Note: This review is from the 2018 Fringe

With 2018 marking their seventh year as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Summerhall is set to once again establish itself as one of the key places to be this August. Today launching the cultural  smörgåsbord that is their festival programme, the multimedia venue plan to amaze audiences with installations and performances that are bigger and bolder than ever before.

Introducing the theatre and dance programme this year, Verity Leigh describes Summerhall as a “federation” in alliance with artists and producers. She notes the power festivals like the Fringe have in bringing people and artists together – especially in challenging times – to find refuge and relief in a shared experience. However, that is not to say that Summerhall’s programme is turning its back on the world we live in today (though some pieces do opt to explore utopian and dystopian realities instead). While there’s no unifying theme among the shows selected per se, those chosen all have something very important to say. Questions surrounding mental health, social and sexual politics, feminism, identity, memory and war are just some of the pressing themes promised by the eclectic range of productions which made the cut. For Robert McDowell, it is not a case of looking for what is entertaining for Summerhall’s audience but rather for what is relevant: there is a determination to keep in mind the “unending issues of our times”.

In true Summerhall fashion, there is no limit to how these matters will be represented; one show highlighted by the sample programme is Paper Doll Militia’s Egg, a true story about a woman who donated her eggs to a friend so that she could have a child, which is set to combine intimate testimony with “aerial artistry”. As for the rest of the theatrical programme, animation, puppetry, lip-syncing, boxing and photography are just some of the creative representational modes alluded to by Leigh. Equally extensive is the list of countries that will be present at the festival within Summerhall alone, confirming the venue’s status as an international stage.

Following four successful years, Nothing Ever Happens Here is set to return once again. Made up of three elements, the music programme consists of daily live music, late-night music and the chance for up-and-coming bands from the capital to perform, an opportunity seldom found when places to showcase new talent are in rapid decline. Meanwhile, the big guns come in the likes of Meursault, with their project Crow Hill, and a 10-day residency of Putin’s favourite protestors Pussy Riot, with their production Pussy Riot: Riot Days (10-19 August). A “shock to the system”, the multidisciplinary show will recount Maria Alyokhina’s experience of their  46-second protest and subsequent imprisonment. In a similar vein to the theatre and dance programme, Riot Days will look head-on at the state of Russia and the world.

Complimenting the political discourse found within the theatre, dance and music programmes, the visual art aspect of the festival features a series of exhibitions that draw upon contemporary challenges society faces today. Summerhall’s main exhibition, FREE THE PUSSY!, is a curation of reactions to the collective’s trial and incarceration. John Keane’s Life During Wartime will present the artist’s depictions of war and all its horrific consequences, including his critically acclaimed yet controversial 1992 Gulf series.

As well as preserving “home-grown” treasures like Nothing Ever Happens Here, Summerhall also intends to cast light on one particular art form that has long been underappreciated and desperately underrepresented at the Fringe: radio. Working with BBC Radio in a pop-up studio, a series of radio dramas will be performed in front of an audience. With radio dramas being uniquely popular within the UK, Summerhall hope that giving faces to those voices on the radio will lead to a new festival celebrating the medium on an international level.

While Summerhall wish to be seen as “shabby-chic” in tone and style, their programme announced today will certainly offer hard and, at times, uncomfortable explorations of the modern-day world. In boasting what is in store for us this August, big promises have been made (including the claim that the venue will officially have the most sunlight this August). Let’s hope they will all be fulfilled.