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Edinburgh Festival 2012: A Disinterested Preview

NB: saltireThere are certain things that regular readers of this site have come to expect over the (glances at calendar) more than fourteen years of its existence. And one of those is the sheer bloody effort it takes to write about one of my holidays after I've come back from it. It's now close to two months since The Belated Birthday Girl and I went off to Japan for the latest in a series of visits to the country. I promised at the time that a whole series of articles would be forthcoming: but apart from a piece for Mostly Film and another slab of related material, that still hasn't happened yet. It will soon, I'm sure - it's just that right now, any displacement activity that comes along seems preferable to buckling down to actually doing the job.

What sort of displacement activity? Well, for example, let's say someone - we'll call him 'Nick' - says "I know you're taking one of your years off from the Edinburgh Festival this year, but is there any chance you could look through the programmes and tell the rest of us what's worth seeing, like you did in 2009?" That sort of displacement activity.

As usual, your first port of call should be the official sites for the three main festivals taking place in August - the International Festival, the Fringe and the Book Festival. What follows is a knee-jerk selection of things from all three that may be worth considering, with links to the event booking pages as appropriate. Please note that I'm specifically concentrating on the week of August 18-25, which is when Nick and a few more of the Pals will be up there - if we're lucky, we may even get to hear about it on these pages afterwards.

International Festival: As usual, a full programme of events spanning all the arts, and at reasonable prices too. Theatrically, there's My Fair Lady re-envisioned in a language lab as Meine Faire Dame - ein Sprachlabor: or an adaptation of The Rape Of Lucrece as a song cycle by Camille O'Sullivan and Feargal Murray. If you're not so interested in mucked-up versions of the classics, you can see how the ambitious large-scale spectacle of NVA's Speed Of Light manages in the face of traditional Scottish weather. Musically, there's lots to enjoy: from ballet performed to Stockhausen's Helikopter Quartet, through the traditional Japanese spectacle of Gagaku, to the Classic FM-friendly coupling of John Williams and John Etheridge.

Book Festival: As ever, it depends whether you're there for people who write books, or people who happen to have written books. In the former category, regulars such as Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin and Iain Banks will be more or less walking in from home, while there are interesting talks in the schedule from Kim Newman (about his successful vampire books) and Jenny Colgan (who's just taken on the challenge of a Doctor Who novel). In the latter category, I know from previous LFF experience that veteran stuntman Vic Armstrong will have plenty of good stories: and you instinctively feel that disco legend Nile Rodgers will also have the odd anecdote or two. If you fancy taking a punt on someone you've never heard of, then Ian Garden has an interesting-sounding book on WW2 anti-British propaganda films.

Fringe Cabaret: And so onto the Fringe, and the first of two new show categories this year. It was only a matter of time before the current burlesque boom started changing the shape of the programme, and ruining the fun of all those comedy shows that gave themselves titles starting with Aaaaaaaaa so they could be first in the listings. Surprisingly, none of the shows in the Cabaret section have done that: but Ophelia Bitz's ArtWank! gets the honour for the first bit of censorship in what's been widely reported as a more prudish than usual programme. Some of the shows here are old favourites that have previously been categorised under comedy (Fascinating Aida, Marcel Lucont's Cabaret Fantastique) or music (The Famous Club Spiegel, Lach's Antihoot). There's even a bit of theatre, as the Comic Strip's resident transgender person Al Pillay tells the story of Dorothy Squires: Mrs Roger Moore. Based on their terrific slot on Mervyn Stutter last year, I'd also be tempted to give the filthy songs of EastEnd Cabaret another look.

Fringe Childrens: Always difficult to pick something that will have adult appeal without making you look like a total paedo sitting in the audience. American High School Theatre Festival shows are always packed with proud parents, so you'd probably be safe at their adaptation of The Jungle Book.

Fringe Comedy: As ever, the comedy section is ludicrously oversized, even in a year when Robin Ince is taking time off to raise a child rather than perform six free shows a day like he usually does. Let's get the usual collection of old favourites out of the way first: Al Murray, Andrew O'Neill (plus musical friend), Jerry Sadowitz, Josie Long, Mervyn Stutter's Pick Of The Fringe, Michael Legge, Michael Redmond, Nina Conti, Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians, Simon Donald, Simon Munnery (also at lunchtimes), Spank! and The Stand Late Show. Favourite favourites Stewart Lee and Richard Herring are both reprising old shows this year, so let's go public with the idea I've been coyly hinting at for the last couple of years and suggest you see their respective wives instead (Bridget Christie and Catie Wilkins). But I'd still say it'll be worth keeping an eye on the guest list for Richard Herring's Edinburgh Fringe Podcast.

And now a few other things to consider, comedy-wise. Two popular (and occasionally rude) musical comedy acts off of the internet are appearing at the Fringe this year: Kunt & The Gang (sample) are old hands at this, but The Rubberbandits (sample) are here for the first time. In the absence of Ince, there are a few science-themed shows from his occasional collaborators, including Domestic Science and Helen Keen: Robot Woman Of Tomorrow. Very, very old people like me who remember the support slots at Billy Bragg gigs in the 1980s will be curious to see how Phill Jupitus Is Porky The Poet pans out. Young people who like fannying about with their phones would probably rather be at a show like 2 Facedbook 3 which encourages them to do so throughout. Finally, this year's Person Attempting To Parlay Their Recent 15 Minutes Of Fame Into A Fringe Show award goes to Leveson witness Rich Peppiatt for One Rogue Reporter.

Fringe Dance: Oh, I'm no good with dance, you know that. I can cope with something like Warriors Of Goja, which is basically martial arts set to music, but that's about it. Um, let's say that Jishin could be an interesting response to the Japan earthquake of 2011, and Time For Fun has a pleasing simplicity to its central idea.

Fringe Events: The Fringe started life as an unofficial response to the International Festival, so it's interesting to see how this section includes fringe versions of two of the other main Edinburgh events, with Cinefringe Film Festival and Edinburgh Book Fringe. Other events include a talk on The Making Of NVA's Speed Of Light (see International above), and Tony Benn in both film and live form with Will And Testament.

Fringe Exhibitions: With all the other stuff that's happened this year, it's easy to forget that according to the Mayans, the world's scheduled to end on December 21st. Cheer Up! It's Not The End Of The World... is a series of apocalyptic prints from some rather big names. Other exhibitions are available, and loads of them are free, so just wander round and see what takes your fancy.

Fringe Music: Last year, my favourite event of the Fringe was The North Sea Scrolls, as part of the Edge sub-festival of rock music. I complained at the time how under-publicised Edge events were in comparison to the rest of the Fringe. This year? No Edge festival at all, nor any sort of replacement for it. Oops. There are a few items worth noting, though. A selection of Scottish acts in the Bank Festival: whimsy and hats courtesy of Jane Bom-Bane: the peculiar but intriguing pairing of Chris Difford & Norman Lovett: and the magnificent (over-)ambition of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells For Two.

Fringe Musicals & Opera: This is normally where I'd point you in the direction of the American High School crew and their enthusiastic musical programme: but for some reason, this year their musical shows all finish before the final week of the Fringe I'm focussing on. You'll have to make do with Bat Boy, one of the few musicals inspired by a story in the Weekly World News.

Fringe Spoken Word: Another new category, so that the poets don't have to yell to make themselves heard above the stand-up comics. Luke Wright has done some good stuff in the past, and left me a comment that one time I accused him of not doing good stuff, so he's got to be worth a look.

Fringe Theatre: As usual, watch out for the reviews coming out of the Traverse Theatre to see which shows are hot this year. (Daniel Kitson's As Of 1.52pm... could well be one of them, but he's workshopping it in Battersea literally days before he goes to Edinburgh, so anything's possible.) Of the rest... The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs could be a curious one, especially as much of what Mike Daisey says in the show has subsequently been found to be imaginary. All In The Timing is a sketch show from some of the American High Schoolers. Preview reports on Appointment With The Wicker Man claim it has plenty of laughs for fans of the original film. Bullet Catch tells the story of the most dangerous magic trick in the world. The Erpingham Camp is a Joe Orton play revived by the pleasingly-named Fourth Monkey, who did interesting things with A Clockwork Orange last year. The Half features the always-watchable Guy Masterson in another solo show (following last year's Under Milk Wood), this time biting off more than he can chew with an uncut one-man version of Hamlet.

If you're looking for comedians dabbling in drama, this year it's Arabella Weir, Jan Ravens and Mike McShane joining Phil Nichol's company in The Intervention. Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro! has the comic trying to penetrate the world of opera, something he used to do a stand-up routine about a good quarter of a century ago. (See if he performs an aria including the words "I want to give you one / I want to give you one / In the doggy style...") NOLA has Look Left Look Right applying the documentary techniques that worked so well on the 2005 London bombings to the New Orleans oil spill. Monkey Bars is more verbatim theatre, with adults performing the words of 8-10 year olds. And last but not least, Re-Animator The Musical has Stuart Gordon revisiting his gory Lovecraftian horror film, but with songs. And with Norm from Cheers.

Other shows are available: but let's see what the 2013 programme looks like before I commit to anything.


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