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Edinburgh Festivals – Six for the Price of One?

At festival time Scotland always seems a crowded place. The population of Edinburgh itself almost doubles. But this week we have official confirmation that the Scottish population is continuing to increase and there are now 5.3 million of us.

It’s also becoming a pretty hot place, with the month of July being the second warmest since records began. Temperatures were reaching over 30 degrees, enough to melt the hardest hearts.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Edinburgh folk do not always warm to the festivals, until they realise that they bring in £250 million of extra business. There are six festivals, all crammed into the city in the month of August.

The main international festival, the even more famous “fringe”, the book festival, the arts festival, the Tattoo and the Mela. As I stood in the queue for a Jane Austin show, I was showered with flyers for operas, musicals, dramas, and as many comedy shows as any man’s sense and sensibilities could stand.

At this time of year, the Royal Mile becomes a medieval market place, selling talent, ambition, hope, energy, humour and funny costumes. The Fringe alone this year has 2,871 shows, involving 24,000 artists from 41 different countries. The book festival, in its tented village in Charlotte Square, has 700 readings scheduled and is expecting 200,000 visitors. I remember going to first book festival 30 years ago, still tented but tentative.

The Festival ends with a Firework Concert

The Festival ends with a
Firework Concert

The official international festival has cost an estimated £10m to stage and has the unlikely theme this year of “art and technology”…..ranging from the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci to Beethoven’s Fidelio set in a spaceship. The Russian National Orchestra is coming to play Rachmaninov. Meredith Monk will sing a meditation on the environment and the well-named Benjamin Millepied will bring his dance troop from Los Angeles.

Towards the end of the month, just before the closing fireworks, the Scottish Parliament will be staging its own “festival of politics.” It promises an earnest discussion on “Scotland’s place in the world.” This is dangerous talk. It could include such delicate subjects as independence, nationalism, the Union ( both UK and EU) and perhaps a nostalgic look over our shoulders at the glory days of the Enlightenment, our role in the industrial revolution, in the Empire, in science and invention.

It would be easy to conclude that we have lost the place. Our big metal industries have gone. Our education system is no longer the best in the world (though there has been a 2 per cent rise this year in the number of Scottish pupils gaining places at university.) The health service is creaking. Wages are falling. A third of all workers, we learned this week, are now in part-time or temporary work. Things are falling apart. Even the Vikings are back – this year’s Viking Congress is being held in Shetland for the first time in 20 years.

Earthquake House at Comrie

Earthquake House at Comrie

But I like to think we are still a nation of enterprise and discovery. It’s just a pity it’s all happening in virtual subjects I don’t understand…particle physics, the bio-sciences and computer games. Give me steam engines, sailing ships, and rock science any day.

I was in Perthshire a few days ago and was lucky enough to stumble on the Earthquake House in Comrie. This little stone building was erected in 1874 to record the minor earthquakes which occasionally shake the village because it stands on an ancient fault line between the Highlands and the Lowlands. It was the inspiration of the so-called “Comrie pioneers” – two ministers and, later, the village post-master and shoe-maker who carefully recorded the vibrations of a pendulum as it traced the slightest earth tremor. (There are hundreds each year in the UK.)

They were tweedy citizen scientists, trying to work out what was happening deep in the centre of the Earth. I hope we have a similar spirit of inquiry today. And I like to think that amidst the fireworks and the entertainment of the Edinburgh festivals, there are also the sparks of human inquisitiveness, energy and imagination.

Fleshmarket Close, a sair pech <em>Picture: Richard Webb</em>

Fleshmarket Close, a sair pech Picture: Richard Webb

By Betty Kirkpatrick

Most Fringe fans come to Edinburgh relatively well-equipped for the experience. They have reserved their accommodation and they have either booked and received their tickets in advance, or have been blessed with enough enthusiasm, patience and goodwill to stand in a queue at the booking office.

Many of them have remembered to pack appropriate weather-wear, having been forewarned – either by watching weather reports or listening to the bush telegraph – of our uncertain climate.

But, as one woman said to me the other day, nobody warns visitors about the hills. Here she was talking not about the Pentlands, Arthur’s Seat or the road up to the castle, but about the hilly roads that must be scaled in order to reach many of the Fringe venues. She was, in fact, referring on this occasion to the Mound.

She could have a point. Certainly it is true that a trip to some of the venues will leave the less fit among us red of face and peching. Dedicated couch potatoes may be close to collapse.

To pech in Scots means to breathe heavily, usually after taking exercise. The English equivalent is pant, but this is not nearly so descriptive. The breathy sound of pech more eloquently describes the person left almost gasping for breath. Indeed, the word pech probably came into being because the sound of it so aptly echoes the meaning.

The ch in pech is pronounced like the ch of loch, not the ch of much. For those of you not familiar with the correct pronunciation of loch, try the ch in the composer Bach.

The verb pech can also refer to the process of walking, getting about, working, etc, when this involves more exertion than the body cares for or is up to. Thus, you may find some occasional Sunday afternoon ramblers peching up a hill when the more experienced and fleet of foot trip effortlessly past them.

Pech can also mean to cough in a wheezy way, as though you were asthmatic. It can also refer to letting the breath out slowly and loudly, as when sighing with satisfaction or relief or when groaning. Apparently it can be used figuratively to mean to have an ardent desire for, although to pech for the embrace of a loved one sounds far from romantic.

Pech can also act as a noun. If you are struggling to get your breath back after physical exertion you can be said to be oot (out) o pech, or short o pech. Pech can also be a wheezy, asthmatic cough or a sigh of weariness, satisfaction or relief.

The noun pech can also denote great effort, exertion or struggle. To get over something wi a pech is to get something done only by means of a tremendous effort. If something is a sair (sore) pech it requires prolonged and exhausting effort. This can refer to climbing a particularly steep hill – but, for many, life itself can be a sair pech. What a cheery thought for the day!

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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<em>Picture: Rama</em>

Picture: Rama

By Ewan Spence

The Edinburgh Fringe is over for another year, and if you look around there’s the usual good news stories (more tickets sold, lots of shows with award nominations),
as well as the more worrying noises (people won’t keep paying these prices, it’s all the fault of “insert another venue’s name in here”).

So why am I not worried that the Fringe won’t last?

Let’s face it, all the festivals are part of the fabric of Edinburgh, including the Fringe – and it’s such a tent-pole date for theatre, comedy, and to a certain extent music, that it’s not going away.

But it will change. It’s changed in the past 12 months. It’s changed from how it
launched, and it will continue to twist into a new shape. The key is for everyone involved to not impose any arbitrary ideas onto the Fringe, but to respect what is there and work together as a team.

The beauty of the Fringe is that even though there is a central organisation keeping an eye on things (the Fringe Society) all the performers, venues and associated people that orbit around the event have their own stake in the Fringe as a whole. If people are not careful this can lead to insular thinking and put elements of the Fringe in danger.

A case in point is the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, where Gilded Balloon, Assembly,
Pleasance and Underbelly banded forces to create a specific subsection of comedy at
the Fringe. They continue to push to get a banner sponsor, and produce their own listings brochure of shows – and it’s this brochure that upsets me most about the endeavour.

Look around the “Big 4” venues and while there are lots of their brochures available, you had to look really hard for the main Fringe programme – the one that carries all the venues and shows. I’ve no problem with individual venues pushing their own shows, but they have to remember the Fringe is bigger than one (or even four) venues.

There is nothing stopping them locking out the rest of the programme from people grazing for shows, but for me it goes against the spirit of the Fringe. But I realise that business is business, and there needs to be a balance between altruistic intentions and commercial need.

Just don’t take the Mickey.

Over the next few months most people will forget about the Fringe. Behind many closed doors those involved at all levels of the Fringe will be looking back on August to decide what they did right, what was wrong, and how they can improve their return on investment in 2011.

I’d ask them to look around the whole city and think of everyone, By all means make next year a better one, but please invest in the Fringe as well. if you’ve something that will make you millions, but seriously upset the balance of this cultural milestone, then pull back a bit. Won’t hundreds of thousands be sufficient profit?

The Fringe needs care and attention from everyone to keep it in the best of health. Every year throws up new obstacles and threats. I’m pretty sure that we can trust those people entrusted to protect the fringe to do what’s best for the Festival long term, and not what’s best for themselves.

That’s why I’m confident the Fringe will be here for many years to come, no matter the sabre rattling that we hear about.

<em>Picture: Robert Scoble</em>

Picture: Robert Scoble

By Stuart Crawford

Pipers

Anyone with a love of the bagpipes must shudder when in Edinburgh. I have heard the pipes played all over the world, from the Pakistan-Afghan border (courtesy of the Chitral Scouts) to the Green Zone on Cyprus, but nowhere have I heard them played so execrably as in Princes Street. One’s senses are veritably assaulted by the strangled renditions of Highland Cathedral and The Dark Isle on every corner, and the McCrimmons must be birling in their graves, wherever they may be (Canada probably). Pity the poor tourists who think is the real McCoy. I’d rather endure a Take That concert than stravaig doon the High Street whilst these assorted chancers and con artists ply their trade. But there’s hope. The cleverer ones have realised that there’s more money to be made busking in Glasgow and have flitted there. With luck the rest will follow and leave the capital in peace.

Murrayfield

I have fond memories of going to Murrayfield as a boy to see Scotland thrash the hated English. We used to win matches then – and our players were Scottish. But now we don’t win anything anymore, and half the team seem to be flag-of- convenience Kiwis, Springboks, or – heaven forfend – Englishmen who have discovered a maiden auntie twice removed who once had a relative in Auchenshuggle. No wonder the place is half empty on match days. It would be completely empty if Kenny MacAskill hadn’t lifted the ban on the serving of drink in a forlorn attempt to get ticket sales up. You can’t get a drink at Tynecastle or Easter Road, but at least there’s a bit of passion there, and of course it’s a much more skilful and exciting game as well.

August

Natives of Edinburgh have learned over the years to stay indoors or, better still, pack themselves off on holiday for August. Every nutter and wannabe actor/comedian/performance artist in the free world seems to make a beeline for the capital during this fairest of months, turning into a no-go zone for the sensibly minded. There is no end to August’s awfulness – the Fringe (I have seen better acting at my children’s nursery nativity play), the Tattoo (an exercise in imperial jingoistic nostalgia complete with pompous, condescending commentary) and hordes of backpacked equipped foreigners cluttering up the streets. You’re far better off in Tuscany, the heat notwithstanding, or the Highlands, the midges notwithstanding.

Winter Wonderland

The annual NedFest that returns annually, and monotonously, to Princes Street Gardens is surely the very nadir of our fair capital’s attractions. Naff competes with kitsch against a background aroma of fried onions whilst the great unwashed of Edinburgh jostle the bewildered tourists who have been unfortunate enough to blunder in unknowingly. Great if you want your pocket picked or handbag nicked, or if you like your hamburger served by a frozen stall keeper with a drip on his nose, but otherwise stay well clear.

The New Club

If the Edinburgh’s New Club were a colour it would be beige, or possibly magnolia. There’s a whiff of decay about it. From its flyblown entrance on Princes Street, cunningly hidden between the Big Issue seller and the queue for the ATM, to the dingy, Dickensian dining room where its self-elected membership shovel down school dinners, its very essence is mediocrity. It has no women members. It reeks of better times long gone. In truth, it has all the ambience of a third rate infantry battalion officers’ mess during annual block leave. One to avoid at all costs.

<em>Picturee: Phil Shirley</em>

Picturee: Phil Shirley

By Ewan Spence

After you’ve looked through the hundreds of stand-ups at The Fringe (and what is the collective term for that? A heckle of comedians perhaps?), you’ll come across the theatre section of the programme. For many people the Fringe is the theatre high point of the year.

It just upsets me when relatively few people coming to Edinburgh explore shows on offer that aren’t mainstream stand-up comics. No matter what label is given to a Fringe show, to me they all do the same thing. They tell a story.

What is a stand-up if nothing more than a someone doing a one hour monologue. Yes, there are audience interactions (sometimes) and certain things that stand-ups can do that others can’t, but there are theatre rules of thumb that I’m sure some of the comics would love to employ. If you’re up to the Fringe and only taking in comedy and “people off the telly” then you are missing out.

Forget about the image of needing to understand technique and study theatre, it’s there to enjoy as much as The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (Gilded Balloon).

While shows such as The Wake (Bedlam Theatre) are going to have reviewers discussing the structure of the piece as well as the technical achievement of the two actors covering multiple characters on stage, there is nothing wrong in going along to watch it because it’s a fun farce!

The key to the Fringe for me, is the simple fact that with so many shows on offer in a short space of time, you can explore, you can take changes, you can step out and see something that you would normally not consider. With the rise in prices and the cost of spending tie in Edinburgh during festival month, there is a tenancy for those visiting to play it safe and just see the cast of Mock the Week or The News Quiz, and not even experiment inside the comedy section, let alone look deeper into the program.

I wonder how many performers choose to go into the comedy section simply for visibility’s sake. The decision on what to label a show is arbitrary at best, and is damaging to audience numbers at worst.

Take the tightly scripted and perfectly measured pace of Edward Aczel (Underbelly). A bumbling character telling no traditional jokes, preferring to perform a SWOT analysis at the start of the gig. Yes it’s fun, but then so is Silent Cannonfire (Zoo Roxy), a swashbuckling look at piracy and debauchery, but in complete silence. The former is tagged comedy, while the latter is theatre.

But they both entertain.

Do you need to have an appreciation of physical theatre and dance/form to appreciate a piece like Another Someone (Bedlam Theatre)? I’ve never studied this, I’m not looking out for pieces for any academic reason, but I was asked along to see it, loved it, and would recommend it as something that is definitely worth seeing.

Which goes for pretty much anything in the program. Forget the labels, just browse, choose, and enjoy.

Mushroom soup: Scunners our writer. <em>Picture: Stuart Spivack</em>

Mushroom soup: Scunners our writer. Picture: Stuart Spivack

By Betty Kirkpatrick

In the best tradition of Edinburgh Fringe entertainers, I am all in favour of a bit of audience participation, especially if it saves me some work. So I am grateful to Fi for comment on hoachin for suggesting the word scunner as a suitable topic for the column. It is an excellent choice because scunner is a good example of how descriptive Scots can be.

Scunner is associated with disgust or revulsion. Thus you can say that the sight of blood scunners you. If you are a vegetarian you might say that the smell of meat scunners you and I might say that the taste of cream of mushroom soup scunners me (it is one of my pet hates). The verb is often found in the passive and so you could say that you like lamb, but that you had so much of it on holiday that you are scunnered with it.

Scunner can also be associated with a less extreme reaction to something or someone and mean irritated, disapproving or disappointed. So a rejected candidate for a job might be heard to say he was scunnered at not getting the job. People can be scunnered when their football team loses once again (a seemingly common experience for some) or scunnered that it is teeming with rain on the one day that they were free to go to the beach. Many people are scunnered with their jobs, though dare not give them up, and more than a few voters would have been scunnered with the performance of their party in the general election.

Scunner can also be used as a noun, with meanings corresponding to the verb, as in “It’s a real scunner that there’s no direct train service there.” A pregnant woman who is subject to sudden food cravings or aversions might remark that she has taken a real scunner to coffee. You can take a scunner to someone whom you previously liked if they do something to irritate or upset you. Sometimes this process occurs just before you dump them.

People can also be referred to as scunners. You might accuse someone of being a right scunner for refusing to do as you wish to or just for arousing dislike or disapproval in you.

As is the case with so many words, the origin of scunner is unknown. The original meaning of the verb was more physical than its common meaning today. It meant to shrink back or flinch from someone or something. It is a small step from there to feeling revulsion.

Scunner has produced the adjectives scunnerfu and scunnersome, both meaning disgusting or nauseating. It has also give rise to scunneration, a noun used to refer to a particularly disgusting or offensive sight or to something that you particularly dislike. I once knew someone who used it instead of a four-letter word to vent her feelings of anger, pain, etc when there were children present.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

<em>Picture: Bonita Suraputra</em>

Picture: Bonita Suraputra

By Ewan Spence

When a performer steps out on stage, they have no idea what to expect. The audience could be anyone, from any walk of life. But at the Edinburgh Fringe there’s every chance that they’ll have an idea who the toughest people to please will be. They can choose from one of many theatre critics, newspaper reviewers, a writer from one of the multitude of specialist internet sites… or Kate Copstick. And helpfully the box office will ring up first and ask if it’s okay to give them a ticket in the hours before the show.

But that’s not the toughest audience at the Fringe. The toughest crowds, and the lightning quick performers, can be found at the very front of the Fringe Directory. The children’s shows.

You will not find a more critical audience than a room full of children asking to be entertained. Forget the heckles from the bear-pit that is Late and Live, put aside the comedian known for being “edgy” with an audience, the ultimate challenge is 100 kids in a hot, stuffy fringe venue… then walking out and bringing every single one of them to the edge of their seat?

Perhaps that’s why Patrick Monahan is a regular in the Late and Live compere slot – his kids show, Stories and Tales for Kids, Who Can Run Faster Than Snails (Gilded Balloon) is a hugely wonderful car crash of chaos, quiet story telling, kung-fu fighting kids on stage, all held together by someone at the top of his game. Monahan dives around the crowd, attempts some surfing, and builds a tidal wave from fabric; he is truly the eye of a hurricane of fun.

A show like Stick Man (Underbelly) takes one of the best selling children’s books and turns it into an hour of singing, dancing, acting and fun. Every single beat is measured, the movements are as precise as gymnastic performance, and the script is pitched perfectly. It’s an accuracy that’s demanded of very few Fringe performers – because one cry of fear or an upset audience member can loose the entire audience for the whole show, and no witty comeback or improvisation skill can save you.

I doubt there’s a handful of comics that could handle that, and I suspect that many of the actors working on one man shows at the Fringe would have a moment of panic given an upside down purple cow full of kids who are secretly hoping Santa turns up in the middle of August, because he does in the book.

If you’re at the Fringe to see some spectacular performers, who can really fly in front of an audience, then can I recommend you take a look at the very front of your programme. Yes, it says it is for the younger Fringe attendees, but that shouldn’t stop your appreciation. Everyone has a kid somewhere inside them, and if you can’t let it out at the Fringe, then when could you?

You want a stone-cold recommendation for a five star show that has two pitch perfect performers, that can have kids screaming for more and the adults demanding an encore? No problem… Dan and Jeff’s Potted Panto (Pleasance Courtyard). In theory it’s two storytellers going over their favourite pantos (yes, in August), but with an ear for comic timing, a story that works on multiple levels for every age in the audience, knockabout slapstick mixed with nods to Casablanca and Das Boot, this double act is the secret gig of the Fringe that everyone hopes they find so they can say “they were there”.

Who are the bravest performers at the Fringe? Not the gymnasts, not the swearing comedians, not the actors monologuing for two hours. It’s the children’s performers. Everyone should go and see how it’s done.

<em>Picture: Melissa Wiese</em>

Picture: Melissa Wiese

By Ewan Spence

Here we go again.

It’s the 64th Festival Fringe, and that means yet again Edinburgh becomes the Arts Capital of the world, with tens of thousands of tourists descending into the hotels and B&B’s of the city, Taxis that never stop scuttling around, and the Royal Mile becoming an obstacle course of flyers, students and chainsaw juggling street theatre.

Forget the cliché, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

What I would change is the same question coming up again and again. It would be a five star review moment to never again hear “there is too much comedy on the bill, and it’s killing the Fringe”.

What rubbish.

Yes over 50% of the program of the Fringe this year is marked up in the Comedy section, but that’s not an automatic indicator of their being too much. It’s an indicator of demand. It’s impossible to strip comedy out of the fabric of the Fringe without it unravelling before us.

The idea that a magic wand could be waved and the core principle of the Fringe – that it is completely uncurated, you just turn up, find a stage, and pay the Fringe Society to appear in the programme – could be removed just to satisfy the Cassandras of the press is as crazy as trying to choose the funniest comic of the past 30 years by an internet poll.

How would you decide what to allow or not allow? Would you stay with safe comfortable comics like John Bishop filling 1000 seats each night at McEwan Hall? How about Magnus Betnér, Sweden’s answer to Frankie Boyle, playing the smallest room at The Stand Comedy Club? They’re just two comics, at opposite ends of the spectrum. If you are going to draw the line somewhere, which of these would you not let in to the Fringe?

I think the Fringe is about storytelling. From the ancient horror of HP Lovecraft and the multiple outings of Shakespeare to the concept album rock sound of Storm Large and the cathartic monologue of Rebecca Peyton, people want to share experiences. Stand-up may be a different form of storytelling, but at its heart is is the same spark of human nature that drives the comedy that drives tragedy.

So when the journalists bring up the spectre of the comedy scene smothering the Fringe, think about what that actually means, You couldn’t lift comedy out of the Fringe any more than you could lift the bagpipes out of the Tattoo.

Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes the business behind the promotion, ticket sales and profits may leave a bad taste, but there is nothing forcing anyone onto the stage in Edinburgh, nor is a gun being held to he heads of people buying the tickets.

If someone comes to Edinburgh to see the big names “off the telly”, are they really going to stop at just one show? Probably not. They’ll be looking for something special, something new, and knowing they have one show that’s a mental guarantee of a good tim, they will be the confidence to explore the rest of the program.

The strength of the Fringe is that anyone can come to Edinburgh and “do a turn” on stage. By half way through the Fringe the good shows will still be selling out, while the average to poor shows will be be playing to half empty halls or resorting to desperate promotional stunts and offering free tickets and 2 for 1 offers. There’s no central signpost for the crowds to read, it just happens. Every year.

There’s no need for any curation to cull the Fringe program of shows that you don’t think should be there. The most efficient way of sorting out the best show from the wheat and the chaff is already there.

The audience.

At the end of the day, they’ll make all the right decisions. By the end of the Fringe, the shows that deserve to be on top of the pile… will be on top of the pile.

One of Jim Cartwright's 'Two'

One of Jim Cartwright's 'Two'

And so the countdown begins. . . With the programme now launched for the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, our capital city starts girding its loins for the annual August invasion, while arts-lovers the world over embark on the seemingly Sisyphean task of choosing their viewing pleasure from the 2,453 shows listed in this year’s 344-page Fringe brochure.

Those statistics, with the former figure representing a 17% increase on last year’s total, comfortably maintain the Fringe’s position as the world’s biggest arts festival, suggesting that those seeking the secret of restoring economic growth might find it an illuminating case-study. Then again, given the annually staggering subsidy of jejune idealism, stage-struck ardour, groundless optimism, misplaced ambition and rampant egotism that keeps the Fringe afloat, perhaps not.

But it’s way too early in the game to be getting cynical – quite the opposite, in some ways. Not least in that one of the most salient aspects to emerge from an initial survey of all those shows and pages is the quantity of free entertainment on offer, substantially thanks to the Laughing Horse and PBH’s Free Fringe operations, who’ll be staging literally hundreds of shows in dozens of venues, charging neither performers nor audiences for the privilege, relying instead on co-operative volunteer labour and audience donations.

There’s also the Forest Fringe, which runs on similar principles, but doesn’t even buy in to the extent of getting itself listed in the official programme, but has nonetheless featured among Edinburgh’s hottest hubs of activity in recent years. Amidst the justly rising tide of complaints over Fringe ticket prices, it’s good to see such a concerted backlash gathering force.

Of the other trends and themes discernible from that same survey, the most prominent, intriguingly enough, is shows involving magic, mind-reading, mediumship and other psychic or paranormal phenomena, including what the Americans call – rather unfortunately in a Scottish context – “mentalism”. I counted at least 15 examples, covering both theatre and comedy, though whether this indicates a flight from logic or rationalism in the face of multifarious real-world adversity, I’ll leave you to decide. (There also seems to be something of a ventriloquism revival under way: go figure.)

More topical recurring concerns include social networking, sex trafficking, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, TV formats, disability and multiculturalism, plus the usual preoccupation with “exploring female sexuality”.

When it comes to theatrical classics, Shakespeare wins again with six different versions of Hamlet (including a musical), four Midsummer Night’s Dreams and three Tempests. Choose between four adaptations from Grimm’s tales, two from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, three History Boys, and a brace apiece of Blood Brothers, Dr Faustus, The Dumb Waiter, A Servant of Two Masters and Under Milk Wood, not to mention two of Jim Cartwright’s Two. (Only one Equus, for a wonder.) Also on the duplicate theme, there are two sets of twins performing stand-up, and at least half a dozen Scandinavian comics aiming to prove than humour does travel.

On a more serious critical note, early hot tips among the theatre line-up include The Girl in the Yellow Dress, a co-production between Glasgow’s Citizen’s Theatre and Johannesburg’s Market Theatre; Tim Crouch’s deceptively provocative The Author; the award-winning Freefall, from Dublin’s Corn Exchange company; Little Black B**tard, by acclaimed Aboriginal performer Noel Tovey, and Penelope, reuniting the dream-team of playwright Enda Walsh and renowned Irish company Druid. Among the dance and physical theatre picks, meanwhile, are Turner Prize-winner Martin Creeds Ballet Work No. 1020, and Harlekin, by Russian troupe Derevo.

There’s plenty more detailed preview coverage of the Fringe and other Edinburgh festivals to come on these pages between now and August, but for now here are the first half-dozen contenders for 2010’s least tempting Fringe Programme blurb. (Names have been omitted to to protect the guilty.)

  • “The waitress wants to have a chat. The bride wants to obsessively analyse her lack of similarity to the worst things in life, which are, at least, memorable, if nothing else.”
  • “In this existential space of paralysing doubt, indecision, and anticlimax, a march towards unstoppable violence grows inevitable.”
  • “Three performers and a big mute puppet called BMP. Problems on and behind the stage. But still, this is not an evening about theatre but a theatre evening with boutique critique.”
  • “When a woman conquers her lover, she breaks him apart, piece by piece. A mysterious and unnerving new play set between jazz age London and colonised Sudan.”
  • “Lively portrayal of a 12th-century German abbess.”
  • “Caught in a nightmare, Wonderland revolves as the sugar dissolves; conflict, touch and a hint of thigh, until the table isn’t the only thing to get laid. Breathless, we wipe the stains from the table cloth.”