The 2005 Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) opens this Sunday in the Scottish capital (See News, 24 Mar 2005). EIF - the parent to the much larger and more chaotic Edinburgh Fringe, which opened last weekend - runs from 14 August to 4 September 2005 this year with its mix of opera, ballet, music and theatre from around the globe.

The theatre schedule kicks with the premiere of EIF commission Blackbird (pictured), an “unflinchingly, darkly intense new play” by Scottish writer David Harrower (Knives in Hens, Kill the Old Torture Their Young). Directed by legendary German director and Chekhov specialist Peter Stein (whose all-star production of The Seagull was a hit at the 2003 Festival) and starring multiple Olivier Award winner Roger Allam and Jodhi May, the new play runs at the King’s Theatre from 15 to 24 August 2005.

The second EIF commission, co-produced with Birmingham Rep, is Prayer Room by another Scottish writer, Shan Khan (Office). It’s set in a multi-faith prayer room in a British college where the relative peace between Christians and Muslims is disrupted by the arrival of more Jews. Directed by Paul Miller (Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads), it’s at the Royal Lyceum Theatre from 22 to 28 August 2005.

The third EIF world premiere commission, Chiew Siah Tei’s Three Thousand Troubled Threads, also examines aspects of multi-cultural modern Britain. In Glasgow, a young second generation Chinese woman’s life is complicated by a mother immersed in the past, an employer seeking a return to his Italian family roots and an alienated Slovakian boyfriend. It runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre from 31 August to 3 September 2005.

Director Garry Hynes of Druid Theatre Company fulfils a long-term artistic commitment with “The Complete Plays of JM Synge”, at the King’s Theatre from 27 August to 3 September 2005. In repertoire care of a 25-strong company, it will mark the first time that all of Synge’s plays - The Playboy of the Western World, The Shadow of the Glen, The Tinker’s Wedding, The Well of the Saints, Riders to the Sea and Deirdre of the Sorrows - will be performed together. There will be three “Synge Cycle” days in which all six plays can be viewed in one day.

Other EIF theatre highlights include: Nuts CocoNuts by the Variety Theatre Company of Gibraltar; the Japanese Noh plays Sumidagawa (The Madwoman of the Sumida River) and Kagyu (The Snail); and a Hungarian production of The Seagull.

EIF 2005 also features a full schedule of opera, dance and classical music. Other programme highlights include the British staged premiere of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer, directed by Anthony Neilson; Christopher Wheeldon’s production of Swan Lake performed by Pennsylvania Ballet; and a week-long residency for Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.

The granddaddy of them all, the Edinburgh International Festival is just one of some seven festivals that overtake the Scottish city in August. The others are the Edinburgh Film Festival, Book Festival, Jazz & Blues Festival, Visual Arts Festival, the Military Tattoo and, of course, its main spin-off, the Edinburgh Fringe which, on its own, qualifies as the world's largest arts festival, with nearly 1,800 shows presented this year. The 2005 Fringe opened on 7 August and continues to 29 August (See News, 5 Aug 2005).

- by Terri Paddock