It's Festival time again in Edinburgh and both the International Festival and the Fringe are back and bigger than ever.

This year's Fringe, which runs from 6 to 30 August will bring the Scottish capital alive with some 21,148 performers giving 40,254 performances of 2,453 shows in 259 venues. The only number there which is a slight decrease on last year is the number of venues, which has dipped by six.

It’s followed, from 13 August to 5 September, by the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), which this year is based around the theme of 'oceans apart'.

As ever, the Festival brochures are packed to the gunnels with enticing prospects, dotted with some absolute treats, but the job of selecting reliable picks is 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.

As the Fringe continues to grow and grow, the programme this year features a picture with each show's entry. The Fringe's website has also seen a major overhaul and the launch of an iPhone app, making discovering shows a slightly easier task. Online listings include, for the first time, two sub-genre descriptions of each show. This is unlikely to make the hits any easier to find, given there are over 2,000 shows to choose from, but it will certainly make trawling through the festival literature a more colourful experience.

Don't forget to bookmark our new Edinburgh 2010 site (www.whatsonstage.com/edinburgh), and sign up to our Edinburgh mailing list to keep up to date on all of the latest news, reviews, blogs, features and gossip from the Festival frontline. Mailing list subscribers will also be entered into a competition to win two tickets to the spectacular Chinese State Circus

To all those heading up, good luck, and to those left behind, here's what you're missing...


'STRAIGHT' PLAYS

  • Penelope by Enda Walsh
    Druid and Enda Walsh, Fringe First winners for The Walworth Farce and Electric Ballroom, return to the Fringe with this quirky-sounding number centring on four men facing their deaths at the bottom of a swimming pool, whilst fighting for “an unwinnable love”.
    Traverse, 5-29 August, times vary
  • Caledonia (EIF)
    This new play by Alistair Beaton for the National Theatre of Scotland tells the fascinating story of the doomed attempt of a 17th-century financier to found a Scottish colony in central America. He invited the public to invest, and managed to squander a vast proportion of the nation's wealth in the process. Anthony Neilson directs.
    King's Theatre, 21-26 August, times vary
  • Bang Bang You’re Dead / Winner by Submission
    Multi Fringe First-winning Red Chair Players (East and West) return with an updated version of William Mastrosimone’s pacifistic Bang Bang You’re Dead and his new play Winner by Submission, which explores the “dark and dangerous side of uninhibited sex”. Mastrosimone fans can take them both in during a single afternoon.
    C, 4-14 August, 15.40 & 16.45
  • The Sun Also Rises  (EIF)
    This new adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's first major novel comes courtesy of Elevator Repair Service, who have previously staged interpretations of classic American novels by F Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner. Hemingway's story follows a group of weary, aimless and frequently inebriated American expatriates searching for identity, redemption and diversion in Europe.
    Royal Lyceum, 14-17 August, times vary
  • The Cage
    Dugald Bruce-Lockhart leads the cast in the world premiere of this psychological thriller about betrayal and revenge. Betrayed by his wife-to-be and his best man, Jack seeks retribution. Produced in association with Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, the play is directed by Richard Baron.
    Pleasance Dome, 4-30 August, 15.50

    VERBATIM DRAMA

  • Emma Thompson Presents: Fair Trade
    This collection of verbatim-inspired accounts of sex trafficking combines drama, music, comedy and physical theatre to tell the story of two women trafficked into Britain. Thompson, who made her name with the Cambridge Footlights at Edinburgh 30 years ago, has put her own money behind the project: “It's one of the best scripts I've seen in years. Sex trafficking is a hugely important subject, and I believe we need as much art as we can get to help people understand what's going on out there," the Oscar-winner said recently.
    Pleasance Dome, 4-30 August, 15.30
  • The Day the Sky Turned Black
    
From Australia, this new play by Ali Kennedy-Scott tells the sad and uplifting story of the 'Black Saturday' bushfires that ravaged the country in February 2009. Based on interviews with survivors, journalists and psychologists, The Day the Sky Turned Black weaves together the stories of everyday heroes who fought Australia’s greatest natural disaster.
    C soco, 4-30 August, 17.30
  • Face
    
Based on testimonies from Second World War survivors, this solo show from ETS Theatre Company gives voice to the history of Korean 'comfort women', who worked in Japanese military brothels during the war. An ongoing campaign (involving 900 demonstrations over 18 years) has sought an apology from the Japanese government.
    C soco, 4-30 August, 19.50

    COMIC AT THE CORE

  • Up 'N' Under
    John Godber directs this 25th-anniversary revival of his Olivier Award-winning comedy, centring on a gym instructor (played by glamour model-turned-actress Abi Titmuss) who attempts to kick an unruly bunch of amateur rugby league misfits into touch.
    Assembly @ George Street, 5-30 August, 17.25
  • Righteous Money
    
New York theatre company Wolf 359 bring their latest show to the Edinburgh Fringe, having premiered at the Voices of Change Festival in Berlin. Dishing out advice on deal making, stock buying and sleeping with your assistant, a sexually rapacious and insanely rich TV provocateur (played by writer Michael Yates Crowley) takes on the tanking economy in this solo show.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 4-29 August, 16.10
  • Jennifer Coolidge - Yours for the Night
    Best known for performances in the American Pie movie franchise, Jennifer Coolidge promises an "outrageous, hilarious and sometimes shockingly funny show." Sexy with a side of silly, she takes on pop culture, show business, sex, men and even herself.
    Assembly @ George St, 5-29 August, 20.15
  • Caroline Rhea
    Another well known face from American TV, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sabrina the Teenage Witch's Caroline Rhea brings her self-titled stand-up show to the Gilded Balloon. She's supported by The Tonight Show writer, Costaki Economopoulos.
    Gilded Balloon Teviot, 6-25 August, 21.30
  • Obama Mia
    A comedy musical which takes a tongue-in-cheek look at what really happened the few days before an election that captivated a planet. A hapless young actor is left to remedy disaster in the heart of the Democratic campaign.
    Just the Tonic at the Caves, 5-29 August, 13.45

    

OFF-BEAT & AVANT-GARDE

  • Forest Fringe
    
The BAC-supported and award-winning Forest Fringe is back in residence at the Forest Cafe presenting another experimental (and free) line-up of work from artists and companies including Polar Bear, Dylan Tighe, Abigail Conway, Deborah Pearson, Third Angel, Search Party and Shellshock Theatre  (See forestfringe.co.uk for further details).
    The Forest Cafe, 9-21 August, times vary
  • David Leddy's Sub Rosa
    A late-night gothic Victorian promenade for small audiences in a Masonic lodge, by David Leddy, well known for his "maverick" site-specific work. A co-production with the Citizen's Theatre, Glasgow, the play is "a haunting, darkly comic tale of yet another chorus girl burning to death."
    Hill Street Theatre, 5-30 August, times vary
  • The Terrible Tales of the Midnight Chorus
    Winners of the Total Theatre Award and the Edinburgh International Festival Prize for their 2009 sell-out show Lilly Through the Dark, the River People return to Bedlam Theatre, combining puppetry and live music to deliver "cacophonous cabaret."
    Bedlam Theatre, 8-20 August, 16.15
  • Vieux Carré (EIF)
    The New York-based The Wooster Group put their inimitable stamp on Tennessee Williams'  autobiographical play about a young writer living in a squalid New Orleans rooming house. The production, which is directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, draws inspiration from “the films of Paul Morrissey, produced with Andy Warhol in the early 1970s, and the recent media work of Ryan Trecartin.”
    Royal Lyceum, 21-24 August
  • Roadkill
    Based on the true story of a young Nigerian girl discovered in Glasgow, Cora Bissett's site-specific production combines performance, video, animation and music to explore the hidden world of sex-trafficking which often exists closer to home than we may wish to acknowledge.
    Traverse Theatre, 7-29 August, times vary
  • Festival in the Sky
    This vertiginous offering from DADA lifts participants 100 feet into the air above Princes Street Gardens and feeds them a meal. Yes, we agree, eating a meal is probably the last thing you want to do in such a precarious position, but we've been assured the harnesses are strong! Cannily billed as “the most uplifting experience of the Fringe”.
    The Sky Gardens (West Princes Street Gardens), 2-31 August, from 8am
  • Belt Up's Antigone
    Back after last year's two sell-out shows, Tartuffe and The Trial, Belt Up present a rejuvenating rendition of Sophocles' masterpiece. This show takes place as part of Belt Up's ambitious programme for The House Above - a theatrical environment within C soco where the company will deliver a programme of eight shows including The Odyssey and Metamorphosis.
    C soco, 4-30 August, 21.00

    SOLO SHOWS

  • Simon Callow in Shakespeare - The Man from Stratford
    Simon Callow endeavours to 'track down the real William Shakespeare' in this new one-man comedy by Bard scholar Jonathan Bate. Callow is one of the Fringe's most consistent performers, having enjoyed previous success with his one-man shows The Mystery of Charles Dickens and last year's Dr Marigold & Mr Chops.
    Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 5-30 August, 14.30
  • Alan Cumming – I Bought a Blue Car Today
    Following a world tour last year, which included a stint in the West End, the Scottish star takes his one-man show back home. Featuring songs by Frank Sinatra, Dory Previn, Kander & Ebb and Cyndi Lauper among others, this musical journey is interspersed with anecdotes and reflections from the award-winning actor's colourful career and his move to America.
    Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 13-15 August, 00.00
  • Lockerbie: Unfinished Business
    
This one-man play incorporates verbatim material to dramatise grieving father Jim Swire’s ongoing struggle to find the truth about the 1988 terrorist atrocity. Written and directed by the triple Fringe First Award winning team of David Benson (who also stars) and Hannah Eidinow, Lockerbie: Unfinished Business is billed as a “hard-hitting piece of political theatre with international relevance”.
    Gilded Balloon, 4-29 August, 14.30
  • I, Elizabeth
    A study of Elizabeth I using her own words from letters, poems and speeches. The play, written and performed by Rebecca Vaughan, explores her struggle to reconcile her womanhood with sovereignty. Directed by the prolific Guy Masterson who last year won an Olivier Award for Morecambe which also appeared at Edinburgh.
    Assembly Rooms, 17 August, 14.30
  • My Hamlet
    Linda Marlowe established her formidable reputation as a solo artist Berkoffs Women, and has since performed in four more one women shows. My Hamlet combines Shakespeare's text and six brilliant puppeteers from Fingers Theatre, Georgia, to give you Hamlet as you've never seen him before.
    Assembly @ George Street, 5-29 August, 17.20
  • Frances Ruffelle: Beneath The Dress
    Frances Ruffelle has been seen on the West End in musicals such as Les Miserables and Chicago. Beneath The Dress brings you old standards like you've never heard them before as well as some of the artist's new songs. The show promises a "cheeky, sexy and hauntingly beautiful" performance with a ritzy live band.
    Pleasance at Ghillie Dhu, 4-30 August, 20.15
  • I'm Still Here...
    Written and directed by Mel Smith, Peter Straker celebrates his 40 years in show business. Singing hits from Hair, classics by Stephen Sondheim, Freddie Mercury and Jacques Brel, with anecdotes of his experiences along the way.
    Pleasance at Ghillie Dhu, 4-30 August, 18.00

    PHYSICAL THEATRE & DANCE

  • Continent
    Japanese physical company CAVA present this mime-based theatre piece drawing inspiration from the Coen Brother’s film Barton Fink, centring on a novelist facing a deadline who drifts from reality to absurdity.

    C, 4-30 August, 19.20
  • Scottish Dance Theatre
    The ever-reliable SDT present two shows this year at Zoo Southside: a double-bill NQR and Drift, exploring notions of normality and loneliness respectively; and The Life and Times of Girl A, choreographed by Lost Dog’s award winning Ben Duke.

    C, 4-30 August, 19.20
  • Tokyo Love Song
    Shoko Ito’s Solo Theatre return to the Fringe with a mixture of fantasy, imagination and true-life experience set to an authentic 1970s Tokyo soundtrack.
    C soco, 4-30 August, 21.00
  • Beautiful Burnout
    Frantic Assembly and National Theatre of Scotland bring Bryony Lavery's boxing-themed piece of highly physical theatre to the Pleasance. Exploring an "explosively visceral world", Beautiful Burnout seeks to challenge preconceptions about one of the most controversial sports of our time.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 4-29 August, times vary
  • Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal (EIF)
    Following the legendary choreographer's death last year, Bausch's company bring her acclaimed Brazilian-inspired show Água to the International Festival. A fitting tribute.
    Edinburgh Playhouse, 27-29 August, 19.30

    FUN FOR THE FAMILY

  • Farm Boy
    
Michael Morpurgo's sequel to War Horse (which continues to do good business in the West End) centres on four generations living on a family farm to examine the changing face of the English countryside. Presented by New Perspectives and Scamp Theatre, it combines drama, storytelling and original music. For ages 7+
    Assembly Rooms, 5-30 August, 11.45
  • Potted Panto
    
CBBC’s Dan and Jeff (creators of Potted Potter and Potted Pirates) get in the Christmas spirit earlier than most department stores with this whistle-stop delve into the world of custard pies, sweet buckets and unending innuendo. "The best show on the Fringe. Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it is!”
    Pleasance Courtyard, 4-30 August, 14.50

  • Twinkle Twonkle
    
This latest show from Tall Stories (Gruffalo, Room on the Broom) is “inspired by nursery rhymes and the Big Bang”, as children Stella and Ryan climb their telescope to discover why a cow is jumping over the moon. For ages 4+. The company is also staging Tall Stories' New Show, which involves interactive workshops to help them decide what to do next.
    Pleasance Dome, 4-30 August, 14.00

    MUSICAL MAYHEM

  • Five Guys Named Moe
    The Wire's Clarke Peters leads the cast in this 20th anniversary revival of his Olivier Award-winning musical. The show, which originated at Theatre Royal Stratford East before becoming a long-running hit in the West End and on Broadway, follows broke and newly single Nomax (Peters) as Five Guys Named Moe (Big Moe, Four-Eyed Moe, Eat Moe, No Moe, and Little Moe) emerge from his 1930s-style radio in an attempt to cajole and comfort him.
    Udderbelly's Pasture, 4-29 August, 17.15
  • Spring Awakening
    
The multi-award winning alt-rock musical based on Frank Wedekind's controversial 19th-century play about teenage sexual discovery receives its Scottish premiere, courtesy of One Academy productions. Incidentally, a new production of the original play is also taking place at the Fringe, at C venues.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 4-30 August, 15.05
  • The Singalong Glee Club
    
This pseudo-karaoke night, hosted by Fringe First winner David Benson and pianist Stewart Nicholls, promises “show tunes, pub songs and surprise specialities”. Presumably Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'” will feature prominently.
    Gilded Balloon, 4-30 August, 17.30
  • Swing!
    
From the team behind Kiddy Fiddler on the Roof, this musical satire is set at the Wafthead Tennis Club, where “backhands, big bands and bonking” abound. A show with heart (and balls).
    Gilded Balloon, 4-30 August, 16.00
  • Wonderland
    A new musical play by well-known raconteur and former MP Gyles Brandreth and Susannah Pearse and starring Michael Maloney. Go through the looking glass and discover the untold true story of Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll and the actress who played Alice on stage, Isa Bowman.
    Assembly @ George St, 5-30 August, 13.45
  • Dyslexia the Musikal
    A musical which sets out to prove that dyslexia can be "sexy, funny and heartwarmingly melodic." Written by two London families about the experiences of their dyslexic children.
    theSpace on the Mile @ The Radisson, 6-14 August, 14.15
  • Porgi and Bess (EIF)
    Written at the end of the Great Depression Porgy and Bess has perhaps become the quintessential American opera. A poignant tale of a decent, lonely man called Porgy and his love for the beautiful, bewitching Bess, the score is littered with Gershwin classics. This new production for Opéra de Lyon combines video imagery and high energy dance. Festival Theatre, 14, 16 & 17 August, 19.15
  • Reel to Real: The Movie Musical
    Combining clips from classic Warner and MGM movie musicals with live performers, Reel to Real promises to showcase the greatest songs of Broadway. The musical is set to an original story that transports audiences from New York to China.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 4-30 August, 18.00

    
- Compiled by Theo Bosanquet & Andrew Girvan

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