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Edinburgh Festival: Palestine and Poland to offer highlights

It’s not all commercialism and comedians at this summer’s Edinburgh Festival, writes theatre critic Mark Brown

Issue No. 2111

A scene from the Palestinian National Theatre’s production of Jidariyya (Pic: Fima Barablat)

A scene from the Palestinian National Theatre’s production of Jidariyya (Pic: Fima Barablat)


With each passing year the Edinburgh Festival, or, more particularly, the huge Festival Fringe, appears to become increasingly commercial and dominated by stand-up comedians and rubbish cabaret shows.

However, while it’s true that some excellent artists have been forced out of the Fringe, Edinburgh in August remains the place to be for lovers of serious and profound theatre.

There are some people on the left who attack the prestigious Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) – and even the Fringe – for being “elitist” and out of the reach of working class people.

This is nonsense, as one look at the EIF programme shows.

It is hard to imagine a more progressive move than the EIF’s invitation to the Palestinian National Theatre to stage their acclaimed production Jidariyya (Royal Lyceum, 14-17 August).

I suspect EIF director Jonathan Mills would say that the invitation was based on artistic merit, rather than political sympathy – and that is as it should be. However, there’s nothing elitist in supporting Palestine’s under-resourced national theatre company or in offering tickets that start at £10.

Jidariyya is a stage adaptation of a long poem by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

It promises to take us – in poetic Arabic with English supertitles – into the dream-like thoughts of a poet as he regains consciousness following heart surgery.

The poet contemplates his unwritten poems, his memories of young love and his personal and cultural identity.

The very act of a Palestinian poet addressing the entire breadth of his identity promises to undermine the one-dimensional stereotypes of Palestinians – which are perpetuated by both the enemies of the Palestinian people and some of their more misguided friends.

The EIF programme opens with Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Usher Hall, 8 August), the famous opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Later in the Festival comes 365 (Playhouse, 22-25 August), the latest play by David Harrower, who is arguably the finest playwright writing in Scotland today.

The piece, commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland and directed by it’s excellent artistic director Vicky Featherstone, considers the experiences of young people as they emerge from lives in the care system.

Another likely highlight of the EIF programme is Dybbuk (King’s Theatre, 9-11 August), inspired by Jewish folklore, in which the soul of a Holocaust victim takes over the body of his American half-brother and a woman is possessed by the spirit of her lover.

It is directed by leading Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski.

There is excellent Polish theatre on the Fringe too. The iconic play Bite the Dust (Universal Arts Theatre, 1-25 August), by renowned poet and playwright (and former anti-Nazi partisan) Tadeusz Rozewicz, is brought to the festival by the award-winning Teatr Provisorium and Kompania Teatr.

I was fortunate enough to see this production in Warsaw recently, and its darkly satirical representation of soldiers in the underground Polish National Army during the Second World War, lost in the forest and brutalised by war, should not be missed by anyone attending this year’s Fringe.

The play earned Rozewicz death threats from his former comrades in the National Army, but his drama remains a powerful, poetic and often brilliantly vulgar protest against the dehumanising effects of war.

Staying with Poland during the Second World War, English company Badac Theatre’s The Factory (Pleasance Courtyard, 1-24 August) promises to be a powerfully theatrical contemplation of the industrial violence of the Nazi Holocaust.

Badac’s earlier Holocaust play Ashes to Ashes remains the most moving stage work about the Nazi genocide I have ever seen.

No-one should go to Edinburgh in August without taking in some shows at the famous Traverse Theatre – particularly as the venue is now being run by world class director Dominic Hill.

The British premiere of Simon Stephens’s Pornography (28 July-24 August), brilliant Irish author Enda Walsh’s latest play The New Electric Ballroom (30 July-24 August) and Philip Ralph’s Deep Cut (31 July-24 August) all seem set to shine.

The highlight at the Traverse, however, (and possibly the highlight of the entire Festival) may well prove to be Fall (24 July-24 August), by playwright Zinnie Harris. Directed by Hill, the drama considers an unnamed society emerging from a political catastrophe.

Anyone who has experienced earlier Harris plays will know to expect a very special piece of theatre indeed.

For full details of the Edinburgh International Festival programme, visit » www.eif.co.uk

For the Fringe go to » www.edfringe.com


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Reviews
Tue 22 Jul 2008, 19:22 BST
Issue No. 2111
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