Year on year the Edinburgh Festival seems to be increasingly dominated by cheap, disposable culture.
The walls of the city centre are covered with posters for shows which try to sell themselves with hollow controversialising or vacuous titillation.
Urinetown: The Musical, anyone? How about Puppetry of the Penis?
Yet aside from the 657 comedy shows in the Fringe programme and the army of Australian unicyclists, knife jugglers and sword swallowers on the Mound, Edinburgh remains the world’s largest arts festival.
And those seeking shows which stay with you beyond your next pint in the theatre bar can still find work which is truly profound and beautiful.
Lacrimosa (Aurora Nova, until 27 August), by the extraordinary avant garde Polish theatre company Song of the Goat, is arguably the most accomplished theatre production of the entire festival.
The company received much merited acclaim in 2004 for its Fringe hit show Chronicles: A Lamentation.
Lacrimosa, which takes as its starting point the plague in the French city of Arras in 1485, shares with Chronicles an extraordinary interweaving of exquisite physical movement and polyphonic song.
It reworks music by Mozart with great skill and subtlety as it touches on themes of collective terror, doubt over the existence of god, and the search for scapegoats – in this case, Christian persecution of Jews.
The use of the story of Arras is secondary, however, to the metaphorical power of the 50 minute long performance. Song of the Goat aim to create a poetic theatre in which audiences feel more than they understand.
They succeed absolutely. Lacrimosa lives with you long after you have left the theatre.
It may be set in medieval France, but the work’s terrifying expressions of human beings’ capacity to respond to crises violently and with misdirected rage speak powerfully to our own times.
Similarly, its contemplations of the endurance of human solidarity, and of emotional and erotic love, in the darkest of times is deeply affecting.
The End of Everything Ever (Pleasance, until 27 August) is another theatre work which is clearly rooted in the traditions of European modernism.
Combining live music and excellent ensemble acting, the play tells the story of Agata Rosenbaum, a little Jewish girl who is sent from Berlin to London as part of the Kindertransport, the mass evacuation of 9,500 Jewish children who were living under the Nazis in 1938-39.
The piece is collectively devised by exciting Norway and England-based theatre company NIE (New International Encounter), and has a cast of actors from across Europe.
The result is a play which follows Agata’s experiences, both in Nazi Germany and her travels to and in Britain, with great humour and pathos.
There is, simultaneously, a robustness and a subtlety to the performance which will remind seasoned Edinburgh Fringe-goers of the great festival shows of Scottish theatre company Communicado.
Cleverly constructed and beautifully presented, the production has tremendous emotional and political power and boasts a wonderful central performance from Iva Moberg as Agata.
There is an almost breathtaking subtlety, and a sudden political and emotional explosion, in England (Traverse at the Fruitmarket Gallery, until 26 August), the latest work from Brighton-based dramatist Tim Crouch.
Created to be performed in art galleries, the piece finds Crouch and fellow performer Hannah Ringham talking, sometimes poetically, sometimes almost informally, as actors and audience mingle in the upstairs gallery of the Fruitmarket.
Both actors speak the lines of the same character.
We don’t know the person’s sex, but we do know that s/he has a degenerative heart disease and will die if s/he does not get a heart transplant.
The cleverly simple performance style and fabulous acting combine brilliantly with the gallery setting and an excellent script.
The text makes repeated references to the narrator’s rich Dutch boyfriend, and his collection of original art works, including a very valuable piece by the Dutch-American painter Willem De Kooning.
The hour-long production is so subtle, in fact, that you don’t realise that it is insinuating its way into your mind and your emotions.
Consequently, it takes you by surprise with its extraordinary conclusion.
It would be criminal to give away the ending. Suffice it to say that England packs an immense emotional, ethical and political punch.
These three shows would be my pick of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe so far.
A number of other productions look promising.
The Walworth Farce (Traverse, until 26 August) is the latest play by acclaimed Irish playwright Enda Walsh, and is performed by Ireland’s brilliant Druid theatre company.
The Zimbabwean political satires Super Patriots and Morons (which is banned by Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship) and Pregnant With Emotion (alternate days at Hill Street Theatre, until 27 August) are certainly worth a look.
The Government Inspector (Assembly Universal Arts, 16-27 August) is the Comedy Theatre of Bucharest’s take on Gogol’s famous farce, and promises to be a brilliantly performed piece of timeless satire.
Other likely highlights include the National Theatre of Scotland’s presentation of David Greig’s version of Euripides’s Greek classic The Bacchae (King’s Theatre, until 18 August) and US company The Wooster Group’s radical reinterpretation of Francesco Cavalli’s opera La Didone (Lyceum, 18-22 August).
For more information about the Edinburgh Fringe go to » www.edfringe.com
For more information about the Edinburgh International Festival go to » www.eif.co.uk