Preview: Edinburgh Festival 2008

There is nothing quite like it. Nowhere quite like it. Edinburgh, during the festival, is as alive as any city can be. It can be noisy, daunting, frustrating, a drain on both pocket and sanity, but it can also be wonderful, uplifting, a unique experience, a unique atmosphere.

OK, this year, the fringe’s online ticketing system has been causing many people consternation, but all that fuss and frustration is bound to evaporate once you’re dodging jugglers and trading insider tips on the Royal Mile.

Plays worth taking a punt on this year include new work from Simon Stephens, a playwright currently on a creative high following Harper Regan at the National Theatre. His new work, Pornography (Traverse 28 July 24 August), charts the moment in July 2005 when euphoria at winning the Olympic bid turned into the horror following the 7/7 London bombings. Recent events provide the fodder for many fringe productions at this year’s festival. The need to engage with the world comes through in a lot of the shows, like Deep Cut (Traverse 31 July -24 August) is about Private Cheryl James, one of four young soldiers to die from gunshot wounds at Deepcut barracks. The Caravan by Look Left, Look Right (Pleasance, 4-25 August) is a documentary piece staged in a, you’ve guessed it, caravan, about the fallout from last year’s soggy summer and those still living in caravans after being flooded out of their homes. The always reliable Weaver Hughes Ensemble are staging the world premiere of Army Of Reason (Pleasance, 2-25 August) about art, assassination and civil war this is in addition to their acclaimed production of The Six Wives Of Timothy Leary (Pleasance, 3-25 August). Meanwhile 30 Bird blend video, architecture, music and performance for their production of Plastic about gender reassignment in Iran (Pleasance, 1-24 August).

Should the weight of reality becomes too heavy there is always the dubious prospect of Pot Noodle musical, (yes, really, Assembly, 31 July – 25 August), controversially staged by the snack’s advertising company Mother London. Other things of interest include Steven Berkoff’s stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning film On The Waterfront (Pleasance Courtyard, 1-25 August) which comes to Edinburgh on a wave of, mostly, good reviews. There are stage adaptations of Carl Hiassan’s Lucky You (Assembly Hall, 31 July 25 August), and George Orwell’s Coming Up For Air (Assembly @ George Street, 1-25 August). Anupama Chandrasekhar’s Free Outgoing (Traverse, 31 July 24 August), recently staged at the Royal Court, is also putting in an appearance and Time Step, a play about talent contests by Matthew Hurt, in a production directed by Josie Lawrence and Linda Marlowe, also looks like it might be fun (Pleasance, 3 25 August). You also probably won’t want to miss Stewart Lee’s Elizabeth and Raleigh – Late But Live (Udderbelly, 31 July – 25 August) with Simon Munnery as the Virgin Queen.

Under the banner of the International Festival, there is David Harrower’s new play for the National Theatre of Scotland, 365 (Playhouse, 22-25 August). It charts the fortunes of a group of young people exiting the care system and taking their first steps to independence in a “practice flat.” Also part of the International Festival, there is Matthew Bourne’s highly anticipated staging of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (King’s Theatre, 22 30 August) Bourne is perhaps still best renowned for his iconic all male staging of Swan Lake and this looks like being one of those ideal meetings of artist and subject matter. There will also be productions of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis (King’s Theatre, 15-18 August) by Polish company TR Warszawa and Class Enemy (Royal Lyceum, 20-23 August), a reworking of Nigel Williams’ play set in 1970s London by the Bosnian East West theatre company.

Of course this is only skimming the surface. Away from the main venues there are countless unexpected pleasures to be found, truly vital work. Take the Forest Fringe, curated by the passionate Andy Field and Deborah Pearson. They aim to provide an alternative space, where experimentation thrives, artists aren’t crippled by the costs of staging a three week run and genuine risks can be taken. Their staging of Paper Cinema’s The Night Flyer looks hugely appealing.

And don’t forget, as if you could, the comedy: this year’s fringe will feature shows from, amongst many, many, others, Brendon Burns, Tim Minchin, Josie Long, Reginald D. Hunter, Pappy’s Fun Club and Rhod Gilbert. And, of course, the book festival and all the things that don’t easily slide into a set category, the people and the flyers and the energy and the wonder of sitting with a faint hangover on the sun-warm grass beneath the castle, planning your afternoon’s viewing.

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