Edinburgh Festival top ten: Matt Trueman's picks
Matt Trueman chooses what he's looking forward to at this year's festival
Oh god. Is it almost August again? Every year I swear off the Edinburgh festival and every year, I end up back there. As soon as the Fringe brochure drops through my letterbox, I remember why. Picking through its pages is to see all its promise and possibility. In the last decade, it's grown and grown – commercially, yes, but artistically too – and this year, there are about 200 shows that piqued my interest for one reason or another. If I had to pick just ten though, these would be them.
Dave Malloy is the man behind one of the most unlikely Broadway musicals ever: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 – a cabaret explosion of War and Peace that became a cult hit last year. Having won a Herald Angel for a seriously silly musical based on Beowolf, he's back at the Fringe with a song cycle about the supernatural that spins through all manner of musical styles as it tumbles through the centuries.
Rounadabout @ Summerhall, 21.00, 5–28 August, www.summerhall.co.uk
Circus has found its place at the heart of the Fringe in recent years – not least thanks to the Underbelly's Circus Hub in the Meadows, which is back for a second year. Australia's Casus Circus had a big hit a couple of years ago with Knee Deep – circus pure and proper, with real risk and real skill on show – and they're back this year with Driftwood, a piece about our innate need for human contact and intimacy.
Assembly George Square Gardens, 15.30, 4-28 August, www.assemblyfestival.com
Diary of a Madman
Al Smith has serious Fringe pedigree. He was winning Fringe Firsts as a student at Edinburgh University a decade ago and, as his last play Harrogate proved, he's grown into a playwright with a real feeling for form. Shunting Nikolai Gogol's classic novella into the present, Diary of a Madman promises a sharp satire on the speed of modern life as one man finds himself left behind, facing a world – and an Edinburgh – he no longer recognises. Liam Brennan stars.
Traverse Theatre, various times, 4–28 August, www.traverse.co.uk
Here she comes: one of the most startling acts at the entire Fringe – a gravel-voiced, glassy-eyed, grungy drag queen who last strode out onstage with a balloon tied to the end of her butt plug. Not for the faint-hearted perhaps, but, beneath Christeene's deranged mania, there's a strange tenderness and a furious breed of love. Disturbing? God yes. But infectious and delightful as well, and certainly one of those oddities that the Fringe throws up year on year.
Underbelly, 22.10, 17–28 August, www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk
One of the brightest young stand-ups to emerge in recent years, Liam Williams' tone of angry apathy – or is apathetic anger – has seen him heralded as ‘the voice of a generation' time and again. Having written his first play, might it be time to dub him an Angry Young Millennial? Travesty is a boy meets girl story with a difference, one that takes aim at traditional gender roles with a clever approach to casting that promises to invert all those romantic clichés.
Assembly George Square Studios, 17.30, 3–28 August, www.assemblyfestival.com
Having spent a couple of years honing her drag king alter-ego Ollie, Ira Brand gives him his own show in Break Yourself – a piece that examines masculinity from the outside-in. A Springsteen-loving, lager-drinking graphic designer, there's nothing particularly remarkable about Ollie, but that's the point. He's Mr Average, but he's still got something: masculinity – maudlin, self-assured, straightforward masculinity. In a superb performance, as precise as it is honest, Brand asks what makes men so special anyway.
Forest Fringe, 14.00, 18–20 August, www.forestfringe.co.uk
Anything That Gives Off Light
Five years in the making, The TEAM's collaboration with National Theatre of Scotland should land at exactly the right moment. Set in the Scottish Highlands and infused with folk music, Anything That Gives Off Light looks at national identity, how it feels, how it manifests itself and how it makes itself into myths – things the American collective have long asked about their own country. With Brian Ferguson, Sandy Grierson and Jessica Almasy sharing a stage, it's dream team casting too.
Edinburgh International Festival, EICC, various time, 18-26 August, www.eif.co.uk
Camille O'Sullivan: The Carny Dream
Caberet's another art-form that's on the rise in Fringe terms, but one woman's been well ahead of that particular curve: Camille O'Sullivan. The Irish songstress is a bona fide Fringe star, having cut her teeth with the legendary La Clique troupe. Her new show resets David Bowie and Nick Cave, Arcade Fire and Radiohead hits with her own distinctive style, teasing out the meaning and the emotion lying dormant beneath the lyrics.
Underbelly's Circus Hub, 20.30, 4-28 August, www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk
Three years ago, Kieran Hurley joined forces with DJ Johnny Whoop to tell a story of rave culture against a thumping live score in Beats. In Heads Up, he's teamed up with another musician, Michael John McCarthy, hoping to capture a sense of an entire city on the brink of ending. He's a fiercely political writer is Hurley, whose shows always stand as something of a protest, but it's his gentle tone, the way he cares for an audience, that makes him such a special artist.
Summerhall, 19.05, 3-28 August, www.summerhall.co.uk
Something about James Rowland's debut show makes me think it could be rather special. After losing a close friend to cancer, Rowland set out to fulfil his last wish: a proper Viking funeral. We don't talk about death enough, certainly not about what comes afterwards, and this tale of male friendship, terminal illness and Norse Gods sounds like a great way to start. A short Vault festival run earlier this year created a bit of a buzz, so it should be worth a punt.
Just the Tonic at the Community Project, 2.55, 4-28 August, www.justthetonic.com