Socialist Worker

From Shakespeare to satire at packed Edinburgh Festival

by Mark Brown
Issue No. 2513

The cast of Thomas Ostermeiers Richard III

The cast of Thomas Ostermeier's Richard III (Pic: Arno Declair)

Every August Edinburgh is famously home to the biggest celebration of the arts on the planet.

The Edinburgh Festival is actually a group of festivals, including the prestigious Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), the huge Festival Fringe and the Book Festival.

Choosing what to see at the Festival can be a daunting task. That’s especially when it comes to the Fringe programme which looks like a telephone directory

I hope the following tips are helpful to Socialist Worker readers who are heading to Edinburgh next month.

German director Thomas Ostermeier is among the most acclaimed theatre makers in Europe.

His production of Shakespeare’s Richard III (Lyceum Theatre, 24-28 August) for Berlin’s Schaubuhne Theatre, is presented as part of the EIF. It is a great example of his work.

Lars Eidinger as Richard III

Lars Eidinger as Richard III (Pic: Arno Declair)

I was fortunate enough to see the show at the International Shakespeare Festival in Romania recently. It is highly intelligent, inventive, funny, dynamic and brilliantly acted.


Richard, the famous “hunchback”, is a perfect example of Shakespeare’s grasp of the social forces at play in Elizabethan England. In fact, you could add the character to the list of “bastards” (such as Edmund in King Lear) in the Bard’s plays.

Like Edmund, Richard finds the path to power blocked. Although in Richard’s case it is a prejudice against his disability, rather than “illegitimacy” of birth, that has marginalised him. Consequently, he seeks to get to the throne by means of his intelligence.

You could almost consider Richard as a one-man metaphor for the early capitalist class.

By 1642, just 26 years after Shakespeare’s death, this class would find itself at war with the English monarchy.

Ostermeier, who describes himself as a Marxist, emphasises Richard’s individualism, ambition and irreverence towards the established church.

Superb actor Lars Eidinger plays Richard as a cross between a high-energy stand-up comedian and an angry rock singer.

His conspiratorial relationship with the audience is enhanced cleverly by his use of a simple prop. It’s a microphone which has a light inside it and is attached to a bungee cord.

If Ostermeier’s show is a must-see, the Fringe programme of the Summerhall venue is always worth checking out.

The revival of Adler & Gibb (5-27 August), by the excellent English dramatist Tim Crouch, promises to be a particular highlight.

Crouch’s work is always unconventional and interesting in its approach to theatrical form.


This play, about conceptual artists Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb, explores myth and reality in society’s quest to own and appropriate artists, their work and their legacy.

Lovers of the work of the great 20th century playwright Samuel Beckett should take a look at Krapp 39 (Pleasance Courtyard, 3-29 August).

This one-man show, inspired by Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, has received plaudits from the critics in New York City.

It promises to be a moving and humorous piece of theatre.

Finally, socialists looking for an alternative to the run-of-the-mill stand-up comics who seem to dominate the Edinburgh Fringe should try to get a ticket for Jonathan Pie—Live (Pleasance Courtyard, 3-28 August).

Comic actor and satirist Tom Walker, aka Jonathan Pie, has become an internet sensation as the angry, left wing TV news presenter who goes on hilarious and insightful rants when “off camera”.

His comedy gets much closer to the truth than most TV news.

The Edinburgh Festival runs throughout August. For more details go to

Movie keeps musical majesty of James Booker alive

James Booker died aged 43 in 1983, waiting to be seen by hospital doctors.

Dr John, whom he had taught to play the Hammond B3 organ, described James as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced”.

Booker was a multi-instrumentalist child prodigy. As a teenager he toured with the bands behind such stars as Little Richard, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.

James Booker

James Booker (Pic: Wiki Commons)

Lily Keber produced and directed Bayou Maharajah, which looks at his life and music.

She told Socialist Worker, “I moved to New Orleans in 2006. I was bartending and heard his music on the jukebox.

“Punters’ crazy stories about Booker were my first introduction to his infamously wacky personality. Booker’s memory is very much alive in New Orleans, yet he was so little known otherwise.

“I started this film to ensure that the majesty of his music would be passed on to the next generation.”

Lily completed Bayou Maharajah in 2013.

It’s been slightly updated and is on a limited cinema release before a DVD release in September.

She said, “Several people told me that a film like this could never be made. That there wasn’t enough footage of him. That everyone I should talk to was already dead.

“But to me, the power of his music drives the film. We knew that how we depicted Booker would be how most people would come to know him.

“It’s a heavy weight to be responsible for a dead man’s legacy. I only wish that Booker was around to tell me what he thinks of the film.”

Lily has magnificently confounded her doubters by showcasing the musical essence of a rare talent. Highly recommended.

Nick Grant

bayou maharajah, directed by Lily Keber. At selected cinemas


No man’s land

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart star in Sean Mathias’ production of this Harold Pinter play.

Two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, get drunk over the course of a summer’s evening after Hirst picks up Spooner in a pub.

Their conversation becomes a power game and the situation becomes increasingly sinister.

Produced by Sean Mathias. On tour, August to December


If you’ve taken the Sex Pistols’ advice and not gone for a Holiday in the Sun, the British Library has a fascinating exhibition on 1970s punk.

Punk exploded in 1976 with bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Clash.

This exhibition displays original fanzines and records, and shows how punk was born out of the political and social turmoil of the 1970s.

Tomáš Tengely-Evans

The British Library, London NW1 2DB. Free. Until 2 October

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Mon 25 Jul 2016, 16:48 BST
Issue No. 2513
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.