Edinburgh International Festival: The Scotsman critics on the 2018 programme

Fiona Shepherd, Joyce Mcmillan, Ken Walton and Kelly Apter offer their verdict on this year's lineup.

Autobiography is among the contemporary dance shows set to be staged during this year's festival. Picture: EIF

Fiona Shepherd

With the exception of Playhouse concerts by two influential North American musicians – the acid-tongued, velvet-voiced baritone crooner John Grant and the quirky, audacious pop stylist and demon guitarist St Vincent, this year’s contemporary music programme looks entirely to Leith.

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Light on the Shore is a festival-within-a-festival, programmed to coincide with the National Museum of Scotland’s summer exhibition Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop and, as such, celebrates the best of contemporary Scottish music, bringing rock, pop, folk and electronica talent from across Scotland to the atmospheric faded grandeur of the recently reactivated Leith Theatre.

Highlights include composer Anna Meredith, fresh from scoring the EIF opening event Five Telegrams, performing her Scottish Album of the Year Award-winning Varmints in collaboration with the Southbank Sinfonia.

There are contrasting orchestral approaches from stargaze, an ensemble of European musicians who will perform their arrangements of the music of Edinburgh electronica duo Boards of Canada, and the irrepressible Grit Orchestra, who reprise their flagship Celtic Connections concert, Bothy Culture and Beyond, celebrating the trailblazing Celtic fusion music of the late piper Martyn Bennett with a massed gathering of Scotland’s finest classical, folk and jazz players. Not to be missed.

Ear-bleeding sonic architects Mogwai, indie folk supremo King Creosote and folk singer and storyteller Karine Polwart all return to the EIF as part of Light on the Shore, while folk trio Lau and innovative Edinburgh promoters Hidden Door and Neu! Reekie! curate their own shindigs as part of the celebratory proceedings.

Joyce Mcmillan

As ever in the age of Fergus Linehan, the idea of theatre in the 2018 Edinburgh International Festival is a moveable feast.

This year’s opera, dance and music programmes contain plenty of high-octane theatricality; so it’s fitting that the centrepiece of this year’s theatre programme – a three-show celebration of the work of Peter Brook’s great Paris theatre the Bouffes Du Nord – also includes an opera,

Johann Christoph Pepusch’s brand new version of The Beggar’s Opera.

At the heart of the Bouffes du Nord season stands the latest production from Peter Brook himself, still creating new work at 92.

The Prisoner brings together an international cast in an investigation of themes of justice and guilt and the Bouffes du Nord tribute is completed by the EIF debut of renowned British director Katie Mitchell, who brings her new Bouffes du Nord version of Marguerite Duras’s dark novella La Maladie De La Mort.

Elsewhere on the theatre programme, Fergus Linehan puts together an eclectic bunch of shows from the USA, Ireland, Scotland, England and Switzerland, including a new take on Waiting For Godot from the wonderful Druid Company of Galway, and appearances from two remarkable American solo writer-performers, the multi award-winning Fringe artist Geoff Sobelle, and former West Wing actress Anna Deavere Smith.

At the Hub, Roxana Silbert of Birmingham Rep directs a scaled-up revival of David Greig’s delightful Edinburgh romantic comedy with songs, Midsummer.

And Fergus Linehan honours his continuing commitment to theatre for children young people with a brand new piece by Stewart Laing and Pamela Carter of Untitled Projects called The End Of Eddy, based on the young French writer Edouard Louis’s acclaimed 2014 novel, as well as the Lausanne-based theatre-maker Philippe Saire’s beautiful show Hocus Pocus, for children aged 7 and upwards.

Hocus Pocus is as much about dance and visual imagery as it is about theatre, but in the Edinburgh International Festival of 2018, it seems that kind of joyful blurring of boundaries will be the name of the game.

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Mogwai to headline 2018 Edinburgh International Festival

Ken Walton

It’s not every year an EIF opera and classical music programme prompts the response: “Don’t miss a thing”. This one comes so close.

Staged opera is dominated by the French: two great Rossini operas from Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and the daredevil Opéra de Lyon, and a welcome new staging of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera by Paris’ Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord and William Christie’s svelte Baroque ensemble, Les Arts Florissant.

Following last year’s knock-out Die Walkürie, Mark Elder is back with his Hallé Orchestra for an Usher Hall opera-in-concert performance of Wagner’s Ring sequel, Siegfried. Tickets will go like hotcakes!

There’s an embarrassment of riches in the orchestral programme, from a double dose of Simon Rattle with his new charges, the London Symphony Orchestra (can’t wait for Mahler 9), Vasily Petrenko’s Oslo Philharmonic (Prokofiev 6), the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (sadly their brilliant new conductor Mirga Garžinyté-Tyla is pregnant and won’t be there as planned), Marin Alsop and her Baltimore Symphony Orchestra celebrating Bernstein’s centenary, to yet another EIF Mahler 8, this time by Daniel Harding’s red hot Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.

The home orchestras are all there, but look out for Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as they take on all of Brahms’ symphonies.

Youth ensembles from both sides of the Atlantic bring heaps of intriguing repertoire.

The Queen’s Hall series, offering a panoply of solo stars in fascinating combinations, teams up Nicola Benedetti with the Academy of Ancient Music.

Kelly Apter

They say you never forget your first time, and when it comes to watching Akram Khan dance, that’s certainly true for me.

It was Spring 2002, sitting in Glasgow’s Tramway and, no disrespect to the other performers, but I only had eyes for Khan.

Take a young boy obsessed with Michael Jackson, train him in Indian classical dance then send him to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and you get the essence of Khan.

He moves with a speed, precision and grace that is nothing short of spell-binding.

Tramway may have been my first time to see him, but Xenos will be our last, as Khan bows out from performing full-length works. Catch him while you can.

Like Khan, choreographer Wayne McGregor has no shortage of passion – both for dance and science. Those two worlds come together once more in new work, Autobiography – a show that’s never the same twice. Clever movement aside, McGregor also has an eye for great collaborations, and the design elements of Autobiography will entertain as much as the dance.

The work of Israeli choreographer and multimedia designer Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar was last seen in Scotland in Process Day, one of the finest pieces Scottish Dance Theatre has ever performed. So I’m thrilled to see the duo’s double bill Love Cycle in this year’s Festival programme.

Kiss & Cry Collective are less well known on these shores, but their cinematic show Cold Blood – in which fingers ‘dance’ while film technicians create a world around them – looks like an experience we won’t forget in a hurry.