This year’s Edinburgh International Festival and its wild, unruly Fringe are more varied than ever. As well as the usual comedy and theatre at the Fringe, there’s a marked resurgence in cabaret, burlesque and variety (see this section for our guide). Both the EIF, under Fergus Linehan in his first year as director, and the Fringe run from Friday until August 31; for details and dates, see eif.co.uk and edfringe.com.
Best US cable TV adaptation
There are two Game of Thrones musicals: Baby Wants Candy’s hilarious Thrones! The Musical (Assembly George Square, 5pm) and the more improv-based Winter Is Coming. Again (Gilded Balloon, 3pm). One Man Breaking Bad (Gilded Balloon, 6pm) does just that, while Notflix (SpaceTriplex, 3.05pm) is an improv show built around, obviously, Netflix.
Best returning hero
The Perrier/Foster’s winners Adam Riches (Pleasance, 9.45pm), Adrienne Truscott (Gilded Balloon, 8.15pm) and Bridget Christie (The Stand, 11am) all bring new shows to the Fringe, while old hands such as Kevin Day (Gilded Balloon, 6.15pm) and Mark Steel (Assembly George Square, 8.15pm) return after decades.
Best sketch troupe
Three years ago, this would have been an empty category. Now there’s too many. The Pin (Pleasance, 7pm) are the smartest, although Beard (Sneaky Pete’s, 1.15pm) are close behind, with Max and Ivan (Pleasance, 8.20pm), Thünderbards (Underbelly, 5pm) and That Pair (Just the Tonic, 4.35pm) worth a view.
Best for anxiety and self-loathing
Admittedly all comedians are essentially powered by failure, anger and need — but they try to keep it hidden. Felicity Ward (Pleasance, 9pm), Romesh Ranganathan (Pleasance, 9.20pm), the mighty Mike Wozniak (Laughing Horse, 1.15pm) and, unexpectedly, Carl Donnelly (Pleasance, 8.30pm) have crafted sets based on despair and futility.
Previously, work-in-progress built up to the festival. This year, Shazia Mirza (The Stand, 9.30pm), Stephen K Amos (The Stand, 9.10pm) and Stewart Lee (The Assembly Rooms, 2.15pm) are trying stuff out. Mark Thomas (Summerhall, 5pm) has a show that’s always evolving, while Alan Davies (Gilded Balloon, 7.30pm) promises that if there’s a lull, he’ll do some old stuff that’s properly funny.
Best for actual jokes
If it’s a bloke telling jokes on a stage with a mike that you’re after, start with Andrew Maxwell (Assembly George Square, 10.30pm), James Acaster (Pleasance, 8.30pm), Phil Wang (Pleasance, 6pm) and the still only 24-year-old Daniel Sloss (EICC, 8.40pm). You won’t go wrong.
Best for controversy
Reginald D Hunter (Pleasance, 8pm), bless him, has dropped the N-word titles, replacing them with this year’s Bitchproof. Katherine Ryan (The Stand, 4.25pm) offers a prickly mix of sauce, sex and celebrity, while Nish Kumar (Pleasance, 7.15pm) likes to stir things up.
Brett Goldstein (Pleasance, 9.30pm) relates his trip to the Burning Man festival, Ed Byrne (Gilded Balloon, 9pm) describes his middle-aged alienation and Aisling Bea (Gilded Balloon, 9.30pm) recalls her childhood dreams.
Best for circus
It’s shaping up to be a wow of a year for the circus arts. Shows include Dolls (Underbelly’s Circus Hub) by Prague’s Cirk La Putyka, Circa’s Close Up (Underbelly, George Square), Jerk (Assembly Checkpoint) — a solo work from the creators of the gripping Knee Deep — and 4x4 Ephemeral Architectures (Assembly George Square Theatre) by Gandini Juggling.
Best for puppetry
Blind Summit return with Citizen Puppet (Pleasance Courtyard), a sinister puppet docudrama inspired by Jack and the Beanstalk. There’s also Bruce (Underbelly, Cowgate), which promises wondrously lo-fi puppetry. For large-scale work, make a beeline for The Biggest Marionette Circus in the World (Momentum Venues, St Stephens).
Best for your mental health
Depression is a recurring theme in this year’s Fringe. Duncan McMillan’s funny heartbreaker Every Brilliant Thing (Roundabout @ Summerhall) offers all sorts of reasons to live, and so might the glitter-strewn performance-cum-gig My Beautiful Black Dog (Underbelly) and Bryony Kimmings’s Fake It ’Til You Make It (Traverse), in which she discovers her boyfriend has clinical depression.
Best for something completely different
Volker Gerling’s piece of photographic flip-book theatre Portraits in Motion (Summerhall) looks set to be an enchanting sleeper hit. Daniel Kitson’s prerecorded play Polyphony (Roundabout @ Summerhall) also sounds irresistible.
Best of the International Festival
Big experimental theatre hitters include the technical wizard Robert Lepage, whose new production, 887, is his most autobiographical to date, and Complicite with The Encounter, creating a forest of sound inspired by the book Amazon Beaming (Edinburgh International Conference Centre).
Best for new writing
Expect revelation and radiance from The Christians (Traverse), an exploration of faith by the playwright Lucas Hnath and the team behind Grounded. Thomas Eccleshare’s I’m Not Here Right Now (Roundabout @ Summerhall) and Jack Thorne’s The Solid Life of Sugar Water (Pleasance Dome) are two more probable must-sees.
The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute get contrasting treatment by conductor/director Ivan Fischer and Barrie Kosky, whose Komische Oper Flute in collaboration with 1927 is sure to dazzle. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Aug 13, 15, 16 (Figaro); Aug 27-30 (Flute)
The opening concert
Donald Runnicles conducts a Germanic upbeat of Brahms’s choral works, including the rare Song of Destiny, and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben with the BBC Scottish SO and Edinburgh Festival Chorus. Usher Hall, Aug 8
The Rake’s Progress
Andrew Davis conducts Stravinsky’s neoclassical opera in concert with Andrew Staples as the dissolute Tom Rakewell. Usher Hall, Aug 12
Two programmes from Norway’s finest, revitalised by their new music director, Vasily Petrenko: Grieg — Peer Gynt, obviously — precedes Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 in the first, then Nicola Benedetti plays Glazunov’s Violin Concerto before Sibelius’s First. Usher Hall, Aug 15, 16
Queen’s Hall recitals
Hard to choose from the riches here, but the Tallis Scholars’ Tallis, Sheppard and Arvo Pärt (Aug 10), Angela Hewitt (Scarlatti, Granados, Albeniz, Falla, Aug 13), Iestyn Davies’s Purcell (Aug 19) and Leonid Kavakos’s Brahms Violin Sonatas (Aug 26) top my list.
Ballett am Rhein Düsseldorf Duisburg give the UK premiere of this full-length work by the company’s director-choreographer, Martin Schläpfer, which interprets the anguish and poignancy of Mahler’s epic Seventh Symphony. Edinburgh Playhouse, Aug 20-22
This double bill of UK premieres includes Kairos, a new work by Wayne McGregor, set to Max Richter’s radical reimagining of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Sonett, by Christian Spuck, interweaves music by Philip Glass and Mozart with the spoken text of four Shakespeare sonnets.
Edinburgh Playhouse, Aug 27-29
His latest album — about his mother’s death — may be a downer, but America’s best alt-folk star brings said record, Carrie & Lowell, to heavenly life live. His talent is rare, his gigs rarer. Edinburgh Playhouse, Aug 30
A virtuoso guitarist who jerks her axe like it’s a minute hand stuck between 2 and 3, Calvi captivates enough when solo. Here, she is joined by the Heritage Orchestra. Hub, Aug 18-20
Pop star or classical impresario? Who knows? Expect his piano to sound like Daft Punk, Bach... and rap. Hub, Aug 8-9
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