Preview: Edinburgh International Festival


Editor Robert James Peacock reports back from the launch.

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Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

That’s the curse of being Director of Edinburgh International Festival. On one hand you have corporate partners, monied patrons and artistic elites who are sweet on the rarefied atmosphere of big bucks opera and theatre. On the other, there’s the persistent call for relevance, accessibility and diversity tugging you towards populism.

In his first year last year, Fergus Linehan played a blinder in juggling the two. This year’s programme ploughs a similar furrow. It doesn’t rip up the rulebook and start again, as the more radical among us might like, but it has probably drifted as far as it can for now while keeping everyone on board.

Thus there’s the standard packed Usher Hall and Queen’s Hall music programme of international names and canonical composers. Aficionados will debate the detail, pick apart the inclusions and omissions – the absence of Scottish composers is raised at the launch event – but this is one section not aimed at the uninitiated (or if it is, they’ve given no obvious entry point), nor is it a part of the programme for radical departure.

Then for the masses, there’s another huge, showpiece opening event to follow the success of the Harmonium Project last year. Deep Time sounds even more promising. 350 million years of Edinburgh history will be re-run in twenty minutes, using the city’s oldest icon – Castle Rock – as its backdrop. 59 Productions will again be at the helm.

The fun is to be had programming the margins, though, and some has definitely been had. Cabaret has become a notable presence this year. (One wonders if the EIF has been taking lessons from the Fringe on that score.) Both Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret and Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs! (a festival-long residency at the Hub) instantly intrigue, and have a popular appeal which will extend to those who neither know nor care what the International Festival is.

Ditto the post-rock triple whammy of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros and Mogwai in the Contemporary Music section, which Pitchforks a different demographic for the EIF’s visitor figures. It’s hard to work up enthusiasm for the likes of Karine Polwart and James Yorkston when they do the rounds so often out of Festival season, but kudos is due for adding Young Fathers to the bill and a rare Scottish appearance by Youssou N’Dour is an obvious highlight.

Theatre perhaps lacks the star pull of last year’s Juliette Binoche or Simon McBurney, but Tony and Emmy winning Cherry Jones is talked up in glowing terms as a US equivalent, and the John Tiffany directed American Repertory Theater version of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie in which she stars looks the pick of that section at first glance. In this anniversary year, Shakespeare makes his expected appearance, and open minds are kept in readiness for Richard III, Measure For Measure and Shake (after Twelfth Night).

Godspeed You! Black Emperor re-emerge in the dance programme, accompanying fellow Canadians, The Holy Body Tattoo, for a heavy looking piece called Monumental. There are also appearances by Scottish Ballet and Akram Khan Company among others.

The pre-announced Norma heads the opera programme, and if you missed tickets for that, Cosi Fan Tutte and Das Rheingold are your other options.

So, Year Two of Linehan’s reign seems pretty steady as she goes. The glaring yellow brochure (disturbingly similar to the Guardian’s current Panama Papers exposé imagery) will be unmissable around town over the coming months and you can get your tickets from the usual places from 16 April. Our writers are already jostling to cover their favourite shows, so we’ll have much more to bring you between now and the end of August…

Edinburgh International Festival is @ venues throughout Edinburgh from Fri 5 to Mon 29 Aug 2016

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