Festival director Jonathan Mills has announced the programme for the 63rd Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) - the parent to the larger Edinburgh Fringe - which runs this year from 14 August to 6 September across the city's major  theatres, opera houses and concert halls. 

This year's programme explores the ideas and thinking of the Enlightenment period as a springboard for examining Scotland and its place in the world as well as “diaporas and notions of home and homecoming”. Theatrical highlights include the world premiere of Rona Munro's The Last Witch, a festival residency for Dublin's Gate Theatre celebrating the 80th birthday of Brian Friel and a radical reimagining of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan by New York's Mabou Mines company.

Directed by Dominc Hill, The Last Witch is based on the story of Janet Horne, the last woman executed for witchcraft in Scotland (in 1727). Writer Rona Munro's plays include Strawberries in January, which premiered at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe, The Indian Boy for the RSC and Watership Down at the Lyric Hammersmith. The Last Witch is at the Lyceum theatre from 23 to 29 August.

Dublin's Gate theatre will celebrate its long association with Brian Friel by showcasing three of his works - Faith Healer, Afterplay and The Yalta Game. Friel, who turned 80 in January, is now firmly established as one of Ireland's greatest modern playwrights. The three plays run in rep at the King's Theatre from 29 August to 5 September.

Also among this year's 11 theatre productions is Malthouse Theatre Melbourne's Optimism, after Voltaire's Candide, transforming the classic satire of enlightenment into “a commentary on the no-worries bravura of Australian swagger”. Meanwhile, Romanian director Silviu Purcarete will present his “wild adaptation” of Faust and the first staged production of Robert Henryson's epic The Testament of Cresseid receives its world premiere.


This year's theatre programme also features Diaspora, from director Ong Keng Sen with TheatreWorks and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, a new work for “voices, percussion, narrator and artisans” from Giorgio Battistelli entitled Experimentum Mundi, and a performance, in Chuch Slavonic and Latin, of the 12th century visionary story Tondal's Vision by vocal ensemble Dialogos.

The dance programme includes the return of the Scottish Ballet to the EIF with a programme of Ashton's Scenes de Ballet and the word premiere of Ian Spink's Petrushka. Scottish-born Michael Clark also returns to the festival (for the first time in 20 years) with a new work based on the music of “rock's holy trinity” - David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed – which subsequently transfers to the Barbican (See News, 12 Mar 2009).

Staged operas will include: Handspring Puppet Company (War Horse) and Ricercar Consort's take on Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria; a recital from Bryn Terfel; St Kilda, Island of the Birdmen which is performed in Gaelic, French and English; Handel's Admeto, re di Tessaglia; and Actus tragicus from Staatsoper Stuttgart, which weaves together six of Bach's cantatas (for more on the EIF opera programme, see our dedicated Opera Section).

Announcing the programme, Jonathan Mills said: “In Scotland's Year of Homecoming, exploring notions of idendity, of home and homecoming is an important theme running through the programme, provoking very different responses from artists … These ideas are explored not just from a Scottish perspective, but also from that of South East Asians, Europeans and South Africans.”

The EIF is just one of a number of festivals that take over the Scottish capital each August. Others include the Edinburgh Film Festival, Book Festival, Jazz & Blues Festival, Visual Arts Festival and its main spin-off, the Edinburgh Fringe which, in its own right, qualifies as the world's largest arts festival, with over 1,500 shows presented annually.

Tickets for 2009 EIF go on sale on 4 April 2009. For further info, visit the festival website.

- by Theo Bosanquet