Socialist Worker

Tragedy rubs shoulders with controversy at Edinburgh Festival

As the Edinburgh Festival prepares to open its many doors, theatre critic Mark Brown offers some highlights of the biggest arts festival on the planet

Issue No. 2565

People come from across the world to attend the Edinburgh Festival

People come from across the world to attend the Edinburgh Festival (Pic: Pixelbay)

As so often with the world’s biggest celebration of the arts, this year’s Edinburgh Festival has been caught up in political controversy before it has even begun.

Palestine solidarity activists are calling for a boycott of the so-called “Shalom Festival”. This is an event created by pro-Israel campaigners, likely with the assistance of the Israeli state itself.

It aims to roll back the gains of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in recent years.

Filmmaker Ken Loach is among the signatories to an open letter supporting the boycott of the event.

It includes Incubator Theatre, the state-funded Israeli company which was the subject of a successful boycott in Edinburgh in 2014.

It is noticeable that artists representing the Israeli state have no difficulty obtaining visas to come to Britain.

Meanwhile, the Summerhall venue’s programme of work from the Arab world is facing a crisis as the British authorities have refused the visa applications of many of the artists involved.

The term “Edinburgh Festival” is shorthand for a group of festivals.

These include the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), the Festival Fringe and the International Book Festival.

The prestigious programme of the EIF always has exciting productions, and this year is no exception.

There are no fewer than three shows from the superb playwright Zinnie Harris. They include Rhinoceros (Lyceum, 3-12 August), her adaptation of great French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist classic about conformism in the face of authoritarianism.


Directed by Turkish theatremaker Murat Daltaban, it is bound to resonate with current events under the Erdogan crackdown in Turkey.

The revival of This Reckless House (Lyceum, 22-27 August), Harris’s award-winning, three-part adaptation of the Greek classic The Oresteia, is very welcome indeed.

A timeless retelling of Aeschylus ‘s 2,500-year old tragedy, it is a brilliant and powerful exploration of human experience at its most extreme.

Samuel Beckett’s existentialist masterpiece Krapp’s Last Tape (Church Hill Theatre, 4-27 August) promises to be a festival highlight. Outstanding Irish actor Barry McGovern plays a dying man as he considers the life he has lived.

Splendidly named, avant-garde English company Forced Entertainment always create interesting work.

In their new piece, Real Magic (The Studio, 22-27 August), they seem set to explore 21st-century culture with their usual combination of intelligence and surreal humour.

The massive Fringe programme looks like an old telephone directory. It is filled primarily with comedians desperately trying to get noticed.

One comedian you can be sure of, however, is the veteran Mark Thomas.

This year, the activist and performer offers a piece of theatre entitled A Show That Gambles on the Future (Summerhall, 2-27 August).

In the performance he turns his audience’s hopes and fears about the future into bets down the bookies. The show is bound to combine great comedy with sharp politics.

For a full list of performances go to

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