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Surviving the Edinburgh Fringe

Edinburgh 2008: Our Top Picks for the Fringe & EIF

The Edinburgh Fringe – now, in its 62nd year, comprising a record-breaking 2,088 shows – is the world’s largest arts festival, even without its illustrious parent, the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF). How on earth do you make sense of Edinburgh in August? Theo Bosanquet has compiled our top picks of shows to watch out for this month.

By • West End


Edinburgh festival season has arrived, and once again an army of theatre companies, comedians, street performers, musicians and journalists are making the annual pilgrimage to the Scottish capital – not to mention a few audience members as well. And if you’re amongst those planning a trip this year, you can be forgiven for feeling ever so slightly disorientated by the statistics. With over 30,000 performers in 2,088 shows at 247 venues on the Fringe alone, there’s a mind-boggling array of shows to choose from – in fact, if you were to watch every show back-to-back, it would take you well over six years to do it. Factor in the International Festival as well, and you’re left with a simply dizzying number of options.

Until the reviews start coming in and the festival grapevine really starts rattling, compiling a selection of \'top picks\' is a combination of instinct and guesswork. It’s almost impossible to predict what will be this year’s Black Watch or Jerry Springer: The Opera, or indeed whether this year’s Edinburgh will produce the next Tom Stoppard (who premiered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1966 to an audience of seven) or another League of Gentlemen (who won the Perrier in 1997). However, there are undoubtedly a few gems out there waiting to be discovered, as well as the increasing multitude of festival favourites returning to satisfy the needs of those who prefer a safer bet.

In theatre terms, a big change this year is the absence of Aurora Nova – the venue which in recent years established itself as a standard-bearer in the physical theatre arena. However, there are several new initiatives to keep an eye on, notably the BAC-supported Forest Fringe, a not-for-profit co-operative venue aiming to tackle the escalating costs of producing experimental shows at the festival, and InvAsian, an Asian-based micro-festival housed in the Royal College of Surgeons, showcasing over 30 shows over the course of the three weeks.

Another exciting development this year is the Musical Theatre @ George Square festival, which is presenting 29 new musicals as well as 40 masterclasses in three main venues. It’s the first time the Fringe has included a dedicated musical theatre venue, and with a late night bar offering live songs from the shows, it should be a great place to kick back for any musical buffs.

For more up-to-the-minute coverage of the Fringe as well as the Edinburgh International Festival, visit, Whatsonstage.com/Scotland, which this year features more Edinburgh coverage than ever before with news, reviews, blogs and gossip giving you a unique insider’s guide to Edinburgh 2008.


‘STRAIGHT’ PLAYS

  • Class Enemy (EIF)
    In a rundown Sarajevo schoolroom, a group of foul-mouthed high school students conduct their own lessons as they await teachers who never arrive. Their parents, social workers and society in general have abandoned them. East West Theatre company presents Haris Pašoviæ’s adaptation of Nigel Williams’ moving account of social disorder and lost youth.
    Royal Lyceum Theatre, 20-23 August, (not 15), 20.00.

  • Footsbarn’s A Midsummer Night\'s Dream
    Critically acclaimed and utterly unique Footsbarn Theatre company presents its physical theatre interpretation of Shakespeare’s best-loved work. This production has already been an international sell-out, so is certainly one of the Fringe festival’s safer bets this year.
    Footsbarn\'s Big Top at Calton Hill, 1-25 August, 19.30

  • Reasonable Doubt
    Festival veteran Guy Masterson directs the world premiere of award-winning Australian playwright Suzie Miller’s latest creation. It tells of two jurors on a high-profile murder trial who conduct an illicit affair while confined during deliberations. Two years on they arrange to reunite in a chic hotel room and uncover some buried truths. Director Masterson has helmed some of the Fringe’s biggest-hitters in recent years, making this a definite one to watch.
    Assembly @ George Street, 1 - 25 August (not 11), 10.45

  • On the Waterfront
    The always compelling Steven Berkoff directs an ensemble of 12 with his trademark bold style of physical theatre in his own new stage adaptation of the multi Oscar-winning film classic starring Marlon Brando.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 31 July - 25 August (not Tuesdays), 14.00

  • The New Electric Ballroom
    Written and directed by Enda Walsh, a previous Fringe First recipient, this examination of the emotionally stultifying effects of small-town life is another likely gem in an ebullient Traverse line-up this year.
    Traverse, 31 July - 25 August (not Tuesdays), 14.00

  • Surviving Spike
    Michael Barrymore stars as Spike Milligan in a play that focuses on the legendary comedian’s often turbulent relationship with his manager Norma Farnes (Jill Halfpenny). It arrives in Edinburgh after a national tour, with a London transfer care of producer Bill Kenwright likely if it finds success on the Fringe.
    Assembly @ George Street, 31 July - 25 August (not 11), 16.15.

    POLITICAL PIECES

  • 365 (EIF)
    The National Theatre of Scotland presents the world premiere of David Harrower’s 365, which follows the lives of a group of care children as they take their first faltering steps towards adulthood in a state-built ‘practice flat’. It’s directed by NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone and choreographed by Frantic Assembly’s Steven Hoggett, who also worked on Black Watch.
    Edinburgh Playhouse, 22-25 August, 19.30

  • Pornography
    Simon Stephens, who recently scored a hit at the National with Harper Regan, presents the UK premiere of his latest work, set during the first week of July 2005, which included Live 8, G8, the announcement of the 2012 London Olympics, and ended with the 7/7 bombings. It’s produced by the Traverse in collaboration with the Birmingham Rep, where it transfers after the festival.
    Traverse, 2 - 24 August (not Mondays), times vary.

  • Deep Cut
    Welsh new writing company Sherman Cymru presents a harrowing drama based on the story of Private Cheryl James, who died from unexplained gunshot wounds at Deepcut barracks in 1995.
    Traverse, 31 July - 24 August (not Mondays), times vary.

  • Architecting
    Two-time Fringe First winners the TEAM collaborate with the National Theatre of Scotland workshop to present a “multimedia, time-bending epic”. It look at the ways in which America has rebuilt and designed itself, through post-Hurricane Katrina venture capitalism and a Miss Scarlett O\'Hara beauty pageant.
    Traverse, 31 July - 24 August (not Mondays), times vary.

    COMIC AT THE CORE

  • Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress
    The legendary American comic presents her autobiographical play, which is bound to shock, intrigue and amuse in equal measure. She\'s experienced more than most during the course of her meteoric career. After Edinburgh, Rivers brings the show to London’s Leiscester Square theatre. She can also be seen hosting the Whatsonstage.com Awards nominations party later in the year (See News, 26 Jun 2008).
    Udderbelly\'s Pasture, 7 - 25 August (not 11, 18), 15.45

  • Paperweight
    The only show being staged in the Assembly\'s tiny 30-seat Scott room this year, this silent comedy show focuses on two men as they struggle to stay sane in a cramped office environment. Created by the hotly-tipped duo Jamie Wood and Sebastien Lawson, the limited capacity will make it worth booking early.
    Assembly @ George Street, 1 - 24 August (not Mondays), times vary

  • Ladies in Waiting: Brownie Re-Union
    This character-driven comedy show about a group of Brownies who were selected for a special event in the 1980s catches up with them 25 years later to see if they really did “keep their promise”. It previewed successfully on the London Fringe in 2007, and looks a good bet for those on the lookout for some off-beat character comedy.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 30 July - 25 August (not Wednesdays), 16.45

  • 66a Church Road - A Lament, Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases
    Perrier Award-winning comedian Daniel Kitson has successfully made the transition to serious storyteller in recent years with shows such as C-90 and Stories for the Wobbly Hearted. He describes his latest offering, which focuses on the emotional trauma of moving out of a long-term home, as “a break-up show. For my flat.”
    Traverse, 5-24 August (not Mondays), 22.00

  • Lucky You
    An adaptation of eminent US satirist Carl Hiaasen’s best-selling novel about the repercussions of a lottery win in a red-neck Floridian community. Hiaasen has received countless critical plaudits in recent years for his acerbic portrayals of the darker side of the sunshine state, and this should be worth catching for fans and newcomers alike.
    Assembly @ George Street, 31 July - 25 August (not 4, 11), 16.15.

  • Elizabeth & Raleigh: Late But Live
    Fringe stalwart Stewart Lee presents his follow-up to last year’s hit Johnson and Boswell: Late But Live. Comedians Miles Jupp and Simon Munnery star as the titular characters in this hour-long fest of “potatoes, tobacco, Elizabethan dance, cross-dressing and xenophobia”.
    Udderbelly’s Pasture, 31 July - 25 August (not 13), 22.35.

    OFF-BEAT & EXPERIENTIAL

  • Terminus
    Mark O’Rowe brings his fantastical play, a vision of Dublin as never seen before and a hit at the Abbey Theatre when it premiered last year, to the Traverse. Surreal elements combine with familiar stories to present a unique vision of Ireland’s cultured capital.
    Traverse, 1-24 August (not Mondays), times vary

  • The Expert at the Card Table
    Renowned conjurer Guy Hollingworth showcases his breathtaking card skills in the intimate setting of the Assembly’s Wildman Room. Produced by the Menier Chocolate Factory, this is a must for magic fans.
    Assembly @ George Street, 31 July - 25 August (not 11), 15.35

  • Office Party
    Described as an “outrageous theatre show and party all in one”, audience participation is very much the name of the game in this exploration of that most cringe-inducing of British institutions, the office party. A bar is open throughout, and audience members are invited to “laugh your heads off and dance your pants down”. Not for the faint-hearted.
    Udderbelly\'s Pasture, 2-25 August, 20.00

  • Death by Chocolate
    A hit Down Under, this Australian interactive murder mystery receives its European premiere here. In the aftermath of a murder at a cocktail party singles’ night, the audience become detectives, all equipped with mugshots booklet, pen and ID lanyard. Especially recommended if you have a sweet tooth as chocolate tasting is included as part of the crime-solving package.
    Zoo Southside, 1-24 August, 18.00

    SOLO SHOWS

  • Simon Callow - A Festival Dickens
    Two “heartbreaking and hilarious” forgotten Dickensian monodramas are revived by Simon Callow. Dickens himself used to perform these stories as a supplement to his writing career, although they have since been largely forgotten by generations of Dickens aficionados.
    Assembly @ George Street, 7-25 August (not Mondays), 14.00.

  • My Grandfather\'s Great War
    Actor Cameron Stewart digs deep into his family history to tell the story of his great grandfather, who kept a diary of his experiences as a soldier in World War I. Directed by Fringe favourite David Benson, it\'s likely to be one of this year\'s most poignant theatrical offerings.
    Underbelly’s Baby Belly, 31 July - 24 August (not 13), 14.45.

  • Vincent
    Leonard ‘Mr Spock’ Nimoy presents a one-man theatrical portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, told through the eyes of his brother Theo.
    Assembly @ George Street, 31 July - 25 August (not 11), 16.25

    PHYSICAL THEATRE & DANCE

  • Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray (EIF)
    Freely adapted from Oscar Wilde\'s novel, stellar director-choreographer Matthew Bourne presents one of the International Festival’s most hotly anticipated premieres. Transplanting Wilde’s Victorian tale to the world of contemporary art and politics, Dorian Gray explores the destructive power of beauty and the consequences of the blind pursuit of pleasure. It’s produced by Bourne’s own company New Adventures in conjunction with Sadler’s Wells, where it will transfer in September.
    King’s Theatre, 22 - 30 August, 20.00 (Saturday matinees 14.30)

  • Deca Dance 2008 (EIF)
    Israel\'s Batsheva Dance Company present the UK premiere of a highly energised programme featuring ten scenes from legendary choreographer Ohad Naharin\'s most celebrated works. The eclectic soundtrack includes everything from “classical music to rock and hip hop to Israeli and Arab folk music”. Now if that doesn’t raise your curiosity levels, nothing will…
    Edinburgh Playhouse, 28 - 30 August, 20.00

  • tenderhook & Dog
    Scotland\'s national dance theatre company presents two original new works - tenderhook by Liv Lorent, whose previous show Luxuria was a hit for the company, and Dog, by rising star Hofesh Shechter.
    Zoo Southside, 12 - 24 August (not 18), 18.30

  • Circus Oz
    Australia’s premier circus ensemble celebrates its 30th anniversary with its usual blend of irreverent humour, dare-devil stunts and impressive feats of strength. It’s impossible to have a complete festival experience without taking in at least one of the circus companies, and with Circus Oz promising to “pull out all the stops” this year, this looks like a great bet.
    Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 31 July - 25 August (not mondays), times vary

    FUN FOR THE FAMILY

  • Clockheart Boy
    Experimental ensemble Dumbshow, whose debut show To the End of the World was a success at last year’s festival, returns with this “fantasy family show inspired by storytellers from Plato to Tim Burton”. When a boy washes ashore with a hole where his heart should be, his encounter with an eccentric professor will change his life forever.
    C Venues, 30 July - 16 August, 15.15

  • Potted Pirates
    The new show from the creators of perennial Fringe favourite Potted Potter (which also runs at the same venue), this light-hearted romp which features pirates from Long John Silver to Jack Sparrow is, we’re assured, a ‘cutlass’ above the rest.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 30 July – 25 August (not 6, 13), 15.0

  • Shut Up Stupid
    James Campbell, who in recent years has pretty much cornered the market in stand-up comedy for kids, presents his latest show, billed as an “experimental black comedy” for children and adults. But be warned, it’s unsuitable for children under seven due to it being “nightmare-inducing”…
    Sweet ECA, 31 July – 25 August (not 18), 16.00

    MUSICAL MAYHEM

  • On the Island of Aars
    The new show from the creators of 2004’s The Translucent Frogs of Quuup, Chris Larner and Mark Stevens, is a musical comedy set on Aars, a rock off Scotland so remote that only the north wind remembers it. If it’s like anything else you’ll see at the Fringe, you could probably rightly ask for a refund.
    Pleasance Courtyard, 30 July - 25 August (not Wednesdays), 14.10

  • Only the Brave
    Starring TV casting finalists Keith Jack (Any Dream Will Do) and Niamh Perry (I’d Do Anything), and featuring a cast and live orchestra of over 30, this Matthew Brind musical is one of the more ambitious undertakings at this year’s Fringe. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, it’s an epic love story, produced as part of the Musicals @ George Square programme.
    George Square, 31 July - 25 August (not 5 & 11), times vary

  • Funk It Up About Nothin’
    From the team behind The Bomb-itty of Errors, the Q Brothers, comes a new \'ad-rap-tation\' of Shakespeare\'s Much Ado About Nothing. In the vein of recent West End hit Into the Hoods this is a hip-hop extravaganza, featuring six MCs and a DJ. The Bard has never been so cool.
    George Square, 7 - 24 August (not 11, 19), 17.15

  • Cannibal! The Musical
    Calling all South Park fans. This comedy tuner is adapted from South Park creator Trey Parker’s cult film. Set in Colorado in 1873, it tells the story of Alfred Parker, the only American ever convicted of cannibalism. Watch out for the cowboys, not to mention the Cyclops.
    George Square, 31 July - 24 August, times vary

  • Departure Lounge
    Developed via the annual Perfect Pitch showcase, this Dougal Irvine musical comedy follows a group of Brits on tour in Ibiza. A coming-of-age delight for lads and ladettes alike. Some of the songs previewed at the Whatsonstage.com Awards concert in February – and were one of the evening’s highlights. Now you can see the full 75 minutes.
    George Square, 4 - 24 August, 21.00

    ** FOR MORE COVERAGE ON THIS YEAR’S EDINBURGH FESTIVAL – INCLUDING OUR COMMUNAL FESTIVAL BLOG - VISIT www.whatsonstage.com/Scotland **


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