The 2007 Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, gets under way in the Scottish capital this weekend (See News, 7 Jun 2007). The 61st annual event opens this Sunday 5 August 2007 and continues until 27 August, during which time an estimated 18,626 performers presenting 31,000 performances of those shows in 250 venues. It is also the first Fringe under new artistic director Jon Morgan (See News, 26 Mar 2007).

Theatre makes up 31% of this year’s programme. The power of sexuality is explored in Venus as a Boy (National Theatre of Scotland), whilst John Peel’s life is examined in Teenage Kicks (Home Truths Present). Stonewall (Team Angelica) looks back to the 1969 Manhattan Stonewall Inn Riots - a major catalyst in the progression of gay rights. In The Container (Nimble Fish), the audience shares the confines of a container with illegal immigrants travelling to the UK, while RE: ID (Gappad) questions what cultural identity really means for Polish immigrants in Scotland.

Playwright David Greig explores two very different Scottish stories in Damascus (Traverse Theatre Company) and Yellow Moon (TAG Theatre Company). Not for Sale (Freefall Theatre Company) examines the devastating impact of human-trafficking, and Miracle in Rwanda (Leslie Lewis Sword) tells the story of eight women who survived the Rwandan genocide by hiding in a room measuring three foot by four. Ravenhill for Breakfast (Paines Plough) is a 30-minute play written by playwright Mark Ravenhill and rehearsed the day prior to performance. And following its UK premiere last summer at London’s Roundhouse, Argentine physical theatre and dance show Fuerzabruta (meaning “brute force”) arrives in Edinburgh, where a new 1,200-seat venue at Ocean Terminal is being specially built to house it.

Other theatre highlights include: the European premiere of South African Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; Tracy Letts’ shocking American slice-of-life drama Killer Joe, in which if.comeddy winner Phil Nichol plays a murderous cop; Certified Male, an Australian riposte to The Vagina Monologues starring Les Dennis; Johnson and Boswell – Late But Live, in which comedian/Jerry Springer director Stewart Lee has devised a book launch for Samuel Johnson and James Boswell 200 years after their famous travels; the Riverside Studio transfer of Max Arthur's Forgotten Voices starring Matthew Kelly; and The Last South: Pursuit of the Pole, GM Calhoun’s adaptation of the expedition diaries of Arctic explorers Scott and Amundsen, played by Adrian Lukis and Jamie Lee.

Musical madness

Musicals tackle a variety of typically provocative topics. Tony! The Blair Musical (White Rose Theatre) and Tony Blair: The Musical (Io Theatre Company) prove the outgoing Prime Minister is still very much on people’s minds. While Chav: It’s a Musical, Innit? (Crowded Logic Theatre Company), Jihad: The Musical (Silk Circle Productions) and Asbo: The Musical (Z Theatre Company) tap their own topical veins. Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision (Glynn Nicholas Group/No Mates Productions) allows the audience to participate in their very own Eurovision Song Contest. Meanwhile, Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical (Sexy Boys and Girls & Co Present) and Orgasm: The Musical (Seven Dwarves Ltd) hope to appeal to the voyeur in all of us.

New awards

At this year’s Fringe, seven new awards are being launched: the Musical Theatre Matters Awards will offer a series of awards to support musical theatre; Edinburgh International Festival Award offers a Fringe show the opportunity to perform at the 2008 EIF; the Arches Brick Award for Emergent Talent will commission a developing theatre company to perform at the venue; the Edinburgh Evening News Drama Awards will recognise local amateur talent in music, comedy and drama; the National Student Drama Festival Award will offer a student show a one-week transfer to the Pleasance Theatre in north London; the Current TV Comedy Award will provide the winner with three commissioned programmes to showcase their act on the channel; and Amnesty International is expanding the Freedom of Expression Award by teaming up with The Big Issue and launching a second charity comedy night and encouraging audiences to vote via text for human rights issues.

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 several different festivals - the main ones being the original Edinburgh International Festival (running this year from 10 August to 2 September 2007), 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, representing 75 percent of the overall festival market share.

To access the full 2007 Edinburgh Fringe programme – including its wide range of comedy, music, dance, opera, children’s shows and other events - visit the festival website.

- by Terri Paddock