the theatricality knows no bounds and there’s every chance of a rich feast for theatre fans in Edinburgh this August.



Twelve months ago, when Fergus Linehan introduced the classical music programme for his inaugural 2015 EIF it was, on paper, a strangely innocuous mishmash.

Quality, however, bar one major miscalculation (Rudolf Buchbinder’s misguided Beethoven piano sonata marathon), was its salvation.

Is it any different this year? There are obvious “spectaculars” - Salzburg Festival’s critically-acclaimed 2013 production of Bellini’s Norma featuring the irrepressible Cecilia Bartoli and period instrument ensemble I Barocchistsi and a closing performance of Schoenberg’s post-Romantic epic Gurrelieder with the BBC SSO and Edinburgh Festival Chorus under Donald Runnicles, not heard at the Festival since 1996 under Claudio Abbado.

Plenty anticipation, too, for the Orchestra del’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecile (two opening concerts under Sir Antonio Pappano, including Rossini’s glorious Stabat Mater), Marin Alsop’s Sao Paulo Symphony, Osmo Vänskä’s Minnesota Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir (Bach’s St Matthew Passion), Herbert Blomstedt and the Leipzig Gewandhous, and the return after its 2014 Mahler sensation of the Rotterdam Philharmonic under Yannick Nézet-Séguin, this time in Mahler 10.

Add to that French writer and filmmaker Christophe Honoré’s production of Così fan tutte, transferring directly from this year’s Aix-en-Provence Festival, Mariinsky Opera’s concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, a no-doubt gritty and humorous exploration of 1930s German cabaret songs by Barry Humphries and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and maybe there’s just enough to turn a seemingly mixed bag into an uplifting and cohesive festival experience.

There are many familiar faces, from pianists Andras Schiff and Danil Trifanov, to conductor Kiril Karibits (Russian National Orchestra) and the Emerson String Quartet.

Should we worry about a noticeable erosion in the number of events? Staged opera is down by one production, as are Usher Hall classical concerts. Nothing replaces last year’s nine-concert Beethoven series, other than a single Greyfriars Kirk programme featuring the Hebrides Ensemble in Hans Zender’s reinterpretation of Schubert’s Winteriese.

I am delighted to see the late and iconic Pierre Boulez celebrated in an Usher Hall concert by the BBC SSO. An interesting debate is emerging as to whether he was a positive or negative influence on 20th century musical development. Further discussion is needed.