The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, now in its 53rd year, takes place next month, from 6 to 28 August. This year's running of the 'world's largest arts festival' features more world premieres than ever before - some 275 of the 1,350 productions mounted will be debuting in Edinburgh.

Fringe acts fall into eight categories - children's shows, comedy and revue, dance and physical, musicals and opera, talks and events, theatre and visual arts. In total, nearly 17,000 performances will be staged at 177 venues across the city over twenty-three days.

Theatre comprises the largest category with 479 productions, including 135 world premieres, with an additional 51 musical and operatic productions also being mounted. Premieres include a double-bill of monologues from Weir author Conor McPherson. The young Irish writer penned Rum and Vodka and The Good Thief while studying at Trinity College Dublin in the early 1990s - long before Olivier Award-winning The Weir became an international hit.

This will be the monologues' first professional staging. In Rum and Vodka, a young father recovering from a binge reflects on how his hatred of his job drove him to drink. The Good Thief finds a paid thug attempting to compensate for a job gone wrong by kidnapping a young mother and her child. Both plays will be shown at the Assembly Rooms from 3 - 27 August.

Other theatre highlights include: Steven Berkoff's Messiah, 'a controversial retelling of Jesus Christ's life and death', also at the Assembly Rooms; Bed, a comedy about seven elderly people and one enormous bed, by Jim Cartwright, author of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, at the Pleasance; and at Dynamic Earth, a multi-media production of Sam Shepard's Fool for Love, directed by David Soul (of TV's Starsky and Hutch fame and seen most recently in Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential in the West End) and starring Soul with Stefan Dennis (from Aussie soap Neighbours).

More than half a million people plan their August holidays each year around a trip to Edinburgh. Though commonly seen as one single festival, the event is in reality six different festivals - the original Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, the Military Tattoo, the Jazz Festival, the Film Festival and the Book Festival - of which the Fringe is, by far, the largest.