The Edinburgh Festivals are back and they're (just about) bigger than ever. We may be in the midst of a global financial crisis, but that hasn't stopped the mighty cavalcade of actors, writers, directors, street performers, critics, photographers, bloggers - oh, and some audience members as well - from making the summer migration to the Scottish capital.

This year's Fringe Festival, which runs from 7 to 31 August, involves some 18,901 performers from over 60 countries giving 34,265 performances of a record-breaking 2,098 shows in 265 venues. It’s followed, from 14 August to 6 September, by the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), which this year is based around the theme of 'homecoming' (See News, 25 Mar 2009).

As ever, the Festival brochures are packed to the gunnels with enticing prospects, making compiling a selection of reliable picks an unenviable task. But here, the Whatsonstage.com editorial team have chosen some of their favourites, in an attempt to aid those difficult yet all-important 'what to see' decisions.

Predicting the hits and the misses is usually largely a case of guesswork, though this year's Fringe is marked by a high number of shows transferring on the back of successful runs in London and elsewhere (eg Sea Wall, Kursk, Been So Long). This may well be due to venue producers playing it safe in the recession, but it affords audiences a second chance to catch some excellent shows, with the added bonus of cheaper Fringe Festival ticket prices.

Don't forget to bookmark our new Edinburgh 2009 site (www.whatsonstage.com/edinburgh2009), bringing you all the latest news, reviews, blogs, features and gossip from the Festival frontline. Currently we're giving away an Edinburgh Festival hotel break courtesy of Superbreak, as well as running a live countdown to the start of the Fringe on 7 August. To all those heading up, good luck, and to those left behind, here's what you're missing...


'STRAIGHT' PLAYS

  • The Last Witch (EIF)
    Directed by Dominic 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.
    Royal Lyceum Theatre, 23-29 August, (not 25), 19.30

  • Orphans
    Written by Dennis Kelly and Roxana Silbert, the team behind 2005 Edinburgh Fringe hit After the End, this psychological thriller examines what happens when a couple's quiet life is turned upside down by the appearance of a blood-covered family member. Produced by the Traverse and Birmingham Rep in association with new writing powerhouse Paines Plough, this looks like being one of the jewels in the Traverse crown this year.
    Traverse Theatre, 8-30 August (not 10, 17, 24), times vary

  • Sea Wall
    Olivier Award-winner Simon Stephens, whose 7/7 play Pornography was a hit for the Traverse last year, returns with his new 30-minute play Sea Wall, first seen as part of the Bush Theatre's Broken Space season last year and transferring to the Tricycle post-Edinburgh. A heartbreaking story about family, grief and the things that can't be undone, it centres on a seemingly happy family man who soon finds the forces of life crashing against him.
    Traverse Theatre, 6-16 August (not 9, 10), times vary

  • Kursk
    Created by Sound & Fury in collaboration with playwright Bryony Lavery, this experiential retelling of the Kursk submarine tragedy proved a popular and critical success when it premiered at the Young Vic in June (See Review, 9 Jun 2009). Coupling Sound & Fury's trademark use of surround-sound with a sharply constructed narrative, it reveals the hidden depths of the disaster.
    University of Edinburgh Drill Hall, 20-29 August, 22.30

    COMIC AT THE CORE

  • Morecambe
    'Mr Edinburgh' Guy Masterson directs Tim Whitnall's new play celebrating the life of one half of the much-loved comedy duo. What's surprising is that Morecambe, one of the true giants of 20th Century comedy, has never been the subject of a play before – the nearest he came was 2001 West End farce The Play What I Wrote. Bob Golding is the man donning the famous glasses.
    Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 6-31 August, 16.10

  • The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Goes to Hollywood
    Youtube sensations the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre present their latest offering, a collection of “songs, sketches, socks and violence”. Certainly makes a change from Punch & Judy, and has already built up a loyal following after two successful years on the Fringe.
    Gilded Balloon Teviot, 5-30 August, 22.15

  • The Assassination of Paris Hilton
    One of the keys to success at the Fringe is an eye-catching title, and on that score you can't fault this new comedy from the Racked Theatre Collective. With the strapline “it may not be your cup of tea, but it’s certainly your shot of vodka”, this site-specific 30-minute show promises a short and not-sot-sweet exploration of the horrors of celebrity worship.
    Assembly @ George Street, 13-30 August (not 17), times vary

  • Arthur Fowler's Allotment
    Running as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival (www.freefestival.co.uk), this “laid-back and leafy luncheon” comprises magic, sketches and music alongside selected highlights of the Fringe. As they say in the brochure, 'anything grows'...!
    Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, 8, 15, 22 & 29, 12.00

  • Pythonesque
    This new play by Roy Smiles (Ying Tong – A Walk with the Goons) takes an affectionate look at the story behind the most famous comedy group of modern times. A mixture of biography and sketches, it's a must for Python fans, if only to find out the “true meaning of the coconuts in The Holy Grail”.
    Udderbelly's Pasture, 6-31 August (not 18, 25), 12.45

  • Coffee
    Fringe First winner Glyn Cannon (The Kiss, Gone) premieres his new comedy, dedicated to the world's favourte drug in all its forms – from the unadorned espresso to the luxury latte – as three creatives turn to the black stuff to clear their mutual blockages.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August, 13.15

    POLITICAL PIECES

  • Chronicles of Long Kesh
    This blackly comic new play from Northern Ireland's Martin Lynch tells the often story behind the infamous Long Kesh prison (better known as the Maze) through the eyes of prison officers, Republicans and Loyalists. Expect the unexpected, as Lynch fuses powerful testimonies from those involved with Motown hits of the 1960s!
    Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 6-30 August (not 10, 17, 24), 12.00

  • The Montana Ranch
    A new play from Dylan Dougherty, this darkly comic offering explores what happens when two ‘eco-scam artists’ turn Obama’s environmental idealism to their own advantage as a money-making enterprise. As it says on the poster, “saving the planet has never been so wrong”.
    C Venues, 7-31 August, 20.05

  • The State We're In
    Another new play from the Guy Masterson stable, Justin Butcher directs Zia Trench's part factual, part fictional portrait of peace campaigner Brian Haw, who has camped out in Parliament Square as an anti-war protest since 2001.
    Assembly @ George Street, 6-31 August (not 18), 12.10

  • Rendition Monologues
    Human rights charity Reprieve supports Iceandfire Theatre company's hour-long series of first-hand accounts from victims of the CIA's practice of transferring terror suspects to third world countries for interrogation. As well as monologues, each performance features after-show speakers and discussion.
    St John's Church, 17-23 August, 16.00

  • NewsRevue 30th Anniversary
    Sketch show NewsRevue has been flying the flag for quality satire on the Fringe for three decades, and is apparently the World Record holder for the longest-running live comedy (thanks also to its weekly stints at the Canal Café in London). Always one of the most reliable sources of belly-laughs at the Festival, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see it still in residence in another 30 years.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August (not 17), 18.00

    OFF-BEAT & AVANT-GARDE

  • Forest Fringe
    Following last year's award-winning programme, Forest Fringe is back in residence at the Forest Cafe presenting an experimental (and free) line-up of work from companies including the BAC, Rotozaza, Stoke Newington International Airport and Hide & Seek (See forestfringe.co.uk for further details).
    The Forest Cafe, 17-30 August, times vary

  • Barflies
    Acclaimed site-specific specialists Grid Iron (The Bloody Chamber, Those Eyes That Mouth) return to the Fringe for the first time in three years with their new show, adapted from stories by Charles Bukowski. With a host of awards-including four Fringe Firsts-under their belts, their latest offering is definitely not to be missed.
    Traverse @ The Barony Bar, 7-25 August (not 11), 15.35

  • Peter & Wendy (EIF)
    The ever-compelling avant-garde company Mabou Mines (DollHouse) reimagine JM Barrie's classic Peter Pan, incorporating puppetry and a tango-dancing Captain Hook.
    Royal Lyceum Theatre, 2-5 September, 19.30 (with 14.30 matinee on 5)

  • Trapped
    Award-winning choreographer Maresa von Stockert utilises a smorgasbord of music, choreography, spoken word and contemporary mime to explore notions of “personal freedom in surveillance-obsessed times”.
    Zoo Southside, 23-31 August, 18.00

  • Stand by Your Van
    Pitched rather ambiguously as a “live competition play”, this new work from new writing company Menagerie is a performance centred on a competition to win a £25,000 pick-up truck. Twelve determined, half-crazed contestants are pitted against each other to see who can keep their hand on the truck for the longest amount of time (warning. “contains bad 'I like to truck' jokes, and inappropriate groping of a motor vehicle).
    Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August (not 18, 25), 19.40

    SOLO SHOWS

  • Blondes
    (Listed in the brochure as Basildon Blonde) Actress, presenter and new 'Mrs Lee Mead' Denise Van Outen pays tribute to all those angel-haired divas who have given blondes a good – and a bad – name, from Mae West, Marilyn and Madonna through to Dusty, Doris Day and Duffy. The show is directed by her former Chicago co-star Clarke Peters (See News, 3 Jul 2009)
    Udderbelly's Pasture, 6-31 August (not 11, 18, 25), 17.50

  • The World's Wife
    Linda Marlowe performs a new adaptation of Carol Ann Duffy's poems imagining famous men from their wives' perspectives-“from Frau Freud to Queen Kong”-directed by Di Sherlock.
    Assembly @ George Street, 6-31 August (not 12, 19), 13.50

  • Becoming Marilyn
    Former Fascinating Aida member Issy van Randwyck stars in this new portrait of the most famous showbiz blonde, looking at how brown-haird Norma Jeane transformed herself into an icon. Gareth Armstrong directs.
    Assembly @ George Street, 6-31 August (not 17), 15.10

  • The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church
    Comedian-cum-playwright Daniel Kitson presents his latest dramatic work, centring on 'a death postponed by life', as Gregory prepares for the grave by putting his affairs in order. Kitson's 'straight stand-up' shows have become something of a Fringe institution, with successes in recent years including 66a Church Road and C-90.
    Traverse Theatre, 6-30 August (not 10, 17, 24, 29), 22.15

    PHYSICAL THEATRE & DANCE

  • Michael Clark Company (EIF)
    The undefinable 'dance rebel' Michael Clarke presents his much-anticipated new show, inspired by the period in the late 1970s when rock's 'holy trinity'-David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed-worked in close proximity producing some of the classic music of the time. It transfers to the Barbican following this brief Edinburgh outing.
    Edinburgh Playhouse, 28-31 August, 20.00

  • The Return of Ulysses (EIF)
    The Royal Ballet of Flanders, choreographed by Christian Spuck, presents a radical reimagining of Homer's epic, told from the perspective of Penelope, as she tries to resist a series of temptations over a period of 20 years waiting for her warrior husband to return. It is set to the music of Henry Purcell combined with “various songs from the 1940s and 50s”.
    Edinburgh Playhouse, 21-24 August, 20.00 (14.30 on 24)

  • The Overcoat
    Following a critically acclaimed run at the Lyric Hammersmith earlier in the year, Gecko bring their physical retelling of Gogol's story of the same name to Fringe. Described by Matt Trueman on Whatsonstage.com as a “meaty mix of politics and philosophy that nourishes the eyes as much as the mind”, it's among the pick of this year's many London-Edinburgh Fringe transfers.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 13-31 August (not 18, 25), 17.20

  • Tom Tom Crew
    With Fringe legends La Clique a notable absence from this year's Festival, this antipodean band of musicians and acrobats is one of the ways to get your circus fix. Billed as a “super charged collision of extreme circus, heart pumping music, incredible beatboxing and stunning drumming displays”, they come to Edinburgh following a successful run at the Southbank Udderbelly earlier in the summer.
    Udderbelly's Pasture, 6 – 31 August (not 11, 18, 25), 19.00

    FUN FOR THE FAMILY

  • Room on the Broom
    Tall Stories, who have toured productions of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, present their brand new adaptation of a Julia Donaldson book. A witch and her cat fly happily on a broomstick until a stormy wind blows away the witch’s hat, bow and wand. A helpful dog, bird and frog find the witch’s lost possessions and they hop on board for a ride – but will there be room for all of them? For ages 3+.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 5 – 31 August (not 12, 19, 20), 14.30

  • The Wind in the Willows
    Cambridge University ADC perform a new version of Kenneth Grahame's timeless riverbank tale, with some baguette duels, puppetry and 1930s lady weasels thrown in for good measure. The company guarantees they’ll appeal to “any fan of cross-dressing amphibians or duck anecdotes”. For ages 3+
    Gilded Balloon Teviot, 5-31 August (not 18), 12.30

  • Sketch Show 4 Kids. Because I Said So
    The team behind the Comedy Club 4 Kids, a regular at Soho Theatre and elsewhere, bring a new sketch show pitched at everyone from age six upwards which promises to be “properly funny”.
    Underbelly, 6-30 August (not 24, 25), 13.40

    MUSICAL MAYHEM

  • Porn the Musical
    Definitely one of the most eye-catching titles in the brochure, this new musical comes fresh from Malta and centres on Stefan, who leaves his “slutty fiancee” to start a new career in porn. But can he save Martin Scoresleazy's beleaguered studio from closure? Only time (and a plethora of songs) will tell...
    Musical Theatre @ George Square, 7-31 August (not 11, 18, 24), 21.05

  • Early Long Island Iced Tea
    Peter Straker, who, according to Whatsonstage.com's Michael Coveney is a “unique artist, blessed with an extraordinary and beautiful singing voice”, performs an hour of cabaret, written and directed by comedy legend Mel Smith.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August (not 11, 18, 25), 14.30

  • Murder Mystery Musical
    Shaun McKenna, the writer of stage epics The Lord of the Rings (West End) and Ben Hur Live, has penned a brand new comedy musical “based on that great British institution. the irresistibly gruesome murder”. The premise is simple – friends and family of recently deceased music mogul Morgan Tremain gather on a private island to hear his will. But as they begin getting picked off one by one, the plot (and the blood) thickens... RSC veteran Richard Brown directs, and design is by Oscar nominee Barry Purves.
    Musical Theatre @ George Square, 7-31 August (not 11, 18, 24), 19.10

  • Bloodbath the Musical
    In a similar 'vein', this new rock-horror musical, with music by David Young and Julie Maguire, is a darkly comic tale including songs such as “Serial Killer”, “Mutilation Sensation” and political number “The Chair is Fair”. With book & lyrics by award-winning TV writer Tony McHale (who also directs), it features a stellar cast let by Siobhan McCarthy, Ciara Janson and Blue's Antony Costa.
    Musical Theatre @ George Square, 6-31 August, 21.30

  • People
    The world premiere of David Levin's new new musical revue for three singers, dedicated to the subject of love and featuring music contributed by nine composers.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August (not 18, 25), 15.50

  • Been So Long
    Che Walker and Arthur Darvill's new musical gets an Edinburgh airing following its critically-acclaimed premiere at the Young Vic last month (See Review, 18 Jun 2009).
    Traverse Theatre, 7-30 August (not 10, 17, 24), times vary

    - Compiled by Theo Bosanquet, Terri Paddock, Michael Coveney & Joseph Pike

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